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Vocational training effective weapon for youth unemployment

EVERY dollar spent on technical and vocational education training, is immensely more effective to fight the alarming youth unemployment we face as a nation.
Comprehensive interventions to improve youth employability and human capital, first introduced in Latin America in the early to mid- 1990s and later replicated in other developing nations, suggest that TVET generates positive social and economic returns.
For context, approximately 200 million youths live in Africa. That is more than 20 percent of the continent’s population.
However, the youth-to-adult unemployment is 3:1. This puts them in a position where they have the worst possible socio-economic opportunities.
This includes limited options to gain employment or self-employment, leading to dire consequences of economic instability, increased poverty and other social problems such as teenage pregnancies, drug or alcohol abuse and HIV and AIDS.
Two social entrepreneurs, Dorien Beurskens and Raj Joseph, influenced by their experience of working with Don Bosco institutions in Kenya, founded YA International in 1998. They opened the first branch in Zimbabwe that today serves as the main hub for the continent.
The duo interrogated the constraints that prevent youths from living their dreams, and the answer they found lies in providing vocational skills training in market-related technical and commercial trades with on-site practical skills experience, coupled with entrepreneurship training and life skills education.
The Zambian branch opened in 2016, making it the newest of six branches on the continent. Unemployed Zambian youths are among the 500,000 that would by 2025 benefit from a continent-wide empowerment programme, YA International. YA Zambia has already inched towards the 100th graduate since opening its doors last year.
Our 12-week training programme consists more of market-oriented training to establish a closer link for the youths with socio-economic opportunities. For instance, getting an international accredited qualification in information and communications technology (ICT) gives one an edge in the market.
It is within this context that we want to accelerate the social and economic empowerment of the Zambian youths. We are fortified by our experience of successfully implementing such interventions in southern Africa.
Relying on the positive experience, we are confident of replicating that success locally. Two years ago, we were endorsed by UNESCO as one of the best models for delivering TVET practices.
Our overall objective is to contribute to a Zambia in which there is equality and shared wealth by empowering young people with skills to make them self-reliant and lead a more productive life.
We understand that for a young person, aged 15 – 25 years, to reach their full potential, all aspects of their personality and talents need to be nurtured. Therefore, our training programme involves vocational skills training hard-wired to market realities. This would bring about a dramatic fall in unemployment figures as these YA graduates are readily absorbed in the economy.
This is anchored in our formula of high-impact solutions in economic and social empowerment among our youths. Speaking to the effectiveness of that formula, our most recent evaluation survey shows that 86 percent of our graduates are economically empowered.
Given the greater need for generation of more jobs, especially in the private sector, it is imperative that we strengthen local enterprise and promote entrepreneurship among young people. We believe that the private sector, when developed with young people in mind, has the potential to tackle poverty at all levels.
In this way Government will avoid large-scale reconstruction efforts in future by defusing the dangerously ticking time bomb of youth unemployment. Effectively, this is a new approach to stabilise the nation’s socio-economic fabric without breaking the bank.
What is even more compelling about the approach is that it is designed for self-sustainability. We have a franchise model where local franchisees set up and run operations and raise income from profits they generate through production of goods or services.
Franchisees act as trainers and entrepreneurial mentors to the young people taking courses in their departments. Young Africa provides assistance to the franchisees in the form of capacity building, networking and credit opportunities.
This guarantees self-sustainability. Our centre in Beira, Mozambique, reached 104 percent self-sustainability, with our branch in Zimbabwe not far behind at 82 percent.
In Zambia, we are taking a two-phased approach to see us through the period 2017–2025. The first phase – 2017–2019 – focuses on ICT, entrepreneurship and life skills. In the last phase, parallel to continuing and upgrading training, a flagship, YA Zambia Vocational Training Centre will be constructed.
This would allow us to deliver all the courses on site and ramp up the number of graduates by the year 2025.
Building on lessons learned and working together with like-minded partners, we are confident to solidify socio-economic gains for large underserved segment of our population, the youth.
The author is board member of Young Africa (YA) Zambia.