The challenges associated with employing Rwanda’s large and growing youth population is the subject of a new report commissioned by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, written by Laterite Ltd.
The full report outlines what we know about youth employment in Rwanda looking at definitions, the current state of the labour market, and the perceptions and concerns of youths seeking employment. It summarizes recent statistics from the national household survey and the most recent census as well as reviews the current academic and policy-relevant literature on the topic. In addition, the report maps the current policy and program space, highlighting the key stakeholders involved in addressing the youth employment challenge in Rwanda.
In sum, we find that Rwanda’s large and growing youth population presents both a challenge and an opportunity to policymakers. The country is currently at a turning point in its demographic transition: fertility rates are decreasing and the labour force is growing as the young population ages. If Rwanda’s economy is able to productively absorb this population, Rwandan youths have the potential to drive economic development and the country could reap the benefits of this ‘demographic dividend’.
The scale of this challenge, however, should not be underestimated. In addition to providing productive employment for the estimated 125,000 youths entering the labour force every year, Rwanda’s economy must grow fast enough to move current workers from low-productivity, agrarian activities, to formal, stable and better-paid jobs.
As it stands, according to the ILO definition, only 4.1 per cent of the population is unemployed. This definition however sets a very low threshold for employment – one hour of work, paid or unpaid, in the week preceding the survey. The reality on the ground is much more concerning, with many people underemployed, working only a few hours a week, for low wages or in subsistence agriculture.
It could be argued therefore that the most pressing issue facing Rwandan youth is underemployment – two-thirds work less than 35 hours per week, their wages are significantly lower than older workers, and a higher share are employed in informal jobs. In addition, a large portion of the Rwandan labour force is self-employed. Sixty-six percent of underemployed youths are unpaid family farm workers, independent farmers, or waged farmhands. To compensate for the poor conditions and pay, many young people work more than one job: 42 percent of 16 to 20-year-olds hold two or more jobs and this share rises to 54 percent for youth aged 30 to 35.
Laterite identified six key areas where additional research would be beneficial to inform policy making targeting the youth employment challenge in Rwanda:
- Gaining a better understanding of the nature of underemployment in Rwanda;
- Understanding how to stimulate the growth of the informal business sector and its potential for job creation;
- Exploring evident gender disparities in employment outcomes;
- Carrying out rigorous impact evaluations to understand the efficacy of training programs;
- Including youths’ voice in research to truly understand their aspirations and the challenges they face; and
- Understanding the possible benefits and challenges of cross-border labour mobility in the context of East African integration.
The critical role research plays in informing policy making for youth employment was the subject of a workshop hosted by IDRC and IPAR in late September. The event sparked lively discussion between stakeholders from government, the private sector and academic institutions. A summary of the event can be found here.