According to the United Nations Population Fund’s statistics, Africa ranks second among seven continents, in a population with over 1 billion people. Asia is first with over four billion people. Amidst the continent’s population lies over 400 million youth aged between 15-35 years, and 60% of them are unemployed. The United Nations also records that approximately 10-12 million youth join the labour market annually. This means that the youth unemployment rate skyrockets each year. Whereas tremendous efforts have been made by the private sector across Africa to solve this puzzle, unemployment continues to take a toll on young Africans and African economies.
In a recent event on rethinking, retooling, innovating, digitising, and transforming SMEs and Start-ups post Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), hosted by Human Capital International, business leaders in the hospitality and creatives industry asked themselves, Could hospitality and the creative arts industries be the missing link in solving youth unemployment?
An article, published by the World Economic Forum, records that among the world’s ten fastest-growing economies, six of them are in Africa. Some of the listed lucrative investment opportunities that could propel Africa’s economies to greater heights include agriculture, energy, water, and mineral processing. Creative arts and hospitality industries are out of the picture. This could mean that African youth haven’t progressed much in these industries. What could be some of the reasons why the creative arts and hospitality industries remain untapped?
Lack of technical training and specialised schools
The majority of youth who join the creative arts and hospitality industries lack relevant skills. At the tertiary education level e.g. universities, colleges, institutes, etc; the curriculum for hospitality and creative arts courses lack practical skills. As a result, youth are often ill-equipped for real-world employment as they fall short of the skills and knowledge needed by the employer.
To bridge this gap, it is necessary for youth to get training that equips them with the required skills, such as communication, customer service, and hospitality management. Importantly, tertiary institutions should redesign their curriculum aligning it to the current market and what the market will look like in the future; so that youth are employable, savvy, and competitive in the creative and hospitality industries.
The industries are not a priority for many youth
Creative arts and hospitality are a second choice for many young people when choosing what courses to pursue in colleges and universities. Most of the time it becomes a choice after they have failed or not succeeded at securing that ‘big’ course and are left without another ‘serious’ option.
There are parents who decide what courses their children will take. Unfortunately, creative arts and hospitality are rarely a choice for these parents. The youth who have defied their parents’ demands and instead pursued their passion for arts, have developed strained relationships with their parents. Because of this parental dynamic, these industries continue to place at the bottom of the list for youth and in turn, heightens the talent deficit in these industries and exacerbates the youth unemployment rate.
Most countries underrate art
There is an assumption that creative arts are for the ‘uneducated’ and those lacking ‘seriousness’ to thrive in life. Similarly, it is often believed that one does not need to acquire an education to qualify for a hospitality job. Art is also perceived to be expensive; an unnecessary expense or a luxury in Africa. A buyer has to decide between purchasing art or attending to other more pressing needs. Nonetheless, there’s a silver lining in all this because African art is gaining international recognition. Youth are also using global platforms like social media to sell their art. The momentum is picking up for African artists, but there is more work to be done since not every youth has access to these opportunities, yet.
Preference of foreign content
Foreign content still dominates most local radio and TV stations in Africa. Various industry players like Eric Omondi, a Kenyan comedian, are advocating for the limitation of foreign content through legislation; but so far, the issue has not been resolved. Promoting foreign content more than local content means that African youth in the creative arts industry continue to lag behind. To shift the priority to African content, collaboration between the government, creatives/artists, the media industry, and other relevant stakeholders is needed to bolster the creative arts industry by promoting local content, which will create employment for the youth. For example, it is hard to imagine British, American, or Mexican TV or radio with a majority of Kenyan or African content, so why then would it be that in 2022 Kenya has majority Mexican, British or American TV or radio content?
Youth limiting their own worldview
Creatives have limited themselves to a certain category of content, for example, music and comedy. Genres like animation and e-sports have not been fully tapped into. Crowding in one category has led to high competition and reduced employment opportunities. Youth should start thinking creatively about other available opportunities that can help them create monetized content.
Lack of resources
In this digital era where smartphones seem to be everywhere, one would imagine that every youth owns one. Sadly, many young people in Africa lack access to smartphones and good cameras to produce content. Lacking these key resources then becomes an impediment for African youth to show their talents and create employment for themselves.
However, the future still looks bright
Despite the issues outlined, the creative arts and hospitality industries have the ability to create employment opportunities for youth in Africa, and scale up African economies. It is important to remember that every industry has its challenges, but that does not mean that they do not thrive, create entrepreneurship and employment opportunities and deliver socio-economic growth.
There is a necessity to prioritise these ‘newer’ industries; train youth with relevant, contemporary, real-world curriculum. We need to champion African content above foreign content in our countries to create opportunities; and additionally, encourage youth to broaden their mindsets to see beyond what they know. Africans must invest in Africa’s creatives and collaborate better for a better, thriving continent. If this is done, the unemployment puzzle might just get solved. Africa’s free trade agreement has the ambition to ‘create a single market for goods, services, facilitated by movement of persons...’
The creative arts and hospitality industries must be counted among the industries that unleash the magic of the AfCFTA boosting Africa’s economic prosperity via intra-African trade by 15-25% by 2040 and by $29 trillion by 2050 (World Economic Forum). If you think about it, the creative arts and hospitality industries are at the heart of our cultures anyway.
Is Africa Ready for a Free Trade Zone? Aljazeera – Inside Story (25mins)