Why we can only tackle youth unemployment in the Global South by involving young people

Imagine: you are a young woman in Nigeria and have been looking for a job for some time. You have studied, but even with your education and skills you have already acquired, there are few opportunities on the labor market. Then you hear about an international NGO that runs a youth employment program. You decide to sign up, but discover that it is only about training and not a paid job. This training also takes place in the capital for 10 weeks, full time, with lunch on the training day but without financial compensation. Because you also have no chance of arranging childcare for your child, the trip to the capital is dangerous and unreliable, and you cannot afford a laptop for the digital training, you decide not to participate.  

The above example shows how there can be barriers in opportunities created and why it is important to involve young people in youth employment projects from the start. The program will then be more successful for several reasons. Not only will it better meet the needs of (marginalized) groups, participation also gives young people the opportunity to tap into and further develop their skills, which leads to more self-confidence – something that several VSO youth champions involved in the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE). 

In addition, it ensures that young people shift from ‘beneficiaries’ to active actors, making them feel more responsible for the success of a program. 

But there are more advantages. Young people trust other young people more quickly, so with peer-to-peer engagement you get to the core faster when collecting input. Young people also have a large online and offline network. By successfully involving young people, you can quickly achieve a snowball effect. We also see this with the VSO youth champions of CFYE, who are part of various youth networks at both local and international platforms. 

Opponents of youth participation will say that young people have too little experience to make a meaningful contribution. But on the other hand, they are still flexible and trainable. 

Young people are also seen as less loyal: they are more likely to switch employers. This can also be an advantage: young people are more mobile and are more likely to move to another location for a good opportunity – even temporarily. 

Peace Tizaru (27) is VSO Youth Champion for the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment in Uganda and says: “It is often said that young people do not have enough experience or cannot yet take on leadership roles. But young people are experts by experience, they are energetic and have plenty of ideas. Let them come up with solutions that work best for themselves. And make them feel like partners, instead of being brought in just because they’re young and it makes sense. So that they get the feeling that their problems are taken seriously.” 

There is currently a true youth bulge: young people are the largest group in the population, and this will only grow. If you can get the most out of this group, by ensuring you set them up for success, and by providing the right resources and tools, you can achieve a lot as a community and as companies. Working with young people and increasing participation is therefore not a ‘nice to have’, but a ‘must have’. 

– Written by Majina Mwasezi, Global Youth & Gender Champions Advisor at VSO 

In April this year, VSO, together with Edukans and Randstad, organized the ConnectionWorks! Conference to draw attention to the power of connection in tackling youth unemployment in the global South. Of course, the voices of young people were also represented.