Winning the battle for youth employment

By 2030, about 100 million young people will have entered the labour market in Africa, representing more than 10 million young job-seekers each year (1). This demographic surge can be an opportunity if the continent can meet the employability challenge. Owing to a lack of appropriate skills, young people account for up to 60 per cent of Africa’s unemployed (2). To meet economic demand and build a future for young people, it has become urgent to strengthen the effectiveness of vocational training systems through partnerships.

Emploi / 5 enjeux
Emploi / 5 enjeux

While technical and vocational skill development is prominent in the United Nations’ Education 2030 Agenda, Africa’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems are not yet up to the challenge.

Ensuring the training-to-work transition: a question of employability

While youth unemployment in Africa is alarmingly high, 1 in 3 of young Africans who are employed live in extreme poverty (3). The development of the African continent will depend on an increase in the qualifications of Africa’s young people and their acquisition of skills that meet economic and social demands. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 7 per cent of upper secondary school students were enrolled in TVET programmes in 2014(4). While this figure is lower than the corresponding figures for North America or Western Europe, the fact that there has been an increase indicates a growing interest in TVET on the continent. However, training programmes are often too general and do not necessarily meet the skill needs of countries. Technical colleges and high schools are often far removed from the professional world and do not give enough importance to practical work and placements. To ensure an effective and sustainable training-to-work transition, the focus should be on workplace training.

Strengthening monitoring and improving responsiveness

In the 2000s, many sub-Saharan African countries decided to place skill development at the centre of educational and social policies for development. National employment and training observatories have been created to gather statistics to improve information systems and assess the skill needs of economies. However, TVET systems are often rigid. They have difficulty adjusting to the rapid introduction of new training courses or abandoning courses with low demand from companies that therefore become irrelevant. Adopting a skills framework or a national qualifications system can help to strengthen the links between education, training, and employment, by identifying promising fields and anticipating the skills that should be given priority in order to boost particular economic sectors. These tools can be shared and adopted by several African countries, thus facilitating the mobility of learners and graduate workers through the mutual recognition of qualifications. These synergies and collaborative practices need to be further developed. Furthermore, the commitment of all stakeholders is essential to ensure that these schemes are implemented in a consistent and harmonious way.

Strengthening and accelerating partnerships

At the current rate, Africa will only be able to create 100 million jobs of the 450 million that are actually needed in the next 25 years. Generating new jobs requires relevant training courses to be designed upstream, in addition to sustained growth. To do this, greater involvement of economic stakeholders, particularly at local level, appears to be an essential means of leverage. Senegal has based its TVET modernization strategies on strengthening public–private partnerships to meet the needs of priority sectors such as construction and public works, fishing and agriculture. Thus, the Training Centre for Port Trades and Logistics (Centre de Formation aux Métiers Portuaires et à la Logistique) in Dakar was one of the first training centres in sub-Saharan Africa to provide a skills-based training approach.

Higher education in Mauritania

Another challenge is to make higher education, which is often characterized by the predominance of long academic cycles, more flexible,  with more focus on employability. In  Mauritania,  projections suggest that the number of jobs requiring higher education qualifications in the manufacturing, water, and energy sectors is expected to increase sixfold over the next  15  years.  If  the  coverage  of higher education in Mauritania is below that of comparable countries, its expansion will have to be done through the development of short professional training courses more suitable to the future labour market.


Better financing of vocational training

To support these transitions in TVET systems, significant resources are needed. The share of vocational training in education spending is only 4 per cent on average in Africa (5). In most countries, occupational taxes that are supposed to finance training are collected by the state and paid into the treasury as tax revenues, thus only partially benefiting TVET. However, the situation seems to be gradually changing. In 2014, Senegal developed the  Vocational and Technical  Training  Fund  (3FPT),  which subsidizes training and integration projects developed according to the economic potential of localities. Between 2016 and 2018, 3FPT supported more than 18,000 young Senegalese in training in 200 approved organisations across 27 sectors. 3FPT is now cited as an example for sub-Saharan African countries (6). Beyond the question of financing,  the partnership dynamic remains the main key factor of the success and performance of TVET. In Africa, the implementation of public-private partnerships is still far from optimal. Among the obstacles is the  lack of a  regulatory framework and operational tools.  The challenge for the coming years is therefore to redefine the roles of public and private stakeholders in the development and implementation of training in order to strengthen this essential cooperation. Only by taking all these elements into account will TVET contribute to restructuring the African economy, by enhancing the employability of young people for the jobs of the future

(1) IIEP-UNESCO Dakar database and the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie.
(2) World Bank data, cited in Africa Renewal, ‘Africa’s jobless youth cast a shadow over economic growth’.
(3) International Labour Organization, ‘Global employment trends for youth 2020: Africa’, 2020.
(4) Data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the World Bank, ‘The skills balancing act in sub-Saharan Africa’, 2020.
(5) IIEP-UNESCO Dakar indicator database.
(6) Vocational and Technical Training Fund website,

For a localized approach to TVET

To meet the challenge of youth employability in Africa, TVET must respond to the specific challenges of local economies. Mobilizing local actors, and in particular private enterprises, is therefore fundamental. This means that institutions in charge of TVET must remain in touch with territorial realities and the needs expressed by the field. In sub-Saharan Africa, this transition from central systems to local consultation mechanisms is beginning to take place. The dynamics of supply and demand often lead local labour markets to specialize, to take advantage of their comparative advantages. Vocational training has a key role to play in supporting the economic strategies of different regions and in fostering their resilience to external shocks. The proximity of companies to local training centres facilitates the creation of training pathways aligned with sectoral skill needs – and thus promotes the professional integration of young people into their local economic fabric. This participatory approach is generally based on regional partnership frameworks for skill development. This is the case in Mauritania, which is currently carrying out an innovative approach in three regions, with the technical support of IIEP-UNESCO Dakar. Local private companies are involved in identifying the skills needed to develop their most promising sectors: mixed farming in the Gorgol region, construction in Nouakchott, and fishing in Nouadhibou. This partnership will help the training centres to adapt their programmes and will guide young people towards promising career paths.

Public–private partnership: what are the benefits?

More than ever, the continent needs to train people capable of meeting the skill needs of businesses. This is a precondition for economic growth and will enable young Africans to find decent jobs or to achieve long-term success in entrepreneurship. Public–private partnerships are an essential part of achieving this. Public–private partnerships can help to identify the skills lacking today, to anticipate those that will be indispensable tomorrow, or to design and deliver coherent training programmes. They also make it possible to evaluate their impact and results, and reduce the financial burden on public budgets, since the private sector takes on the indirect costs of training young people, such as the hosting and supervision of apprentices. To improve both the employability of young people and competitiveness of the market, the Moroccan authorities have set up delegated management institutes, in partnership with professionals in the targeted sectors. This training system makes it possible to accelerate the specialization and professional integration of young company recruits

Planning TVET for transition to employment: Focus on our action

IIEP-UNESCO Dakar promotes an innovative approach to supporting and strengthening the planning and management of TVET. The aim is to ensure that all people have access to relevant, high-quality training and skill development throughout their lives. To achieve this, the teams provide technical support to African stakeholders in the sub-sector in the development, implementation, and monitoring of TVET plans and reforms. This includes, for example, defining national or regional frameworks for public–private partnerships. IIEP-UNESCO Dakar encourages networking through the sharing of tools and resources between countries.