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We need to diffuse youth time bomb post-Covid

By Stephen Ndegwa
Wednesday, July 21st, 2021 19:31 | 3 mins read
International Labour Organisation (ILO). Photo/File

While the youth are a huge force in any socio-economic and political action, they are also categorised as a vulnerable demographic, due to their young age and inexperience. 

The irony is more apparent from the fact that the large numbers of youth found in many countries, is not commensurate to their involvement in decision making processes.

Now, Covid-19 has complicated this reality more. As a consequence of measures to contain the pandemic, billions of young people globally are either out of school, or unemployed.

A report released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) before the pandemic, ‘Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020: Technology and the future of jobs’, already painted a gloomy future for youth employment. 

Prior to the current crisis, the report notes that young people were three times more likely than adults to be unemployed, and often faced a prolonged school-to-work transition period.

But coronavirus is also a silver lining in finding solutions to the perennial youth unemployment crisis, facing many countries, especially developing ones. 

In order to adapt to the emerging new normal and the potential dearth of skills development due to the worldwide closure of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions, governments are obliged to seek creative solutions for expanding the employment sector. Developing countries like Kenya are trying to run ahead of the pending crisis.

An eight-point Economic Stimulus Programme rolled out by President Uhuru Kenyatta in June, plans to create 200,000 jobs for the youth in the National Hygiene Programme “Kazi Mtaani Initiative. 

In the last decade, Kenya has experienced an oversupply of university graduates after the exponential expansion of university education in the last two decades.

Sadly, the flip side of this expansion was the destruction of TVET institutions, as they paved way for campuses teaching a wide range of general degrees, which are largely irrelevant. 

The repercussions of the mistake are now evident as many of construction projects have had to import specialised labour for high quality work in areas like masonry, carpentry and plumbing.

The government has now started a gradual reversal of this trend, while also encouraging high school leavers to opt for TVET courses over general degree programs. 

 Amid a situation where various types of jobs are not coming back, and the emergence of a new breed of jobs without sufficient talent in the job market, the youth are faced with insurmountable challenges.

It is going to be a long learning curve, which will necessitate a lot of on-the-job training.

TVET institutions will also need to come up with new curriculums that cover the new skills set for the equally new vocations.

Moreover, some of these new areas are not fully developed, which will demand more resource investment not just in research and development, but also in labour costs. 

Governments and other financiers should be courageous enough to fund disruptive innovations and other experimental projects initiated by the youth.

Oftentimes, the youth who have dared to come up with novel ways of doing things have been branded as overzealous, over ambitious or sheer adventurers.

As societies continue to evolve and develop post Covid-19, there will be many gaps in handling new demands and circumstances.

This is the time to start figuring out what the future might look like in order to project the skills that society will require to meet its needs. 

Skills for the youth is not simply about earning an income or eking out a living.

Beyond the job market and employment, it is about equipping them with life skills to handle both the expected and unexpected in the changing fortunes of time.

Having a large repertoire of skills will enable the youth to hold their own in the short term, and make a successful generational transition.    — The writer comments on international affairs

Stephen Ndegwa

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