Youth Employability: Bridging the Gap Between the Classroom and the Workplace

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INNOCENT NWANI

Youth unemployment on the continent has been on the increase over the years with employers complaining of the gap between what young people learn in school and what is requirement in today’s workplace.

This was revealed bySteve Obasohan, Deputy General Manager, Human Resources, Ison BPO International Limited at the just concludedPan-African Youth Empowerment Conferencejointly organised bythe African Union Commission (AUC)and SOS Children’s Villages International which was held at the African Union Compound, Addis Ababa Ethiopia. The theme of conference being Youth Empowerment for Employability and Entrepreneurship.

Obasohan examined the gaps existing between what young people learn in school and the skillset required in today’s workplace. His findings include requisite competences, team playing, effective/ business communication and professional conduct.

With more than 65% of the continent’spopulation being under the age of 35, it is necessary to develop innovative approaches in order to securing employability and self-employment for young people.This is the best weapon that can be used to combat poverty in Africa.

He called on all stakeholders to scale up action in support of youth employment across Africa. According to him, the younger generation will be the driving force behind sustainable growth across the continent. The active participation of youths in the labour market should therefore be a collective concern. The decision of young people to participate (or not) in the labour market is a complex issue.However, the situation is dependent on a series of economic and social factors. These factors, if not critically addressed have the potential of shaping the choice pattern of young people to pursue further education or participate in the labour market.

Obasohan explained that the major challenge for young people is the lack of decent job opportunities and this gap can be drastically reduced through corporate mentoring programswherein employers seek to match employees of partnering organizations and youths in a mentor-mentee relationship on career planning and building. If well implemented, participating youths would have the privilege of learning first hand from top performers in a chosen field which he or she would not have learnt in school.

He further encouraged young people to be actively involved in volunteering, citing that young people often complain about being turned down by employers because of insufficient experience which sometimes come across as being unattainable. He emphasized that employers most times have a preference for experienced people who possess some volunteer experience in the relevant field and young people with volunteer experience stand a better chance of getting future jobs.

Obasohan explained that young people shouldnot only have peers as friends but should also have friends who wouldbe mentors working in theirchosen field of future employment. This way, they would learn tangible lessons from such friends cum mentors. He encouraged youths to be passionate about their dreams.

He noted that the youth need to be enthusiastic about job opportunitiesas employers recognize and prefer passionate and energetic young applicantsto lethargic candidates. The zeal to positively contribute to the organization gets noticed during interviews and equally on the job. Employers have preference for candidates who are passionate because they are often times easier to train.This is the reason passionate candidates stand a better chance of getting jobs even if they do not have the specific degrees (except in highly specialized professions).

Obasohan advised that young people need to improve their chances of getting employed and being effective employees. He also stated that they should not be afraid to become entrepreneurs and be employers of labour.

Innocent Nwani is a communications specialist with Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Lagos.