This IDS Bulletin discusses the use of research to inform policy on youth employment in Africa and presents a nuanced understanding of the policy context that shapes the policymaking process. Each of the articles in the bulletin addresses one or more of four core areas: 1) the evidence on youth employment policies and interventions, 2) the politics of youth policies, 3) the changing nature of young people’s work, and 4) the promotion of entrepreneurship. Four key questions need to be asked by researchers and policymakers in relation to youth and employment policies in Africa:
1) Who are the youth? – The diverse nature of youth and the many definitions of the term make it difficult to compare countries and statistics. This diversity also creates challenges when designing coherent policies and with the use of ‘hard’ boundaries, which are not useful when dealing with more fluid understandings of youth based on transitional periods, culture and lived realities. Policymakers should consider focusing more on certain ends of the age range or on the particular transitions that youth go through.
2) What is the problem? – Defining the problem is equally challenging, as unemployment figures often hide cases of underemployment. At the same time, the choice of related, but subtly different, terms, such as ‘self-employment’, ‘job’ and ‘work’, and the additional complexity that comes from combinations like ‘gainful employment’, make it difficult to understand research findings and policies.
3) Are entrepreneurship and self‑employment the solution? – Most policymakers and development professionals see entrepreneurship as the best (and only) solution, which indicates an ‘imagination gap’ between the futures that policymakers envision and those that young people imagine for themselves. In addition, the interchangeable use of the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘self-employment’ risks broadening the term entrepreneurship to include any activity that is undertaken to generate income. Policymakers should focus more explicitly on the demand side of the youth employment challenge.
4) What about youth aspirations? – How seriously should young people’s stated aspirations be taken? If young people are to be included in discussions on how to best address the youth employment challenge, policymakers should take the futures they imagine for themselves seriously.
To increase research uptake in policy making, the following should be considered: 1) the context (social and political forces that influence research uptake), 2) the evidence (which needs to be credible and of high quality, timely and relevant), 3) the links between policy and research communities (the importance of links with communities, networks and intermediaries, the media and campaigning groups), 4) any external influences (notably the impact of donors’ actions on the research-policy-practice nexus and international politics and processes), and 5) the quality of research, which is dependent on linkages to particular change processes. More attention should be paid to grant acquisition based on the merits of policy uptake, as well as how to increase the engagement of young researchers in policy uptake.
Please find the policy highlights for the article ‘Youth employment in developing economies: evidence on policies and interventions’ here.