In search of solutions to rising unemployment

APT— A young person doing tailoring

By Dyson Mthawanji, contributor:

Unemployment and lack of relevant skills are major challenges facing southern Africa, particularly among young people and adults who did not go to or finish formal education.

The two issues are often interconnected, with a lack of relevant skills making it difficult for individuals to find employment and for the labour sector to get the needed skilled individuals.


For decades, one of the main reasons for the lack of relevant skills among illiterate adults in the region was the old-fashioned way of delivering adult education which concentrated only on literacy and numeracy, leaving out the much-needed hands-on skills.

Many countries in southern Africa have weak education systems that do not provide adult learners with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce.

This is particularly true for technical and vocational education and training (Tvet), which is often seen as a lower priority than academic education.


Another factor contributing to the skills gap is the lack of tailor-made skills that match a particular community.

This might be attributed to the top-down approach which many stakeholders use in project management, as opposed to an approach that takes the voices of participants into account in the design and implementation of programmes.

The lack of vocational skills in both rural and urban areas in the region is exacerbating the levels of unemployment.

Many countries in southern Africa have small and underdeveloped economies with few formal jobs available. This has led to a high rate of informal employment.

But the question is: are stakeholders such as governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations giving enough attention to this informal sector?

To address these challenges, there is a need for governments and other stakeholders in the region to prioritise investment in vocational training such as tailoring, barbering, carpentry and welding, among others.

This should involve a focus on providing young people and adults with skills and knowledge that are in demand in the labour market, as well as improving the overall quality of adult education and training.

There is an urgent need for increased and sustained funding to the adult education sector within the framework of a lifelong learning continuum.

The Seventh International Conference on Adult Education held in Morocco in 2022 produced the Marrakech Framework for Action (MFA), which highlighted financing as one of the critical areas that needs attention.

It is telling that the same concerns were expressed thirteen years earlier in the Belem Framework for Action at a previous conference in Brazil in 2009.

The MFA recommends committing at least 4-6 percent of GDP and/or at least 15-20 percent of total public expenditure on education.

This is the same recommendation that was made at the World Education Forum in Incheon, Korea in 2015 which was adopted by 184 Unesco member states worldwide. However, these commitments remain unmet by many countries.

The Morocco conference also emphasised the need for increased investment in adult education, in particular for developing countries, in order to address the significant disparities in access to education that exist between different regions of the world.

The conference also recognised that adult education is essential for promoting sustainable development and social justice, and that funding for adult education should be a priority for all governments.

Without consistent and sustainable funding mechanisms for the adult education sector, the Sustainable Development Goals will remain out of reach.

There is also a need for greater collaboration between education systems and the private sector to ensure that the skills being taught are relevant to the needs of the labour market.

This should involve partnership between businesses and Tvet institutions, as well as initiatives to promote entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Furthermore, there is a need to link those trained in vocational skills in the non-formal sector to microfinance and other institutions that can provide the necessary resources (either in the form of loans or grants) to enable them to apply their acquired skills.

Those trained in non-formal settings, such as Community Learning Centres (CLCs), often show great initiative and determination to put their skills to use after graduating.

For example, in Malawi, beneficiaries of CLCs in the central district of Ntchisi used their own resources to purchase sewing machines to set up small businesses to apply their newly acquired tailoring skills after completing non-formal Tvet, which was supported by DVV International and the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare.

The high level of youth unemployment in the Southern Africa region can be attributed to two key factors (among others) – the low rate of job creation in the labour market and the mismatch between training and relevant skills.

This is further exacerbated by a lack of quality education and educational infrastructure, especially in rural areas.

As a result, many young people lack the skills required to secure formal employment or to start their own businesses.

They are left to survive in the informal or non-formal market which, as has been pointed out above, is underserved by training opportunities.

Only through the combined efforts of governments, educational institutions and the private sector can we address the skills gap affecting the region.

The skills being taught must address the needs of not just the formal labour market, but also those of the non-formal market where the majority of people earn a living.

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