19th April, 2022

The 2022 Youth Day celebration took a different path as the Government opted to hold a two-day youth indaba with representation of young people from all 10 provinces. This engagement signified a shift from the traditional youth marches and dances that have characterized past events. More interestingly, the event was used by the Government to make key commitments to the youth. At the opening of the indaba, on 10th March 2022, the Republican President made an ambitious commitment of creating two million jobs by 2026.
The commitment to set a numeric job creation target is both timely and bold as Zambia’s job creation has sadly been a missing target in the macroeconomic framework of our country in recent years. Zambia’s job creation agenda in the past, more often than not, lacked a clear and transparent framework to enable compressive progress tracking. For example, in 2017, the Government through the Industrialization and Job strategy committed to creating 100,000 jobs, however, this target soon disappeared and was missing in key economic documents and policies such as National Budgets.
Intrinsically, Zambia’s macro-economic performances has generally been gauged by traditional indicators such as GDP growth, the exchange rate, poverty rates and inflation, among others, but rarely by jobs created. However, the Government must incorporate job targeting into all existing key national policy documents such as National Budgets and National Development Plans because it is a critical social progress indicator.
The commitment to create 2 million jobs in a space of four years is an ambitious one given that only 17,000 jobs were added between 2017 and 2020 translating into just 4000 jobs a year. This target entails that the Government must create on average 400,000 jobs each year for the next for four years. Furthermore, the growth rate required to create the targeted number of jobs is very high implying that meeting this objective will be highly unlikely. Nonetheless, the commitment provides platform on which to build a mechanism for targeting and tracking job creation. This is important given the youth employment situation in Zambia.
The youth account for majority of the Zambian population and more than half of the labour force (55 percent) making them a critical component of Zambia’s social and economic development. Thus, the country’s economic transformation agenda will heavily rely on the youth. However, a large pool of unemployed youth could also be a recipe for social unrest if not properly harnessed.
The employment situation among the youth is desperate. In 2020, 3 million youth were not in employment, education or training (NEET); constituting more than half of all youth in Zambia. In the same year, the youth unemployment rate stood at 20 percent. More worryingly, the combined rate of youth unemployment plus potential labour force stood at 50.5 percent translating to approximately 1.5 million youth. Whereas, the unemployment rate only includes those actively seeking employment, the combined rate includes those not actively seeking employment but have expressed interest in employment. This combined rate also included 530,000 youth classified as discouraged job seekers, because they had given up on searching for jobs due to several failed attempts or the lack of opportunities. Further, seven out of 10 youth that were employed were either working in the informal sector or in the household sector where they were employed as house helps and gardeners.
The employment situation is made worse by the low level of skills among the youth. Six in every 10 youth who were part of the labour force reported secondary school education as their highest education attainment. Further, according to the 2020 National Skills Survey, 20 percent of newly hired job seekers were unprepared for the job. Among the unprepared, four out of 10 lacked the requisite work experience while two out of ten lacked the technical skills required for the job. This suggests that for any job creation strategy to succeed the Government must address the lack of skills among the youth.
Achieving the job creation target will require the concerted efforts from both the public and private sector, underpinned by a robust growth oriented economic strategy and a stable macroeconomic environment.
We recommend that the Government immediately set up a Technical Working Group with a multisectoral representation that will lead and oversee the coordination of various sector policies to achieve an enabling environment for accelerated job creation. We further recommend that the Government must develop a clear and transparent framework to monitor progress toward the job creation targets. Additionally, the Government must clearly state the number of jobs expected to be created each year, the sectors in which these jobs will be created as well as the quality of these jobs.
The Government is urged to revive and enhance the internship and apprenticeship agenda for both the informal and formal sectors so as to improve opportunities for skills development, entrepreneurship and employment creation to improve the employability and enhance self-sustenance of the youth. Finally, the Government is encouraged to forge strong partnerships with the private sector to create lasting solutions to the problems of youth unemployment.

By: Miselo Bwalya and Sidney Sihubwa

The authors are researchers at the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR). For details contact: The Executive Director, ZIPAR, MNDP Complex, Cnr John Mbita & Nationalist Roads, P.O. Box 50782, Lusaka. Telephone: +260 211 252559. Email: info@zipar.org.zm