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Bridging the divide between education and employment

Vocational Training Hargeisa. Photo by United Nations in Somalia

Youth unemployment has become a pressing issue, further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As more young people opt to stay in school rather than enter the labour market, they often find themselves ill-equipped with the skills employers seek. The challenge lies in addressing the skills “knowledge” gap, where young individuals are unaware of the skills required for future employment opportunities. This gap must be minimised to empower youth to thrive in the job market – but how is it best realised?

Collaboration in the Classroom-Career Transition

The transition from education to work is a critical time for young individuals, and it requires concerted efforts from both employers and the education system to bridge the skills gap and empower youth for employment. By fulfilling their respective roles, employers and the education system can create a conducive environment where young people are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the job market.

The Role of Employers

Employers play a crucial role in addressing the skills gap among young people. They have a responsibility to identify the skills and competencies needed in the labour market and actively participate in the training and development of youth.

Collaborating with educational institutions can help employers align their required skills with the job market. By providing input on the skills needed for specific industries or sectors, employers can contribute to designing relevant and practical training programs.
By contributing to the design of relevant and practical training programs and offering internship and apprenticeship opportunities, young individuals can gain hands-on experience and enhance their employability.

Employers can provide opportunities to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world application. These programs allow young people to acquire industry-specific skills and enhance their employability. Flexible working arrangements, such as part-time or remote work, can also accommodate students and young individuals pursuing education alongside employment, increasing their chances of career success.


Growing Tomatoes in Tanzania. Photo b y Feed the Future.

The Role of the Education System

Preparing young people for the job market is vital to the education system. It should focus on teaching academic knowledge and practical skills that are relevant to employment.

Education systems ought to integrate work-related skills development into their curriculum offering courses and programmes that provide practical knowledge and skills.

Work-integrated learning approaches, such as internships, cooperative education, and industry placements, can likewise bridge the gap between education and employment. The education system can collaborate with employers to create opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in real work settings, enabling them to apply their knowledge and develop relevant skills.

The education system should also offer comprehensive career guidance and counselling services to help young individuals make informed decisions about their education and career paths. By providing guidance on the labour market trends, job opportunities, and required skills, the education system can assist students in aligning their education with their career goals.

Employers and the education system have complementary roles in empowering youth for employment. Employers must actively engage in training and development initiatives, offer practical opportunities like internships, and provide flexibility in working conditions. Simultaneously, the education system must integrate work-related skills into the curriculum, facilitate work-integrated learning, and provide career guidance. By working together, employers and the education system can ensure that young individuals have the necessary skills and knowledge  to succeed in the job market.

Contextual Differences and Overcoming Barriers

Still, youth unemployment rates vary across countries and regions. Central European, Anglo-Saxon, and several Asian countries have done better in generating work-related skills and knowledge among their young population. These countries have established effective systems integrating education and industry to ensure that young people acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to secure employment.

In contrast African countries face significant challenges in addressing youth unemployment. The continent has one of the highest rates of unemployed youth globally, where rural youth are particularly vulnerable. Gender also plays a role in creating additional disadvantages for women. These disparities are influenced by social norms, institutions, and gender-based constraints.

Informal employment and the category of NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) are additional barriers to youth employment in African countries. Informal employment often lacks social protections and career progression opportunities, while NEET individuals lack motivation or opportunities for education or training.  Women also face additional difficulties in accessing quality education, transitioning to decent jobs, and breaking social norms that hinder their professional growth.

To address these issues, resources must be dedicated to promoting asset endowments and improving access to finance for education and skill-building. Developing effective training programs, providing internships, mentorships, and networking opportunities, and creating safe working environments can help young individuals overcome barriers to employment.  Targeted training programmes can also boost women’s involvement in the workforce, challenge societal norms, and provide support to enable their participation in the labour market. By investing in the potential of young people, they can be empowered to contribute to economic development and social progress.

“Le Tonlé Tourism Training Center is a not-for-profit training guest house providing vocational training to disadvantaged youth from Cambodia.” Photo by Collin Key.

Addressing the global challenge of youth unemployment requires concerted efforts to bridge the skills gap and actively involve young individuals in shaping their own future. Creating a future where young individuals can fulfil their potential requires collaboration between education systems, employers, and communities, prioritizing youth employment, and offering practical training opportunities.

Through investments in youth, we can build a more inclusive and prosperous world, ensuring a brighter future for generations to come.


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