Youth unemployment a big challenge in Malawi

Unemployment figures in Malawi are difficult to compute, according to the National Statistical Office (NSO), because of lack of a national identification system to track those out of employment.

But last month, an official from the Botswana Tertiary Education Council, Dr. Patrick Molutsi, made a startling revelation that 80 percent of secondary school graduates in Malawi return to their villages every year as they can neither find jobs nor employ themselves.

Molutsi, in his presentation made at an international conference in the lakeshore district of Mangochi titled ‘The Crisis of Transformation: Human Resource Development Strategies for Low Growth Economies’, said the majority of countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) have tertiary access rates of below 10 percent.

Mauritius has a tertiary education access rate of nearly 25 percent, trailed by South Africa at 18.5 percent and Botswana at 16.4 percent.

“In Malawi, for instance, only around 7 000 of the estimated 10 000 high school graduates were reported to access tertiary education in 2011. This means 80 percent of high school graduates go back to their villages every year as they can neither find jobs nor employ themselves.

“This trend is common across the region and points to an acute human resource wastage in our education and training systems. This trend further illustrated how the current human resource development strategies reproduce rather than eliminate poverty in these societies,” said Molutsi.

In most Sadc countries, he said, a lot of artisans and technicians can neither find jobs nor create job opportunities for themselves and others because their economies are not conducive to sustain small businesses.

“If we take countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia and Swaziland, only a few artisans and technicians are absorbed by their economies,” he added.

In 2011/12 fiscal year, government acknowledged that youth unemployment is a big challenge that has been growing in magnitude.

A conference of African Ministers of Finance held in Lilongwe last year noted that across the world and Africa in particular, there is “jobless growth”.

This means that economies are growing fast, but that is not translated into job creation.

Malawi, as is the case with other Sadc countries, is not immune to this phenomenon.

According to the 2008 Population and Housing Census, Malawi’s population is relatively young, with the youth comprising more than half the population.

Every year, more than 130 000 young people are now entering the job market, but the formal sector is unable to create jobs at a rate sufficient to absorb these labour market entrants.

“As a result, we are now witnessing increasing unemployment and underemployment, even among university graduates who are taking long to secure employment,” noted a 2011/12 budget statement.

Experts argue that it is important to prepare the youth for non-formal employment through expansion of vocational education and training centres.

Additionally, there is also need to provide access to finance for those who want to be self-employed.

Yedef loans

In realisation of this, the Malawi Government created the Malawi Youth Enterprise Development Fund (Yedef) to help young people, who want to employ themselves, with seed capital and necessary training to equip them with requisite business skills.

Government says it recognises that more needs to be done if it is to gainfully employ the country’s youth and build a better Malawi where those looking for jobs find them.

“Government will, therefore, intensify efforts to secure financing for the small and medium enterprises [SMEs] sector, but also resources to extend the network of technical colleges,” according to the government’s annual economic report for 2011.

In Malawi, according to figures from the NSO, the youth’s active participation in economic development initiatives continues to be impeded by a number of social, cultural, economic and political challenges.

These include high illiteracy rate, limited access to technical, vocational and entrepreneur education, unemployment and under-employment, lack of scientific awareness, exploitation by adults, poverty, HIV and Aids pandemic, limited access to sexual reproductive health, low participation of male and female youth in different development programmes.

During the year, the Ministry of Youth, focused on five strategic areas to address these challenges, including the improvement of youth and athlete livelihoods, improvement in literacy and numeracy levels among the youth, increasing youth participation in development initiatives, the improvement in youth health and productivity, and the improvement in coordination and effective delivery of youth empowerment and sporting programmes.

In the 2009/10 fiscal year, government said it made a number of achievements.

Government said it trained 1 791 youth group in enterprise development in a bid to economically empower them and over 400 young people were equipped with vocational and entrepreneurial skills and provided with start-up tools.

“Subsequent to the establishment and launch of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund in February 2010 and to ease youth access to enterprise development and financing, the ministry undertook sensitisation campaigns in all the districts in collaboration with Ministry of Education and Malawi Rural Development Fund.

“Consequently, the first phase of loan disbursement in this financial year had 226 youths accessing loans from the fund such that 11 659 loans worth K29.4 million were disbursed to some youth beneficiaries,” reads part of the economic report.

In the 2011/12 fiscal year, government planned to engage an extra gear by up-scaling construction works at Neno Youth Development Centre and build and rehabilitate several district youth and sports offices.

Government says the establishment of Yedef reflects its commitment to support the youth in their efforts to improve their well-being.

Last year, the ministry was in the final stages of finalising the formulation of its strategic plan in response to its inclusion in government priority areas.

The adoption of Sector Based Approaches to planning and implementation through the Sector Working Groups has resulted in increased efforts by various stakeholder to coordinate, fund and implement youth programmes.

But still, challenges are there. These include inadequate funding for youth programmes and dilapidated youth structures and offices at the local level.

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