By Amin Kef (Ranger)
Sierra Leone has come a long way since the brutal 1991-2002 civil war, which left tens of thousands of people dead, properties worth hundreds of millions of Leones destroyed, countless numbers displaced, many amputated and the country’s economy and institutions in tatters.
Research shows that unemployment was identified as a major cause of the eleven years’ old conflict. It therefore becomes very worrying that twenty-one years after the war was declared officially over by the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in 2002, youth unemployment is yet to be satisfactorily tackled in the 21st Century by the immediate past and the current Governments. We logically leave the future out, because we cannot determine what would happen tomorrow.
It is important to note that even though our universities and colleges are churning out thousands of graduates on a yearly basis, the hard and burning fact is that these youths graduating from these institutions are at the mercy of staying unemployed for as long as they cannot find a job, or are resorting to taking up jobs or engaging in activities they were not cut out for. This is to say, a good number of youths while in college know their fields of study and where they hope to work thereafter but they do not have the vaguest of ideas where they would find employment or who would employ them after graduating.
However, it should be understood that Sierra Leone is faced with a two-tier youth unemployment challenge. On the one hand, we have youths who after acquiring college education cannot find work simply because the work is just not there. Then we have the other group of youths who do not possess any academic qualifications and neither have any skills. This last group of youths is the one whose members oftentimes end up committing petty and grand crimes, indulging in drugs and alcohol and other sub-societal behaviors. This is not to say that educated youths too do not fall into this category.
Truth be said, the immediate past and the current Governments do have employment of youths – skilled and unskilled as part of their socio-economic growth agenda. But according to research, the main problems which deter successful youth employment schemes are many as they are different. While some youths may be obliged to take up car washing for example as employment to lift them out of temporary poverty, there are others who look at this employment as denigrating and below their status.
But the one good thing that has been done and which many youths appreciate is the setting up of a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which admits youths after graduating from college, trains and prepares them for potential employment and sends them on work experience to different work places and if they are lucky, will find themselves retained as permanent staff in the places they do their work experience.
The same does not apply for unskilled youths. However, the good thing is that the past and the current Governments have been making inroads into providing more and more skills training projects for youths who lost out on college education but can learn skills that would make them gainfully employed or self-employed.
Be that as it may, it suffices to say that youth unemployment will not go away all together soon. The reality is that the Government needs to be proactive enough and design attractive packages for private sector entrepreneurs to embark on creating employment opportunities for youths. It is a fact that Government alone cannot employ everyone. It is also true that the private sector is the biggest employer and if the incentives are rewarding enough, private sector involvement in job creation is the way forward.
Unfortunately, it would seem that Sierra Leone is still grappling with youth unemployment in a big way. As a country, we are still not out of the woods because youth unemployment is still a major challenge and possibly a security threat for this administration and the ones to come.