Man cutting fabric with scissors
The African Union has launched the Skills Initiative for Africa, providing young people in Africa with improved employment prospects through the provision of practically orientated education and training.
Skills Initiative for Africa

African Union tackles youth unemployment challenge with pilot project in seven countries

NIRAS was recently awarded a four-year contract to manage a new financing facility aiming to strengthen skills development particularly among young people in Africa.

18. Jul 2018

The African Union (AU) vision is “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”. One of the biggest challenges to achieve the vision is the difficulty of fostering sustainable economic development in the face of large-scale migration, high unemployment rates, and a refugee crisis.

As a continent, Africa has vast, untapped economic potential, but especially its young people are struggling to gain access to employment opportunities - 60% of the unemployed are younger than 25 - with women being the hardest hit. Conditions are exacerbated by limited access to education and the practical training needed to build skills. This lack of economic prospects propels African citizens to move elsewhere in search of a better life, which in turn worsens their local economy as especially poorer nations are steadily being drained of their workforce.

“Young people are leaving their countries out of desperation, not out of choice, because of the lack of jobs in their own home. This must change, and it begins at individual country levels.”

Her Excellency Dr Dlamini-Zuma, former chairperson of the African Union Commission, on the occasion of International Youth Day.

Laying foundations for employment growth

In an effort to create local opportunities, in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the AU has launched the Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA), providing young people in Africa with improved employment prospects through the provision of practically orientated education and training. This will be done through capacity development as well as funding through the Financing Facility for Skills Development, the initiative’s dedicated funding mechanism. NIRAS has been contracted to manage SIFA from 2018 to 2022 on behalf of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the AU’s implementing agency.

In keeping with the project’s goal, SIFA will address common challenges around the implementation of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in seven pilot countries – Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia, and South Africa – and focus on the implementation of innovative and sustainable skills development, improvement and/or dissemination of existing local best practices, and improvement of educational capacity and infrastructure.

Three funding windows

  • Funding Window 1 will focus on large projects, with one project being chosen per pilot country. Projects that will be considered include the construction, rehabilitation, or improvements to infrastructure; the acquisition or upgrading of technical and didactic equipment; and investments in educational scholarships.
  • Funding Window 2 is reserved for joint projects between African and international companies, organisations, and associations, with one project being chosen per pilot country. To maximize reach among already active joint projects, this window was front-loaded, with a call for proposals already being issued in 2017.
  • Funding Window 3 will serve smaller, innovative (pilot) projects. It will act as an incubator to allow the testing of pilot projects with the potential for larger regional impact in employment-orientated skills development. 

Selecting for success

To be eligible for funding, selected projects must contribute to pilot country’s National Skill Development System and have a proven track record in the field of skills development. Projects must also involve the private sector, increasing the likelihood of their beneficiaries’ employment, and include concepts and plans to ensure the intended impact, maintenance, and sustainability of their facilities and activities. A special emphasis is placed on women’s participation in projects, which is expected to be a minimum of 30%, as well as students from low income groups, migrants, and refugees.

After the selection of the most promising projects, NIRAS’s role centres around capacity building, amongst others by providing technical assistance and training on acquisitions, tendering, construction contracts and monitoring, as well as a variety of other aspects depending on the nature of the project. With the aid of SmartME, our state-of-the-art online fund management and monitoring and evaluation tool, NIRAS will evaluate the projects in real time and disseminate best practices and lessons learned across the AU. The goal of this is to ensure the cross-exposure of ideas between the member countries and to provide information to countries that wish to create their own skills development programmes and projects. In this way, the Skills Initiative for Africa and the projects it supports could pave the way for more training and education opportunities for young Africans, and perhaps one day lower the employment barrier to Africa’s prosperity.

For more information, visit the Skills Initiative for Africa's website.