West Africa is on the rise, with Nigeria showing resilience and diversifying its economy following a recession and Ghana enjoying stellar GDP growth of 8.5% for 2017.
Now, the challenge is to sustain this growth into the future and use it as a way to improve the lives of the region’s people – especially the youth.
Though economic growth is positive, the reality is that many recent graduates and school leavers are struggling to find employment. In Ghana, only 10% of school leavers find work within the first year, while 7.9 million youths in Nigeria remain unemployed. Harnessing the creativity and productivity of these young people is not only important for social upliftment, but also for building a skills base for the future and spurring consumer spending.
With high competition for jobs and few opportunities in the workplace, Small & Medium Businesses have a crucial role to play in equipping these young people with the skills and knowledge needed in the workplace. As the sector that provides the most employment opportunities in Nigeria and the largest contribution to Ghana’s GDP, small businesses can be the mentors and training grounds that these young people so desperately need.
Many business leaders are eager to hire young people with experience but few are willing to provide that experience, for reasons including cost, time and the perception that young people are unmotivated and lack loyalty. But imagine the difference we could make – especially at grassroots level – if every business offered a learnership or internship to one student.
No experience = no job
Every company can help to build West Africa’s workforce of the future by creating opportunities such as internships and learnerships for the youth.
Here are some reasons to consider doing exactly that:
- Build skills while you build your business
Yes, there’s a chance that the graduates might leave after they’ve been upskilled but if you don’t provide opportunities for development, they’ll look for it elsewhere. Through learnerships, you’re also directly contributing to the skills pool of the country, which has a knock-on effect on job creation and economic growth.
- Tax incentives
Nigeria offers two employment-related tax incentives: work experience relief and employment relief, both offering exemption from CIT of up to 5% of profit.
- Save on hiring costs
It’s cheaper to train and retain existing team members than it is to hire new ones. Learnerships and internships not only provide an opportunity to identify and develop talent; they also boost your team’s confidence and increase job satisfaction and loyalty.
- They are your customers
How can any business expect to win market share among the youth – who already represent significant spending power and who will be the customers of the future – if it doesn’t hire young people?
- It’s about diversity and energy
Young people bring a new energy and optimism to any business, adding diversity, different perspectives, 21st Century skills, and new values and experiences to the workplace.
Businesses often lament the fact that the education system does not produce work-ready graduates yet they are the solution to that challenge. And with the youth making up the majority of unemployed people, we can all play a small part, to collectively make a massive difference.
The writer is the Executive Vice-President, Africa & Middle East at Sage