Youth employment in a post-COVID-19 period

November 10, 2020

CONTRIBUTORS

John Muchira

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

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This crisis could have been all we needed to position ourselves for the future.” These were the words by Rukomia wa Maina, the Partnerships & Business Development Lead at Silikon Consulting Group Ltd, in response to my inquiry on how he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting young people’s lives. I was interested in learning the effects of the pandemic on youth employment with the aim of developing a better understanding of some of the interventions that could help in accelerating economic recovery after the pandemic. The undeniable truth about COVID-19 is that it is and will continue to bring devastating effects in all sectors of the economy at all levels. However, what matter most are the immediate interventions especially in regard to youth employment.

Developing young people’s competencies in digital skills is imperative as there are no lending limits and regulatory conditions in accessing digital credit in the emerging African economies. Notably, even amidst the pandemic, digital companies have continued to generate high profits which shows that investment in digital training will ensure sustainable source of livelihood among the young people. Nevertheless, this will be possible if the training is incorporated in all institution of learning as core subjects.

Fostering and mobilizing government-led initiatives

Considering the increasing employment challenges the youth are currently experiencing, there is a need to develop policy-based initiatives that will ensure sustainable job opportunities upon completion of their education, improved livelihoods and their overall wellbeing as well as future generations.  Ideally, real transformation in the labor sector would entail moving away from patronage politics, that is, the offering of short-term jobs and money in exchange for political support to policy-led initiatives. For instance, the government has rolled out employment initiatives such as Kazi Mtaani and Ajira Digital Program, with the former aimed at keeping the environment clean and improving service delivery infrastructure, and providing income generation opportunities to the youth while the latter is meant to create decent digital wages to at least 1 million Kenyan youth annually. In particular, the Ajira Digital platform has impacted more than 50,000 youth in the last three years by incubating digital work platforms, supporting outsourcing of work, and linking them to digital jobs by nurturing digital work platforms, supporting outsourcing of work, and linking them to digital jobs.

In the past, the youth’s access to financial services was about half of that of older citizens across the country. This calls for immediate interventions considering financial inclusion remains an important aspect of the youth employment agenda. As pointed out by the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, advancement in technology, transformation in business models and ambitious reforms in the financial sectors has accelerated access to financial services to those previously excluded, a demographic that is mainly comprised of the youth.

Through digitization, incentives such as soft loans, grants and tax waivers that the government of Kenya has recently availed will increase youth financial inclusion and this will foster “job creation for the youth and trigger imagination and creativity” according to Wachira, a youth, and a Branch Manager at Fortune SACCO with over ten years’ experience in the finance sector. These incentives will also enable the youth to venture into production and manufacturing activities such as the production of face masks, ventilators by students of Kenyatta University and the manufacturing of hospital beds by local artisans as part of the contribution in the fight against the COVID19 pandemic.

Digitization

Undoubtedly, with COVID-19, digitization has proved not to a thing of the future but it’s here with us and the youth can take advantage of this for a better place in the economy. During a recent webinar co-organized by UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and PASCAL on the challenge of TVET, business learning, and entrepreneurship in learning cities, one of the presenters stated that given COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have long lasting implications for labour markets, its integral for the youth to learn to be adaptable and creative.

Panelists at a recent webinar on Leveraging Tech to spur Decent Work and Economic Growth during and post COVID-19 recommended investing in the digital gig economy apps. According to the speakers, this presents untapped opportunities, which will play a big role in the country’s economic recovery as online demand for services and products increases. Moreover, bearing in mind that most of the youth are in rural areas where there is low internet penetration, initiation of strategies that will improve accessibility of the internet in the rural areas should be put in place. It is for this reason that the government should also establish key infrastructure like data centers, penetration of fiber in the rural areas and of course access to power to enable a vast majority of the youth to continue with their trade.

According to Chris Kahuria an Entrepreneurship and Finance Lead at Silikon Consulting Group, the youth must therefore reposition themselves. “We are in an era of digitization and the youth will be the biggest beneficiaries of a digital economy. What we knew as normal may never return and young people must be proactive in positioning themselves to live in a new normal in the marketplace. Jobs and opportunities are not gone; they have only changed placement,” he said.

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