The unemployment figure among young people reveals that part of the challenges youth in the country face is high rates of inactivity, underemployment and poor working conditions with long working hours and low pay and the vast majority left to go by without any possibility to get a secured job.
As a result, youth unemployment in Sierra Leone has been recognized as a potential trigger for social instability, derailed the growth of development and economic stagnation. In actual fact also, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report revealed that the problem of unemployment among young people was a leading factor that contributed to the over a decade long civil war, a conflict that left the country in virtual disarray and gross underdevelopment.
Going further, it is stated that 60% of young people in Sierra Leone are not employed which many said it is partly an education issue. But the National Youth Commission lamented that there are 5,000 university leavers each year and many of which enter the job market unprepared and without the relevant skills.
Notwithstanding also according to sources gathered it is a cultural problem. In Sierra Leone the legacy of youth involvement in the civil war has intensified an existing age hierarchy to create hostility towards the youth which is an attitude held by many employers.
Despite the fact that the country boasts of having a very youthful demography with 45% of its entire population been youth and 65% of the total young people population within the employment age; the problem of access to secured jobs continues to increase unabatedly and such is reflective on the socio-economic and security factors in the country. Added to that, the problem of economic global melt-down and its impacts on the country’s economy and labour market which has succeeded to worsen the situation in the country that has for over one decade now been labeled by the United Nations Development Index as one of the world’s poorest countries.
Having said that, the country has recently been highlighted by the international community as a symbol of Africa’s economic renaissance with sustained economic gross national product of 5.7 to 7.4 from 2005 to 2012, even though many people claimed that much of this economic progress has no impact on the lives of young people who are in the majority in the country.
However, from experience and sources gathered by this author in the business community and the general populace, unemployment among young people continues to increase in the country base on two main factors. Prominent among these factors is the fact that the available work force in Sierra Leone lack the basic skills required by the foreign companies that cater for huge employment opportunities.
Most of the jobs available in some of the industries such as the mining industry ranging from simple welders to dewatering operators, Geophysicist, geologists, chemists and diamond drillers requires special training which cost money and takes time to train the workers. Many young people in Sierra Leone lack both the training and disciplines required by these jobs.
Another impinging factor that is responsible to youth unemployment is poor work ethics. Employee Codes of ethics provide employees with a set of clearly defined expectations most of which are implied while some are specifically stated rules or laws that must be followed by those they apply to.
These work ethics involve hard work and diligence, being responsible, being respectful to your job such as being at work on time, having initiatives and generally being reliable. When workers conform to such expectations they provide fair value for their wages which would result to more pay and promotion.
To address the above problems the Government should come up with a structure by which these companies would be encouraged to bring in trainers to train Sierra Leoneans for these jobs and be allowed to write off the cost of training from the company’s taxable income. That way, the Government would be helping to offset the training cost as a deduction from their tax income, which would serve as an incentive for these companies to train Sierra Leoneans as opposed to hiring foreign workers.
With the above being the easy solution, there has to be some strict measures to guarantee some result from these companies. Depending upon the type of skills to be trained for, the length of period required for these training the Government must require these companies to meet certain minimum targets per year to complete these training and meet certain quota to replace foreign workers with trained Sierra Leoneans.
For instance, the Government may request all mining companies have up to 70% of their workers to be foreigner for both skill and unskilled in year 1, but by year 2 the ratio should be 50/50 between foreign and Sierra Leonean workers, by year 3, 40% foreigners to 60% Sierra Leoneans, by year 4, 30% foreign and 70% Sierra Leonean for skilled labour and 100% Sierra Leoneans for unskilled labour.
Finally, beyond economic costs, high rates of youth unemployment and underemployment have social ramifications. Some youth with few job prospects and little hope of future advancement may see little alternative to criminal activities or joining armed conflicts as was evident in the early 90s when the country saw mass recruitment of unemployed youths into various fighting factions that were engaged in the rebel conflict.
“Unemployed and underemployed among young people are more exposed to conflicts and illegal activities which many of them fall prey to armed and rebel groups. Despite the fact that the war has ended fourteen years ago, there has not been a sufficient increase in stable employment opportunities for young people and as such continues to pose similar threat to state security, economic growth and development and a cohesive society.