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Globally 621 million young people aged 15-24 years old are not in education, employment or training, 75 million young people are trained but have no job. In the next decade, one billion young people will enter the labour market, and large numbers of young people face a future of irregular and informal employment.

Almost 90% of all young people live in developing countries. Youth are approximately three times more likely to be unemployed than adults (2.7). It is also estimated that 23% of young people currently employed in the world earn less than $1.25 a day.

These are factual statistics published by Plan International in a report: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT: THE FACTS. The report speaks to the global youth unemployment crisis and Plan International’s unique model developed to ensure young people enter into, and succeeds in, the world of work.

Nationally

On the National front, do you know that the unemployment rate in Sierra Leone remained unchanged at 4.30 % in 2018 from 4.30 % in 2017? Do you know that the unemployment rate in Sierra Leone averaged 3.84 % from 1991 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 4.70 % in 2014 and a record low of 3.40 % in 1992.

You will also be shocked to know that unemployment among young people in the country is amongst the highest in the West African sub-region projecting at 45.8% of the total unemployment figure. These statistics were revealed in a report released by the country’s Ministry of Labour.

According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data with over 700 visionaries and experts in 2019, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Sierra Leone was at 8.97. Despite the fact that the country boasts of having very youthful demography with 45% of its entire population been youth and 65% of the total youth population within the employment age; the problem of access to secured jobs continues to increase unabatedly and such is reflective on the socio-economic and security factors in the country.

The Way Forward

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Generation Y should stop asking “why me?” and start asking “why not?” These were the words of Albert Einstein a renowned German mathematician and physicist.

As scary as the statistics are, I am of the firmest conviction that it is time to tackle youth unemployment. The following are viable short, medium and long term solutions to this global and national problem.

Adopt the right mindset

First, we must adopt the right mindset: positive in outlook and global in ambition. We must accept that times have changed and we must embrace the possibilities this change presents. The concept of job-for-life is long gone, National and International competition has intensified and new and creative opportunities are knocking on our doors.

So let’s address the heart of the problem. Education is getting better globally and the market demands more from the system; that means education reform should be a priority. At the university level, courses potentially enable students to better align their programme with their interests and circumstances. Let’s implement the “DIY” approach (Do It Yourself), this is the method of building, modifying, or repairing things without the direct aid of experts or professionals. The term DIY has taken on a broader meaning that covers a wide range of skill sets over the years. An example of a DIY approach is empowering local engineers with the skills and tools to construct roads and build bridges with locally acquired materials (where possible and or applicable).

We should also sponsor entrepreneurs and encourage smart youngsters to believe in themselves and not to fear failure. Real-world experience such as travel or volunteering can yield greater benefits than the narrow, rigid and costly undergraduate degree to which we mistakenly still attach total significance.

The school curriculum

The school curriculum, too, needs to offer courses with real business value to help school leavers find work. It is the academic institutions’ responsibility to engage pupils/students and better equip them for adulthood. Employers, however, have a far greater role to play. They are now expected to train and re-train people continuously; for example, there were no Android developers 10 years ago. What must be done now is a fusion of the school curriculum with the job market needs.

Instead of complaining that new hires arrive ill-prepared, companies should connect with them earlier by providing mentors and apprenticeships, building on the concept of the “talent incubator”. It will improve their business and give young people a sense of responsibility and purpose and ultimately provide several alternative routes into the workplace.

Mentoring

This is an important aspect of growth and development; it is therefore advised and encouraged that mentoring be done more widely. Let’s have older and more experienced professionals reach out to young people who often have no one else to help them write a CV, apply for training or prepare for an interview. I have practically seen and even personally experienced how reassurance and motivation have done wonders to mindset and morale and increased chances of gaining employment. Companies, community groups, Service veterans, and individual volunteers should all get involved. For underprivileged youngsters, in particular, a good mentor represents both an anchor and a sail.

We must ensure we focus our energies where the problem is most acute, no one is more desperate than a child growing up in a family where almost everyone is jobless and the expectation is that they are to come to elevate the family’s standard of living. Without someone to look up to, their odds of finding gainful employment are far worse than their more privileged counterparts.

Where we can reform the benefits system to further incentivize work, where we can more constructively help people re-train, we should do so, I acknowledge it is a collaborative venture. For those who have been fortunate to get a good job, good education, the loving family returning the favour should be a must. It is not enough to say, “I pay my taxes”.

Barriers to job creation

This is another major impediment to employment. We should remove barriers to job creation, for example, employers’ National Insurance, NASSIT payments, and other takes on businesses and organisations increase the cost of employing someone; if we want to boost employment, there must be smarter ways to raise revenue than by taxing jobs.

We should consider reviewing with an intention of having well-intentioned labour laws that protect incumbent workers but often hinder businesses from responding to change and hiring new talent. We must find the nexus between protecting both employees and employers too since they both have mutual benefits. If employers and protected they will hire more people. Let’s have a law for example which states that the more Sierra Leoneans you employ and pay well in your company the fewer taxes you pay, every employer will consciously employ more nationals and improve their conditions of service.

Challenge conventional wisdom

Conclusively, it is important to note that youth unemployment has deep roots. Combating it requires us to challenge conventional wisdom: by removing, where possible, disincentives to hire and to work, by reforming schools and universities, by stepping up apprenticeships and mentoring.

“Teachers and parents, business leaders and policymakers all have a crucial part to play. It will not be easy, the march towards progress has never and will never be, it sure will come with some casualties. Be that as it may, creativity is what we youngsters do best. Our fresh, radical and positive minds must seize the initiative, continually re-imagining the future amid the whirlwind of the present. We need leaders. There’s a job for the young, right away.”

By Christian Conteh

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