Youth unemployment is a time bomb

We are sitting on a time bomb with youth unemployment in this country.

Youth unemployment is the unemployment of young people, defined by the United Nations as 15-24 years old. An unemployed person is defined as someone who does not have a job but is actively seeking work.

Youth unemployment rates in Zambia are certainly higher than the adult rate.

There are 3,289,077 (males 1,643,364 and females 1,645,713) youth in Zambia aged between 15 and 24, accounting for 20 per cent of the county’s population.

The age range defined by the United Nations addresses the period when mandatory or expected schooling ends until the age of 24. This definition remains controversial as it not only impacts unemployment statistics but also plays an important role in the targeted solutions designed by policy makers.

Of course, defining the age range of youth is not as obvious as it seems. Youth can be seen as a stage in life between adolescence and adulthood or as a socially constructed group with its own sub-culture.

The definition of unemployment itself leads to the possibility of not accounting for a number of young people left out of work. Those who do not have a job and are not actively seeking work – oftentimes females – are considered inactive and are therefore excluded in unemployment statistics. Their inclusion would substantially increase the unemployment rate.

There are multiple and complex causes behind youth unemployment in our country. Among them, the quality and relevance of education, inflexible labour market, which in turn creates a situation of assistance and dependency.

The quality and relevance of education is the first root cause of youth unemployment in this country.

The highest unemployment rate is among people with primary education or less. Yet, higher education does not guarantee a decent job. A very high percentage of university graduates are unemployed.

Beyond the necessity to ensure its access to all, education is not adequately tailored to the needs of the labour market, which in turn leads to two consequences: the inability for young people to find jobs and the inability for employers to hire the skills they need. Combined with the economic crisis and the lack of sufficient job creation, it has resulted in high unemployment rate and the development of a skills crisis. Many businesses in Zambia today are struggling to find suitably qualified people.

Many employers in this country believe there’s a skill crisis as businesses witness a growing mismatch between the skills students learn in the education system and those required in the workplace. A key question is how we can bridge this gap and ensure that our young people are equipped with the skills employers are looking for.

Unemployed youth has been called “a lost generation”: not only because of productivity loss but also because of the long-term direct and indirect impact unemployment has on young people and their families. Unemployment has been said to affect earnings for about 20 years. Because they aren’t able to build up skills or experience during their first years in the workforce, unemployed youth see a decrease in lifetime earnings when compared to those who had steady work or those who were unemployed as adults. A lower salary can persist for 20 years following the unemployed period before the individual begins earning competitively to their peers.

Widespread youth unemployment also leads to a socially excluded generation at great risk for poverty.

The lost generation effect impacts also their families.

Many youth in this country now live with their parents into their late twenties. This contributes to what is called the “full-nest syndrome”.

In most cases the stay-at-homes were more likely to be unemployed than those who had moved out.

Alongside the shift in youth living situations, the impact of returning to live with parents as well as difficulty finding a fulfilling job lead to mental health risks.

Being unemployed for a long period of time in youth has been correlated to decreased happiness, job satisfaction and other mental health issues.

Unemployed youth also report more isolation from their community.

Youth who are neither working nor studying do not have the opportunity to learn and improve their skills. They are progressively marginalised from the labour market and in turn can develop an anti-social behaviour.

The rise of political unrest and anti-social behaviour in the world has been recently attributed to youth unemployment. During the course of 2011, it became a key factor in fuelling protests around the globe. Within twelve months, four regimes (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen) in the Arab world fell in the wake of the protests led by young people.

The lack of productive engagement of young people in wider society, underlined by high levels of unemployment and under-employment, only serves to add to this feeling of disenfranchisement.

Youth unemployment also dramatically increases public spending at times when economies are struggling to remain competitive.

There is a risk of loss of talent and skills since a great amount of university graduates are unable to find a job and to put their knowledge and capabilities into producing innovation and contributing to economic growth.

Excluding young people from the labour market means lacking the divergent thinking, creativity and innovation that they naturally offer. This fresh thinking is necessary for employers to foster new designs and innovative ideas. Fighting youth unemployment is therefore key to improving the economic performance of our country.

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