Unemployment is one of Africa’s biggest headaches. According to the World Bank, in the next 10 years, 600 million new jobs – that’s about half the population of Africa – are needed to keep the planet working and happy.
The International Labour Organization estimates that the number of unemployed youths in sub-Saharan Africa stands at 11.6 million. Another study, by the African Centre for Economic Transformation, claims that almost half of the 10 million graduates churned out every year from more than 668 universities in Africa do not get jobs. That means millions of young, restive and discontent Africans are educated well enough to know what they are missing out on. The unintended consequence of this is many of the youngest and brightest are looking for more than just jobs.
“With the rise in graduate unemployment, more and more graduates are reassessing their career options and looking for more entrepreneurial career paths,” says Franklin Cudjoe, President and Founder of the IMANI Center for Policy and Education.
The dynamics of the employment game are changing fast, according to Cudjoe.
“We have several things that young people are looking for when they graduate from university these days. For example, Generation Y graduates are generally less motivated by money, and more focused on making an impact as well as having greater independence in their work,” he says.
As a result, there has been an upsurge in the number of start-ups across Africa. According to FORBES, African tech start-ups raised $129 million in funding in 2016, resulting in a 16.8% increase in the number of successfully funded start-ups from 2015. A 2016 Disrupt African Tech Start-ups Funding report shows that South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya remain the three most popular investment destinations on the continent, with over 80% of secured funds.
“Jumia has raised over $200 million, iROKOtv another $16 million and Konga $38 million, and the number of success stories just keeps rising. This year Andela closed another round of funding which saw investment from Mark Zuckerberg. So, given the current challenging economic climate, it seems entrepreneurship is the way to go for many young people,” says Richmond Quarshie, Founder of Goldsmiths Capital, a private equity firm in Ghana.
For Stephen Emenike Kamalu, a 23-year-old graduate from Madonna University in Rivers State, Nigeria, and an Associate Tax Analyst for American multinational conglomerate General Electric (GE) in Nigeria, both entrepreneurship and gainful employment can be beneficial for millennials.
“For me I think the most important thing for young people is finding your path. So if your path is aligned with having a career, then that is what you have to do. You have to build yourself along that path because you need to have self-fulfilment and for those who feel they have to do their own thing, then that is what they should also do,” he says.
“Employment is along my career path. I plan to have a professional career so that is in line with the path I have chosen for myself and I wanted to get the necessary skills and knowledge to take me along that path and take me to the next level. I am doing both and I can balance it because I feel once I get my experience in my nine-to-five I can also start a side business.”
His opinion conflicts with that of Chuks Anyaduba, Co-Founder of TOG Media.
“I started my own company about four years ago after I left university, so I would say I know a thing or two about entrepreneurship, but in my opinion traditional employment might be a better path for many young people. Running your own business might lead to more money, greater freedom and a chance to follow your passion, but employment provides invaluable experience in a safe environment. You get to learn on the job without every day being a battle to keep your company afloat,” he says.
Anyaduba believes the allure of doing what you like as an entrepreneur does not take into account the value of a multi-discipline experience.
“Most entrepreneurs start a business in things they have a passion for. If the person likes music, they start an entertainment business, and if someone is a fitness fanatic, they open a gym, but to get the business off the ground most entrepreneurs spend a majority of time selling and marketing which leaves no room to learn other skills. In employment, you get to try different roles and different sectors and delegate to those who are good at certain jobs to excel,” says Anyaduba.
Fredrick Aghuno is a 22-year-old multimedia designer, popular for creating wearable art, 3D backdrops, luxury art and papier-mâché. He is the founder of Dricky Stickman, a company he started after university last year. His opinion about employment is marred by his father’s experience.
“My dad did a nine-to-five for years and when he retired the company still owed him around N75 million ($210,000). Entrepreneurship is what is going to move this nation forward. I believe if people my age are able to find a vocation you can really boost the economy and drive growth,” he says.
Aghuno’s passion for art began in London where he learned graffiti from the age of 12. With the help of his fashion designer brother, Frank Aghuno of fashion brand Fruche, he launched his creative line to merge art with fashion.
“I wanted to experiment for a while so I thought how can I merge graffiti with the things I love. I decided to try graffiti on clothes because nobody could tell me I was defacing my clothes. I initially didn’t want to sell. The plan was to just do it for myself and take pictures for social media but I got my first order from another designer and from then more orders started coming in,” says Aghuno.
Despite dreaming of becoming a professional football player, Aghuno’s goal is to expand his fashion business.
As more and more students come to the unsettling realization that they aren’t guaranteed a job after graduation, those who are innovative are creating new opportunities for themselves.
“In today’s world, you can’t rely on anything or anyone to make you successful. You have to be accountable for your own career and create your own path,” says Jeffrey Manu, Founder of Manu Equity, a start-up based in Silicon Valley.
“Hundreds of colleges offer entrepreneurship courses and employers are starting to understand the importance of that type of education. More employers are actually looking for students with entrepreneurship experience when hiring simply because students who have an entrepreneurial mindset have what it takes to thrive in an extremely competitive environment,” says Manu.
The statistics are also stacked in favor of entrepreneurship.
“When you look at most of our most respected entrepreneurs of our time, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Travis Kalanick are all college dropouts who have gone on to become billionaires. Why would anyone not want to become an entrepreneur?” asks Quarshie.
This is the big question. In the face of growing unemployment, millennials are changing their approach to the world of work. The changes that are disrupting traditional business models are the tip of the iceberg and if the next generation wishes to succeed in the new world, they will need to carve a new path and just maybe say goodbye to the nine-to-five model.