While Zambia continues to make strides economically and socially, there are clear problems that need to be addressed, according to a report by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The most pressing issue, the report states, is the growing number of unemployed youths in Zambia.

The Statistical Context

This past decade has been quite fruitful for Zambia’s economy, which has grown at an annual rate of 6 percent since 2000. However, poverty still afflicts 60.5 percent of the population. Moreover, from 2004 to 2013, the population has increased by 3.3 million to 14.5 million. The result is a disproportionately large population of Zambian youths.

This expansion amounts to an annual average rate of 3 percent, which exceeds the 2.7 percent average of other sub-Saharan countries.

According to the U.N.’s World Population Prospects, the working age youth population is expected to grow at a rate of 34 percent for the next two decades. This means that the youth labor force is expected to nearly double from 5.5 million to 10.1 million.

While Zambia’s economy has shown significant growth, the expected influx of youth into the labor market presents a challenge and a question: How can they all be absorbed into the workforce?

Currently, youth make up 64.2 percent of the working-age population. And of that pool, only 11 percent obtain public jobs. The private sector, on the other hand, accounts for a small percentage of the employed youth.

Not surprisingly, agriculture accounts for the majority of the jobs that youths hold as the economy continues to rely on that industry for growth.

This fact suggests that the economy has not undergone a structural transformation. In other words, the Zambian market has not yet incorporated technology-intensive manufacturing firms. And this has left otherwise able youth underemployed, performing marginal jobs of an irregular nature.

The Underlying Factors

Zambia boasts tremendous improvement in primary school enrollment rates, having increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in 2012. However, as the report notes, the true indicator of a stable and effective education system is the progression rate of students from primary school all the way to tertiary school.

In that regard, Zambia performs poorly: out of every 100 primary school children, only 1.07 will enroll at a tertiary institution (i.e. university or vocational school).

This rate is six times below the average of neighboring countries and 19 times below the world average. Since many Zambian youth do not complete secondary or tertiary school, they are unable to find jobs and many may resort to agricultural or household work.

The struggle in transitioning from school to work depends on several factors. The quality of education is one, but it is not uncommon for young Zambians to be in and out of school trying to find sponsors to pay for their education.

Some end up graduating secondary school (i.e. high school) in their twenties.

For this reason, entrepreneurship is quite popular among Zambians as a compelling option for those who leave school. And, while the business set up have so far not been very stable — as a result of their establishment being out of economic necessity rather than opportunity — many see promise if these individuals are better supported.

The Solutions

Technical and vocational educational training schools or TVETs have been created to address the huge scarcity of skilled workers and a need for out-of-school students to find training.

However, there are two challenges facing these schools. First, is a lack of capacity: about 300,000 Zambians leave the school system every year, yet the universities and TVETs can only absorb 14,000 students.

Second, there has yet to be much stock put in the graduates of TVETs as compared to graduates of universities. Historically, TVET graduates are viewed as favorably as university graduates even though they possess the technical skills needed for a growing young economy like Zambia’s.

The government has enacted soft policies to help combat youth unemployment. The National Youth Policy (NYP) was first adopted in 1994 and was later readdressed in 2013.

The result was the National Action Plan on Youth Employment in Zambia, which developed a framework to monitor and evaluate youth unemployment to better produce jobs and resources.

Donor communities and Zambia’s NGO sector also assist. Street Kids International established the Youth Skills Enterprise Initiative, giving youth in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, opportunities to earn daily income and learn life skills. Another venture, BongoHive, acts as a networking hub for young graduates to program and gain employable skills.

Shehrose Mian

Sources: Bloomberg, IDRC, Bongohive
Photo: The World Bank

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has launched an innovative new pilot program to improve access to vocational training and employment for young people with disabilities in Zambia. ILO has been working with the Zambian government since 2012 to make training institutions more inclusive, and this new program will augment that effort.

Zambia currently has 300 vocational training institutions serving over 33,600 students, but ability-based discrimination during enrollment has lead to high levels of exclusion and unemployment for many young people. ILO hopes this program will change that.

“The program will give young people with disabilities the skills they need to enter the open labor market,” the report read.

ILO currently audits training institutions against international standards to identify barriers to entry, ease of campus accessibility and adaptability of curricula for students with special needs. Recommendations are then made to the colleges to make improvements.

Instructors also undergo disability awareness training that includes not only insight into the physical limitations of students but also ways in which students are hindered by societal attitudes and stigma. Instructors are then supported in finding ways to overcome these obstacles.

Under the new pilot program, 20 teachers at five training institutions will take courses on how to build inclusive educational environments, and they will become certified to train other teachers, creating a sustainable education model. Training for new teachers will also be redesigned to include disability inclusion from the outset.

Partner colleges have embraced these efforts. “Our goal is to be a fully inclusive vocational training institution within three to five years,” said Samuel Mayo, Chief Executive of Lusaka Technical and Business College.

But discrimination continues beyond education into working life in Zambia, where over 45 percent of young people with disabilities are unemployed. Employers hesitate to hire these candidates because they incorrectly assume there will be costs associated with doing so. They might also assume that these candidates will require complicated special accommodations, which has also proven to be untrue.

In response, ILO held a roundtable discussion on the business-case benefits of hiring qualified candidates regardless of ability. The event brought in 50 representatives from private companies and launched the formation of the Zambia Business and Disability Network, which now works to build capacity for inclusive hiring practices among employers.

While the organization works primarily with business leaders to foster inclusive workplace attitudes, it has also partnered with hiring agencies to develop skills and confidence for candidates of all abilities.

ILO is confident that this program’s sustainable model will allow it to have a broader impact outside of Zambia. “By being both a source and a catalyst of knowledge-sharing and innovation, the ILO program is helping countries around the world achieve better results for men and women with disabilities,” they say.

Ron Minard

Sources: ILO, UN, WHO
Photo: Flickr

According to The Guardian, “youth unemployment is a global issue,” as young people account for approximately 40 percent of the world’s unemployed. Of note, 90 percent of this demographic live in developing countries, such as South Africa.

Not surprisingly, one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals seeks to address this global issue by “substantially [reducing] the proportion of youth not in employment, education, or training” by 2020.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have already started to make a difference for unemployed youth in South Africa, where the youth unemployment rate stands at a staggering 50 percent. PPPs are working to provide young workers with government funded education, internship opportunities and technical services.

PPPs run projects between the private sector and the government, nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, or a combination of all three.

Zambian Youth Benefit

In Zambia for example, a PPP comprised of Unicef, Barclays and the Zambian government provided free courses focused on enterprise, entrepreneurship and communication skills.

According to The Guardian, Ernest Daka, a 22-year-old Zambian unemployed youth turned entrepreneur, credits a business and financial literacy course offered by this PPP as his motivation to become a self-starter.

Daka learned how to apply for a startup loan from a microfinance institution to purchase 50 chicks, a chicken coop, feed and charcoal.

The young entrepreneur began raising chickens after he learned more about local food supply and demand during the PPP course. Daka hired his brother as an employee and plans to package his chicken and eggs for grocery and restaurant sale in the future.

He has since repaid his loan in full and was able to pay for his brother’s school fees using profits from his business.

New Funding for PPPs

In 2014, the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) approved the financing of 48 new private sector operations with an investment of UA 1.59 billion. According to the AFDB, PPPs are one of the best ways for countries to foster development via power transport, water and sanitation and telecommunications.

As the desire for greater efficiency and better services grows, the availability of public financing resources diminishes. The South African government continues to promotes PPPs to make up for this lack of funding, improve the business environment and reduce the youth unemployment rate.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: African Development Bank Group, The Guardian, UN
Photo: Flickr