No one debates that one of Africa’s biggest thorns in the flesh is youth unemployment; but what makes us an amazing people is our ability to ‘get over it.’ The African people are incredibly adaptable, positive thinking and resilient. Think about and see how much we have been through, yet we still afford to be smiling, kind and hopeful.
As an African who has not only been unemployed but currently working under relatively uncertain conditions I believe the publicity that the ‘unemployment problem’ in Africa is being given as compared to the ways in which youth can get jobs, improve productivity and advance their careers is counterproductive. When youth begin to believe that there are no jobs for them upon leaving campus, there is the loss of enough resilience to push hard enough through the existing job opportunities.
Just a few months ago I was completely unemployed (before then the only jobs I was getting were 3 month contracts). I was home caring for my younger brothers, reading any book I could pick up and working at online jobs that pay per page. I was miserable, mostly because of the uncertainty that come with being young, educated and disengaged. In the midst of this period, I was bombarded by all this information about how youth unemployment in Sub-Saharan Africa is at an all-time high of over 60%. To put this into perspective, that is to say that of the 300 of us who graduated with a communications degree in our year, just 120 had gotten into a job. The rest of us were home, hustling and feeling we had wasted money on an education that had been unable to guarantee us a job. I had almost come to fully accept that I might never get into any gainful or permanent employment, let alone one that I liked.
As luck would have it, I unexpectedly got a job at an upcoming Human Resource Firm. Working here has taught me so much about youth, jobs and unemployment. My first lesson has been that a lot of great jobs do not get advertised. Being actively involved in filling for jobs I have seen that hiring is tough but unemployed youth do not make It any easier, especially those that are resigned into believing that ‘there are no jobs,’ ‘the positions are always filled they companies just have to follow procedure, but they already have someone,’ and the other limiting mentalities. The problem with this kind of thinking is that youth do not pursue opportunities that are good for them. I am coming to learn that being underemployed is sometimes okay when all you are complaining about is the paycheck. The problem is when you are underemployed at a job that has little to do which the career you want in the long term.
Let me give you a practical example of this; over the last week, I was filling for DHL Kenya, who was looking for interns to help with some in-house data reorganization they were doing. I shortlisted a number of potential candidates and emailed them with a simple screening task that required them to write a 400 worded essay giving a summary of who they were, leadership roles they have had and why they are interested in the job. Of the 15 candidates who expressed interest, only 2 have sent in the essay (they had 2 days and a weekend to send in their responses). I am still investigating what went wrong. Did they not see my email? Do they not have access to a computer, internet? Was the task hard? Or are they just lazy? Of the 2 who did send in their responses, only one would I recommend the job. Yet the other 13 will go on complaining that there are not jobs or opportunities to advance their career. See the irony?
I continue to see this and more daily. I am coming to believe that there is no unemployment problem. That maybe, we are just confused in how we look, we could be lacking the right information, searching in the wrong place or we simply have the wrong expectations. I often tell job seekers that when you have been invited for an interview, the interviewer has more hope in you than you may think; they hope you are the person who could help them solve their problems. The unemployment narrative in Africa may be true but is has been over publicized. Youth need to work towards their dreams and keep hope alive, like the Africans we are.