A select group of policymakers, practitioners, employers, advocacy groups and researchers from across Africa and the UK held a roundtable to discuss young people’s employment expectations and prospects.

The participants included representatives of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC), Private Enterprise Federation (PEF), the National Youth Authority (NYA), the Ministry of Youth and Sports, YOU-NET, and Youth Empowerment Synergy (YES-Ghana).

The event, held on 14 December in Accra, was organised by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) in collaboration with the Matasa Fellowship Network, a joint initiative of the MasterCard Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies,UK.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Nana Akua Anyidoho, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Social Division at ISSER, welcomed all participants and expressed delight that such a diverse group of experts had gathered to share their knowledge about this important policy and social issue.     

The roundtable was organised around three sessions, each of which began with a think piece by a presenter, a set of reactions by selected participants, and then a general discussion.

Dr Jim Sumberg of the Institute of Development Studies, UK spoke on Young people’s aspirations and ‘imagined futures’. Dr. Sumberg said that research done with Ghanaian high school students indicate that young people want jobs that are formal, salaried and “professional”. Young people were also attracted to jobs such as nursing, policing and the armed forces which made clear contributions to the society. He observed that policies and interventions, especially those that encourage young people to go into agricultural work or into self-employment, may not align with the aspirations of young people for urban-based, formal wage employment.

In the discussion that followed, the following consensuses were reached:

  • It is important to recognise diversity among young people in terms of their aspirations, which can vary by gender, age, family background, etc.
  • We can expect aspirations to change as young people go through various life stages; that is, the aspirations of a secondary school student may not be the same as a 28-year old who is looking for a job to support a young family.  
  • It is important for policy to appreciate young people’s aspirations and choices, rather than merely imposing specific futures on them.

Professor George Owusu of the University of Ghana and the Ghana Coordinator of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) gave the second presentation on Entrepreneurship:  findings, methods, implications for policy. Prof. Owusu prefaced his presentation by acknowledging the difficulty in getting data on unemployment. He said the findings of GEM suggests that the level of entrepreneurial activities were very high among the youth (18-35 years) and even higher for females in that age range. Indeed, Ghana ranked first in the global entrepreneurship index. Unfortunately, he said, the research also revealed a high rate of business closure. This, he said, could be partly due to lack of finance and a difficult environment for start-up businesses, but also suggested that young people use self-employment as a stop gap measure until they find opportunities for wage work.

Another finding was that support for young people from government was tilted towards skill- based activities but the reality is that young people more commonly engage in trading, again echoing the point that young people’s preferences and policy priorities are not always in sync.

The animated discussion that followed centred on the following questions:

  • What is entrepreneurship? Should it include all self-employment activities, even those that are survivalist? Counting a range of informal, necessity-driven, low-income work as ‘entrepreneurship’’ gives an unduly optimistic picture of entrepreneurship in Ghana.
  • Are entrepreneurs born or made? The answer appears to be both. Some qualities of entrepreneurs (tolerant for risk, creativity, etc.)  may be difficult to teach but other skills can be taught.
  • Who can be an entrepreneur? Research suggests that entrepreneurship is not a viable work option for everyone. Those who succeed at entrepreneurship are often people with education, with capital, and who have worked previously as employees.

The last presentation was by Dr. Nii Moi Thompson, Director General of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). His topic was Structural transformation for youth employment. Dr Thompson begun by explaining that structural transformation is not only economic but also social, institutional and environmental.  He discussed the idea that agriculture can be the solution to youth unemployment by first presenting statistics that show that agricultural output has increased steadily but that its share of GDP has declined. He also stated that people who are self-employed in agriculture have the highest levels of poverty. He finally presented some priority areas for employment under the NDPC 40-year development plan, which is in the process of being developed. The subsequent discussion raised questions about how we can make sure that the areas that are important for national development can also be growth areas for youth employment. 

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