​Africa’s youth: Global Time Bomb or Incredible Opportunity? By Fred Swaniker

What if I told you that millions of African youth could land a job with just a few weeks of training?

Sindi Tutuka is an example of how this is possible. Sindi grew up in a township in Cape Town, South Africa, where jobs were hard to come by and she struggled to feed and educate her young son.Then she heard about Harambee, a highly innovative, technology-enabled, “youth employment accelerator”. In just a few weeks of training in practical skills like punctuality, language training, customer service, and computer literacy, Sindi got matched with a great job at Discovery Insurance, where she is now building a successful career as a service consultant.

Harambe is on track to place 100,000 young people like Sindi into jobs in their first ten years of operation. 400 employers are partnering with Harambee in this very laudable effort. I found this to be amazing!  

It also got me thinking: today millions of university graduates across Africa are unemployed, after 3 or 4 years of what is often very expensive investment by the young people or their governments. Yet programs like Harambee are able to prepare people for work effectively in a just a few weeks.  The key to Harambee’s success is the fact that they do research to identify what skills are needed by the labour market and then they make sure that young people are trained in exactly those things. It’s faster and more efficient than a degree.

The point is, if we’re going to really solve our massive youth unemployment problems in Africa (and indeed around the world– Europe and the USA are also suffering from the same), we need to do things differently. Not every young person needs to go to university. Remember, I’m saying this and I am the founder of a university! Universities need to become much more in tune with the needs of employers, and create people with skills that are needed in the 21st century, and not only the academic theory they typically focus on. We also need radical and unconventional programs like Harambee if we’re going to solve this challenge.

In Singapore, for example, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, the government has purposely capped the proportion of youth who can enter their universities to 30%. They ensure that the rest of their youth go into other kinds of programs that explicitly prepare them for employment. Germany and Switzerland are other great examples of highly prosperous economies where vocational and technical programs train people for work in a matter of months. Yet in Africa we somehow look down on such programs and are not investing enough in this area. We also need to look at how we merge such skills-based training with entrepreneurship, so that young people are equipped to create their own jobs.

By the end of this century, according to the UN, almost 50% of the world’s youth will live in Africa. This will lead to one of two outcomes. Outcome 1 will be a global disaster, with billions of unemployed African youth (I don’t even want to imagine where that would take the world). Outcome 2 is much more beautiful: can you imagine what would happen if we unleash the most energetic and creative workforce in the world with skills and entrepreneurial training? This could be one of the greatest forces of global economic prosperity this century. I choose to believe the second outcome is possible. But it will require us to do things differently. Harambee and Sindi show us what is possible. Let’s put our heads together and think of other ways that we could rapidly skill up our youth and turn a looming disaster into one of the greatest opportunities this century.

More to come on this topic…

Let me know what you think.

From Fred Swaniker’s Official Facebook Page