Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Youth Unemployment Ticking Time Bomb is Global, as China Joins the Band Wagon


By Mwansa Chalwe Snr

Youth Unemployment is one of the top problems that the Zambian government faces, and is grappling to solve. The New Dawn administration should, however, be comforted by the fact that the phenomenon is global, and the World’s second largest economy has just joined the queue of countries with high Youth unemployment.

“In nearly every country in the world, youth unemployment is much higher than general unemployment”, Wrote Pallavio Rao in Visual Capitalist, an on line Publication, citing data from Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It should be noted that the problem of Youth unemployment has become so widely spread that even G7 countries like Spain and Italy, are facing high Youth unemployment rates. Spain and Italy have 28.9% and 22.3% Youth unemployment rates respectively. In order to demonstrate how widespread the Youth unemployment problem is around the World, it may be useful to highlight a few countries’ Youth unemployment rates. Costa Rica (27.8%), Sweden 24.9%, Chile (19.6%), South Africa (51.5%), Botswana (38.8%), Namibia (39.78%), Greece (23.6%). But the country of particular interest, and which is rather surprising to experience high youth unemployment, is China.

China’s latest Youth unemployment rate which was announced in June, 2023, was 21.3%. This was a shocking figure, such that it compelled National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to stop publishing Youth unemployment figures.

“Starting from this August, the release of urban unemployment rates for youth and other age groups across the country will be suspended,” NBS spokesperson Fu Linghui said at a press conference.

It is important to put the Chinese youth unemployment problem in context. In March, 2023, the Chinese government invited applicants to sit for the Civil service examinations, a pre-requisite to getting a job in the competitive Chinese Civil Service. There were 7.7 million applicants for 200,000 openings.

There are number of factors that have contributed to the high Youth unemployment in China. The number one factor is the Chinese government’s imposition of “Zero Covid” measures. This is what started the disruption. In addition, the clamp down on internet giant like TenCents Holdings and Alibaba, the escalation unfriendly business regulations has forced some foreign investors to flee or reconsider their investment decisions in China. The tariffs imposed by the former US President Donald Trump, which have been continued by the Biden administration as well as the generally toxic relationship between the two countries have all contributed to increased unemployment. In recent times, China has experienced a reduction both in exports and imports. And in general, Chinese consumer confidence has collapsed resulting in reduction in spending.

In our case in Zambia, we are aware of the high Youth unemployment, although we do not have readily available data to fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem, the way we do with inflation, interest rates, exchange rate and economic growth. The last Annual Labour Survey Report was in 2021. There are currently no 2023 Quarterly Labour Survey reports available on the Ministry of Labour and Social Services website. The reasonable guess is that Zambia’s Youth unemployment could be in millions, if the estimated number of youths leaving our education institutions and entering the Labour market every year of between 300,000 to 350,000 is accurate.

One of Zambia’s most respected independent Professional Body – The Zambia Institute of Chartered Accountant (ZICA), is concerned with the country’s high level of unemployment. ZICA President Cecilia Zimba, expressed her concern about the high level of unemployment in Zambia. And she rightly described it as a ‘Time Bomb”, if no practical policy actions are taken.

“Zambia needs to put in place measures to capture employment data on a timely basis and report periodically in the same manner inflation and policy rates are reported. Employment should be regarded as a key economic variable with a measurable target like GDP, inflation and exchange rate among others,” She said in an interview with Zambia Business Times.

It is vitally important that government ensures that timely collection and publication of Labour statistics is done, if it is to solve the unemployment problem. In the absence of data on labour, how can they craft an effective job creation strategy? It is like shooting in the dark, as the management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  

As the situation stands, we really do not have credible formal empirical evidence about the number of unemployed Youth. We can only infer from the government recruitment exercises in the last twelve months or so. The recruitment of teachers attracted 100,877 for 30,496 positions; medical personnel attracted 137,139 for 11,276 vacancies; Zambia defence forces attracted 236,000 for 5,000 positions; Zambia Revenue Authority received 53,345 for 115 vacancies and Ministry of finance received 128 042 applications for the 46,800 temporary census jobs in 2022 Census.

There should be no dispute about the fact that high Youth unemployment in Zambia, has been with us for a long time. And therefore, it should not be blamed on the current administration alone. During the PF administration, the former Labour Minister, Fackson Shamenda admitted of its existence and expressed his concern, when addressing an International Labour organisation (ILO) conference.

“I am always reminded of the Arab Spring when I address the issue of youth unemployment. We all know what happened to our friends in North Africa, where disgruntled unemployed youths can help to bring down Governments. This is why we must, as a continent, seriously address the challenge of youth unemployment,” Mr Shamenda said.

The Youth unemployment problem is complex and multi-dimensional, and requires thinkers to solve it. As a person who has spent a couple of years thinking and analysing the Youth unemployment problem, with a view of coming up with possible solutions, I believe that there are several pre-requisites that the authorities should follow in order to solve the youth unemployment problem.

The first pre-requisite is that there is a need for government to measure the size of the problem through a statistical survey. The Authorities need to realize that in order to solve a problem, the size of the solution has to fit the size of the problem. Secondly, there should be a detailed diagnosis of the different causes of Youth unemployment in order to fully understand the problem so as to come up with possible solutions. It is common sense that there is no doctor who can cure a disease without diagnosis. Thirdly, there is a need to recognize and understand that the Youth demographic is heterogeneous, and these demographics have to be identified. The different demographics require different solutions. The design of the one size fits all solutions as has been the case in the past should be avoided as they have failed. And finally, a comprehensive road map that captures the above variables should be drawn up. The roadmap document should be the basis of designing the different short term, medium term and long term solutions, for the different Youth demographics. Innovative solutions are required, and not the failed initiatives of the past.

The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Author. He is an independent financial commentator, Analyst and a Semi-retired MSME Consultant. He is also an Op-Ed Contributor to the Hong Kong based, Alibaba owned, and South China Morning Post (SCMP). Contact: [email protected]


  1. The supreme leader Ayatollah Hakainde Hichilema will fix it….and by the way can you ask the Supreme leader Ayatollah Hakainde Hichilema how many youth he has employed in his company and also what is the name of his company….as for me i have employed 16 Zambian youths,,,,,

    • Is your wife also unsatisfied in the bedroom? Do not worry hh will fix it. Since to you only hh can solve all your problems. You f00lish pf cadre

  2. Youth unemployment will remain high in Zambia bcoz we import everything from SA,we seek Chinese/foreign help in mining,infrastructure…in short we have done much to develop our human capital since 1964. ..and thus we’ll stay poor unlike Singapore .

  3. Youth unemployment is a problem because of selfish leaders full stop. This generation of leaders have used youths as weapons rather than instruments of development. How many times have our leaders closed the institute’s of higher learning? How many times have they underfunded these institutions? You can happily build airports at a cost of over $300 million each but frown upon injecting similar amounts in capacity building and skills development programs for the youths. Free education alone is not enough especially if it’s sub-standard. Inject $1 billion to expand UNZA to all provinces and concentrate on skills shortages.

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