Today in Sub-Saharan Africa, half of the population is under 25 years of age, and each year between 2015 and 2035, there will be half a million more 15-year-olds than the year before. The youth demographic represents an enormous opportunity and a growing labor force can be an asset to the global market place. However young Africans not only needs jobs, but they also need to be empowered to create them.
In Cameroon, while most young people aged 15 to 35 who are not in the labor market are attending school, it has become clear that there is an education and training gap in the working-age population. A large share of the population (43%) has either no formal education or an incomplete primary education, and 67 % of the working age population has received no additional training at all. Unemployment is significantly higher among youth as compared to older demographics across all levels and types of education, pointing to persistent education and training gaps. One way to address this, says Mr. Onanena is “to create more technical schools and trainings that will endow young people with a specific job or skill so that they find work right when they finish.”
According to Cameroon’s Growth and Employment Strategic Paper (known in French as the Document Stratégique pour la Croissance et l’Emploi, or DSCE), the Government proposes a substantial investment program in key industries and value chains that have the potential for significant growth and employment creation in the following fields: agriculture, mining, forestry and timber processing, tourism, infrastructure, and information and communication technologies.
Such investments can only have an impact is there are human resources and skilled labor available to develop these industries, boost productivity, and achieve structural transformation. In the last employment survey conducted in 2014, skills deficits were found to constrain job creation in the chemical and metallurgical fields, in infrastructure, in public works, and in the finance and telecommunication sectors. Furthermore, in the agriculture sector, there are very few agricultural engineers or experts therefore severely limiting the capacity to adopt innovations in farming techniques.
The gap between labor market demands and academic skills in Cameroon is stark. Traditional universities enroll 94% of all students while the remaining 6% is enrolled in colleges and Institutes of Technology (IUT). There are only two engineering and technology universities, and two agriculture universities located in Buea (South West Cameroon) and Dschang (Western Cameroon). This fact highlights the need for alternative forms of education and training that is geared towards the country’s employment needs.
“A good percentage of youth do not have access to higher education. The system should help these youth obtain technical training so they can practice a trade or open a small business,” says Charles Christian Dougoue, a 25 year old Masters student studying peace, development, and communications. Unfortunately in Cameroon, tertiary education continues to largely focus on traditional academic disciplines and is not positioned to respond to economic transformations.
Given the significant potential of the private sector to create jobs, the challenge going forward will be how to leverage private sector actors when it comes to adapting skills training to respond to human resource needs in fields such as agriculture that are being targeted as key contributors to increased productivity. One way to do this is by developing public-private partnerships that could handle the governance, management, and financing of skills training institutions. Another way is to build effective youth employment and trainee policies in private companies.
The public sector also has a role to play when it comes to remedying the situation. Engaging in a reform of the governance system that oversees higher education institutions to provide more accountability and ensure results is crucial. Furthermore, the use of performance-based financing could motivate universities and technical schools to improve the quality and the relevance of education and training. Lastly, the establishment of a quality assurance mechanism could also significantly improve this mismatch.
By empowering young Cameroonians with quality skills that meet the demands of today’s labor market, Cameroon can ensure brighter employment prospects for its youth, their parents, and their children - all while contributing to reducing the poverty gap.