We need to defuse youth time bomb past Covid-19

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020 00:00 |
Launching of Kazi Mtaani programme where over 4,000 youths will be employed in Nyeri for the next six months. Photo/PD/JOSEPH KING’ORI

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 age and inexperience.

The irony is more apparent from the fact that the big number of youth found in many countries is not commensurate with their involvement in the decision making processes.

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

A report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) before the coronavirus pandemic, ‘Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020: Technology and the future of jobs’, 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 the 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, including 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  dubbed: Kazi Mtaani Initiative. 

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

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

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

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

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 a curriculum that covers the new skills set for the equally new vocations.

Moreover, some of these emerging 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 is a communication expert, and public policy analyst —[email protected]

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