Sadly, given the precarious situation of unemployment on the continent, more than 50 percent of this young, bright and hopeful generation may not find gainful employment in the next five years.
Unemployment is a nagging problem across Africa; it’s a headache for governments, parents and African society in general.
In my opinion, the ‘official’ unemployment statistics from government departments can be misleading.
In countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Angola and Kenya, the rate of unemployment is ‘really’ north of 25 percent.
Right now, more than half of Africa’s one billion people are below the age of 35. Over the next 30 years, estimates suggest that the population of this group will rise to over 1 billion, and Africa will have the largest working class population in the world by the year 2050.
If the harsh climate of unemployment persists as it is, and drastic measures aren’t taken to tame it, can you imagine what Africa would look like by 2050?
These days, every other job seeker has a BSc or BA. To stand out, you’ll need to add some cherry on top of your qualifications.
So, to increase their chances of landing a job in a very tight job market, more young Africans are heading on for an MSc, MA or MBA, and both local and foreign universities are enjoying the surge in tuition fees.
Interestingly, a growing number of young Africans are also turning up with PhDs.
There is now an opportunistic process of academic inflation at play in Africa. More young people are reaching for higher rungs on the academic ladder in order to increase their competitive advantage on the job market.
However, although Africa is increasingly awash with degrees, most of these people cannot find jobs.
The Dangote Group, owned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, caused a media firestorm in 2012 when it disclosed that no less than 6 PhDs and 700 Masters degree holders had applied for its truck driver program.
Yes, even PhDs have to earn a living. Academic certificates, however glorious, cannot be eaten as food or cashed at the bank.
In this article, I’ll share my thoughts on the single biggest reason why many of Africa’s young and ‘educated’ people are jobless, and a few valuable tips that’ll really help to change the situation for those who are willing.
‘Looking for a job’ is the new job
I met a young man at a business seminar recently who told me he’d been unemployed for the past six years, since he graduated from university.
And when I asked him what he’d been doing in all that time, he said:
“I’ve been looking for a job.”
“I have been writing applications and attending interviews, but I haven’t been fortunate yet.” he finished.
In my experience, I have found this response to be commonplace among Africa’s young unemployed.
What we often do not realize is that every year we spend ‘looking for a job’, leaves a huge hole in our résumé or curriculum vitae.
‘Looking for a job’, while a very busy and tiring activity, has no real economic value; it won’t put money in your pocket.
While you may spend days, weeks and months walking about town, knocking on company doors and attending interviews, ‘looking for a job’ shouldn’t be a full-time job.
If looking for a job is your best and only strategy out of unemployment, I suggest you take a hard look at yourself and focus on the advice in the rest of this article.
Many are educated, but few are skilled
In my opinion, this is the single biggest reason why many young and educated people in Africa are jobless.
Fresh out of school, academic certificate in hand, zero work experience and very little market-ready skills.
What business would hire that?
Have you ever wondered why you’ll always choose an ‘uneducated’ but skilled mechanic to fix your broken car and not some ‘educated’ guy with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering?
I speak for myself too…
I have a BSc in Mechanical Engineering. And although I spent five years in university to get that degree, and know (theoretically) how a car works, I just cannot take on major repairs on my car.
While we love and respect higher education in Africa, when it comes to getting things done, we’d rather pay someone who’s skilled and experienced over anyone with just an academic qualification.
I trust I speak the truth for most of you reading this.
Academic certificates on their own cannot create economic value. But skill and experience can create value, and get paid for it.
And this is why a mechanic, salesman, fashion designer, web developer, trainer, business consultant, computer programmer or entrepreneur can get money out of my pocket, but an ‘academic’ cannot.
The truth is, no matter how grand your academic qualification, unless you can trade the things you know, or can do, you’ll never get paid.
The above statement always holds true in the real world, outside of formal employment.
Imagine what would happen if every young African graduate chose to learn a skill. It could be anything; agribusiness, fashion, web development, beauty and cosmetics, sales and marketing, social media, or just fixing stuff (computers, cars, phones etc.)
