18th August 23

Meaningful youth engagement by the private sector: potential to progress

By Wandia Musyimi, Senior Executive Recruitment Consultant

Every year on 12th August we celebrate International Youth Day. This year, the theme for the day was Green Skills for Youth: Towards a Sustainable World. Green skills are “knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society”. They are also sometimes generalised as “skills for the future”. While these skills are necessary to have across all age groups, they are especially important for younger people, who will not only contribute to the green transition for a longer period of time but are also the prime-age workers of tomorrow.

Youth engagement across the economic, political and social spheres is therefore crucial for sustainable development, economic growth and the progression of societies. However, the number of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) globally rose significantly with the disruption of COVID 19. It is also troubling that employers question both the importance of relying on youth in the current post-pandemic environment and also the speed with which they can transition into the labour market.

In 2020, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that the number of youth NEETs globally had risen to 23% – the highest it had been in 15 years. That is, 282 million young people in 2020 who were not gaining work experience, gaining an income or enhancing their education and skills.

This presents a pressing challenge – the underutilisation of young people’s potential.

Unemployment trends and wider challenges

Globally, unemployment among young people is more than three times more common than among adults. In 2021, 75 million young people were unemployed, 732 million were out of the labour force, and 408 million were in employment.[1]

Africa has the youngest population globally, and the numbers of young African people are expected to continue to increase rapidly in the future. Interestingly though, youth unemployment in Africa remains below the world average.

Unemployment data, however, does not take into account the quality of employment, i.e., it does not take into consideration the decency of the employment opportunities. Hence, within the sub-Saharan African context, the relatively low rates of unemployment among the youth are, to some extent, a consequence of higher engagement in insecure and typically low productivity jobs, in order to generate some income.

Source: Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022, Investing in transforming futures for young people.

Characterising the challenge

Despite efforts to involve youth in socio-economic and political processes, the extent and quality of meaningful youth engagement is often inadequate – leading to missed opportunities for mutual benefit by both youth and employers. The challenge at hand can therefore be characterised as limited participation; superficial involvement; and insufficient consideration of the unique perspectives, needs, and aspirations of young people.

Some of the key aspects of this problem can be summarised as:

  1. Limited Access to Opportunities: This particularly affects youth from marginalised backgrounds, faces barriers in accessing meaningful opportunities, including challenges related to skill development, lack of mentorship, and inadequate networking avenues.
  2. Skill Mismatch: There is a noticeable mismatch between the skills and competencies of the youth and the demands of the formal labour market. While young people possess a range of digital and creative skills, the private sector/employers often struggles to effectively integrate these skills into their operations and strategies. This hampers the potential for meaningful collaboration and innovation.
  3. Underrepresentation in Decision-Making: Many organisations have youth representation at a surface level, often limited to tokenistic participation in non-strategic roles. Genuine inclusion of young individuals in high-level decision-making processes is lacking, resulting in the exclusion of valuable insights and innovative ideas.
  4. Short-Term Engagement vs. Long-Term Commitment: Youth engagement efforts by the private sector often focus on short-term projects or initiatives rather than establishing sustainable, long-term engagement strategies. This limits the potential for youth to contribute to economic growth and development over time.
  5. Inadequate Representation of Diversity: The data underscores that youth engagement initiatives by employers frequently overlook the importance of diversity and inclusivity. There is a lack of representation of various ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds, leading to a narrow perspective on youth needs and preferences.

The role of the private sector: Tapping into the youth resource in Africa

The private sector plays a significant role in shaping the global economy and influencing social change. The sector could be a major proponent of meaningful youth engagement, resulting in the reduction of youth unemployment and NEETs numbers.

Given the recent setbacks to the global economy, providing productive employment opportunities for young people could very well be the differentiator for the Africa region and its recovery. A few general recommendations stand out in this regard: 

  1. Strategic Integration: Private sector organisations need to integrate youth engagement as a strategic component of their operations. This involves involving young individuals in key decision-making processes, soliciting their input on product development, marketing strategies, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

See the example of Haier’s Rendanheyi management model.

  1. Skills Alignment: The private sector should actively seek ways to align the skills possessed by young individuals with their business objectives. Internships, mentorship programs, and collaborative projects can facilitate skill transfer and integration.

See the example of McKinsey’s Forward Africa program

  1. Long-Term Engagement: Private sector entities should shift from short-term engagement efforts to sustained, comprehensive strategies that involve youth in the long-term growth and development of the organisation.

See the example of apprenticeship in Germany

  1. Equal Opportunity: To ensure equal access to opportunities, private sector organisations should implement measures to reduce barriers faced by marginalised youth, including tailored skill development programs and inclusive hiring practices.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: Prioritising diversity and inclusion in youth engagement initiatives ensures a broader representation of perspectives and experiences.

See the example of Unilever’s equity, diversity and inclusion approach

Addressing the challenge of meaningful youth engagement by the private sector requires a multi-faceted approach that considers the unique needs and contributions of young individuals. It is estimated that additional jobs for young people in Africa through a push towards sustainable investments could amount to over 9 million by 2030.

Therefore, by strategically integrating youth perspectives, aligning skills, and ensuring inclusivity, the private sector can unlock innovation, foster sustainable development, and create a more prosperous and equitable future for all.

[1] Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022, Investing in transforming futures for young people

Photo Credit: Kampus Production

Latest updates

Get the latest updates and learn more about Agribusiness in Africa.