I’m currently working on a study within a team of 5 people (including myself): 2 senior and 2 junior level men. The seniors have retired from public service. The two young men have graduated 5 years ago from local public and private universities, top of their class but could not find stable jobs. Thus, they work on a project basis whenever they get a chance, which can be few and far in between.
The two men are less than 35 years old. They are representative of the majority of young people in Benin: educated, neither in school nor working at stable jobs yet striving to make ends meet. Public sector only hires approximately 1 000 people when you have more than 10 000 people graduates that enter the job market every year.
Looking at the ECOWAS region on the ILO’s chart displayed above, I cannot help but be dismayed at the findings: in the majority of countries, less than 7% of young women and men are not able to find work. In two countries, it is from 7-13% and in only one country it is from 13-20%. These statistics imply that African youth in ECOWAS is mostly employed. That is wrong. Most young people are underemployed or unemployed. Those who manage to find an occupation work on a temporary basis or at lower qualification positions or start a small scale trade. The rest hope for the best.
Despite countries’ higher growth rates (GDP stable around 5% for the most part) and greater education attainment by youth, jobs remain scarce. When they are available, age-ism in our societies make it such that priority is given to older people (who undoubtedly have more experience).
The ILO’s findings cover up a problem (high rates of unemployment) that is a vector for migration/brain drain or the rise in terrorism. It also masks the role that the informal sector plays in job creation. ECOWAS countries’ economies are driven by more than 50% by the informal economy. In Benin, where the informal sector represents more than 90% of the economy, graduates are found becoming drivers of taxi-motos to make ends meet. That occupation is said to generate on average daily profits of $4. They were not able to find work within their sector so they became taxi-motos.
All this to say that the ILO’s statistics narrate a single story that perpetuates the idea that youth employment is not a critical matter whereas it is among the top 3 priorities for ECOWAS countries due to its consequences for sustainable growth, stability and social justice.