With a market-ready skill, anyone can create economic value and earn an income while they look for a job, if they wish.
With market-ready skills, many of Africa’s young and educated people won’t have to spend months or years sitting on their hands, waiting, looking, searching and dreaming for jobs.
The truth is, it’s almost impossible to stay idle or go hungry when you have a relevant skill, knowledge or experience that’s in demand, and people will pay you for.
Interestingly, there are a several places on the internet you can learn anything. And most of them are absolutely free!
I’ll share the details in the section below.
Ready to Quit the ‘Job Search’ Rat Race? Follow these tips!
If you’re one of the 100+ million young and educated Africans (or know one of them), here are a few practical tips that could turn your life around.
1) Get rid of the ‘job search’ mentality
Across Africa, young people are taught to go to school, graduate and get a job.
If you ask me, this ‘job search’ mentality is one of the biggest limitations young people in Africa face.
These days, unfortunately, there aren’t enough jobs to go around. That’s why just sitting on your hands, or only spending your time ‘looking for a job’ is a failed strategy.
More people need to start asking themselves, ‘What else can I do?’,
‘How else can I create value and get paid for it?’
Asking yourself these kinds of questions is a very important psychological milestone because it creates the right internal climate for critical thinking and allows your creative juices to flow.
Don’t just wait on the government or society to create jobs that will employ you.
2) Learn a skill
Learning a new skill isn’t always easy. But the good thing is, skills stay with you for life. That’s as long as you continue to use and improve on them.
And when it comes to skills, the more difficult, the better. That’s because people will pay more money to solve serious and complex problems.
What particular skills should you learn?
Well, it depends on two things.
The first is to focus on the opportunities and gaps around you. There’s no point learning a skill that’s not in good demand, and one people may not readily pay you for.
The second is to learn something you’ll always be happy to apply. It also helps if the skill you decide to learn is agreeable to your passions, temperament and abilities. That way, you’ll stay interested even while the learning process is challenging.
If you’d like to explore some options, here’s that resource I told you about earlier:
Like I said earlier, having a market-ready skill gives you the flexibility to earn income and overcome some of the frustrations that come with joblessness.
3) Work for free
One of the biggest reasons why young African graduates can’t land a job is ‘lack of experience’. Many employers want experienced people who already know what to do and can hit the ground running.
It’s no surprise that people who have a high level of relevant experience stand a better chance of landing a job than others with high academic qualifications, but little or zero work experience.
But how can our young people gain any relevant experience when nobody wants to employ them in the first place?
That’s a common question (excuse) I always get.
But you know what? Stop making excuses!
If you’re ready to overcome your ‘lack of experience disadvantage’, you should work for free!
It may sound counterintuitive but working for free is more productive and valuable than waiting at home for a job or walking the streets looking for one.
Better still, it provides a very valuable upgrade to your résumé, which you can use to improve your chances of getting a relevant job down the road.
Working for free may be hard, and will require personal and mental sacrifices. But it’s usually worth it in the end.
Everytime I talk about ‘working for free’, young school leavers look at me like I’m speaking Latin. They just can’t understand why they should work for free.
Experience. Hard experience. That’s why!
Working for free is the easiest, least time-consuming and most effective way to gain work experience.
And if you’d like to know if I favour working for free over gaining an extra or higher academic degree?
Yes, I do.
The Earlier You Start, The Better…
The young man I met who’s been unemployed for six years never dreamed he’d be jobless for that long.
Time will pass, no matter what you choose to do.
Whether you’re sitting on your hands, job hunting or applying the advice in this article, one thing is always sure.
Time will pass.
By investing your time and energy in activities that have the potential to increase your economic value, you’ll surely have a better deal years from now, whether you find a job or not.
And for those of you who have chosen to look beyond job seeking, thumbs up.
Thumbs up, again.
Entrepreneurs (job creators), and not job seekers, will rule the future in Africa.