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Creating opportunities for youth in East Africa

June 30, 2016

Youth employment is crucial to the development of the East African Community (EAC), but the region's young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find decent employment. An IDRC supported project, Innovative approaches to creating opportunities and incorporating youth into labour markets in the East African Community, set out to address youth unemployment in the region.

The survey conducted in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda revealed the generally low levels of education in East Africa compared to the rest of the world; secondary school was the highest level of education attained by most youth. Even those with university degrees and college diplomas often fall short of the skills necessary for current job requirements. The four countries are beginning to prioritize policies and investments to transform education and training to better meet current and future needs.

Findings from the survey emphasized the need to create more decent jobs and to reform skills training so that youth are more relevant, efficient, and responsive to emerging domestic, regional, and international labour markets. These results are already being put to use. For example, in Rwanda the results have informed  policies and strategies for promoting employment and job creation; entrepreneurship cultivation for youth; enhancing employability of youth through rebuilding the education system; and improving the quality of education to match the gap between demand and supply of skill sets.

Gender inequalities

The study found that not only do young women earn less than their male counterparts in these four countries, but the positions they hold are more vulnerable. The project results have led to an improved understanding among various stakeholders of gender inequality issues and the need to address gender discrimination in labour markets. EAC governments have initiated innovative solutions through affirmative action in training.

Career development support

Youth consider education and skills attainment to be key in addressing unemployment. The main results of the study show that across gender and education levels, youth display high levels of flexibility in terms of job search and mobility, mostly migrating to urban areas. Despite high levels of unemployment, the pursuit of vocational options remains very limited. This may be due in part to attitudes about such pathways and the fact that EAC governments have not sensitized youth about vocational education and training.

Introducing career development programs and services can help reduce dropout rates, increase aspirations and achievements, help youth find jobs that match their qualifications, assist employers to meet their skill needs, and generally improve the allocation of resources in the labour market.

However, the study shows that there is limited awareness of the benefits of career development in East Africa. In addition, there is no national career development strategy or standards for service quality in any of the four countries. Governments in the region are not doing enough to identify, sustain, and spread effective practices. Most career development services in East Africa are left to schools and parents. The Rwandan government is considering, for example, starting career planning and placement centres at the secondary or tertiary education level. The Tanzanian and Kenyan governments are working with research agencies to lay the groundwork for technology upgrades for small scale enterprises.

Policy implications

The research findings recommend building youth capacity in leadership and enterprise, enhancing technical and vocational education to improve its relevancy, connecting demand from private sector employers with the supply of skills by youth, and facilitating partners to create a collaborative and connected system that focuses on the needs of young people.

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