The youth constitute a nation’s most precious asset and its primary resource, comprising 46% of the global population, with the highest concentration found in Africa and the Middle East. This demographic reality has spurred an increasing focus on youth development principles worldwide. Consequently, various industries and economic stakeholders have embraced practices and policies tailored to youth development. Notably, thought leaders, policymakers, governments and even employers constantly advocate for strategies that equip young people to effectively meet the demands of the ever-changing global labor market. With emphasis on an inclusive and balanced approach, they aim to enhance local and global participation of the youth. And yet, there persists slow implementation of youth development strategies which prevents countries from reaping from the population dividend and denying the youth the opportunity to contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals and overall economic betterment. For this reason, it begs the question; what are the prevailing shortcomings and inefficiencies that must be addressed to mitigate this potential threat?
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Economic Survey 2023, the greatest composition of Kenya’s population falls within the range of 15 to 60 years. Unfortunately, despite this demographic advantage, Kenya has witnessed a consistent increase in unemployment levels, from 4.25% in 2018 to 5.50% in 2022, and this trend, sadly, is expected to persist. Interestingly, government expenditure in the education sector has seen growth over the financial years, reaching KES 548.2 billion in 2022. However, the notable discrepancy between knowledge and skills acquired by the youth and employment opportunities, or the lack thereof, in both the public and private sectors signals the need for policy intervention.
Within the health sector, the youth frequently encounter constant hurdles in accessing affordable healthcare services. Just like the elderly population, there are specific health risks that tend to affect the youth. Surprisingly, there is a lack of sufficient focus and structure on helping young people navigate these challenges, especially considering that a majority of them operate within the informal sector hence lacking the resources and tools that would otherwise enable them access healthcare easily. Consequently, cases of depression, mental health disorders and sexually transmitted diseases are on an upward trajectory among the youth and this has the potential of affecting overall economic productivity if left unchecked and unattended.
Globalization, technological progress, digitization, the move towards the gig economy, demographic aging and the overall call for better work-life balance are constantly changing the nature of work. To this end, embracing inclusive strategies for youth development is imperative – the absence of which could impede prosperity and inclusivity. Recognizing the pivotal role of a strong, empowered and dynamic youth in social, political, economic and cultural spheres is essential. To support this cause, fiscal policies would require an adoption of a comprehensive approach that specifically targets deficiencies in the education, healthcare and other areas that have hindered youth engagement in the economy. For instance, prioritizing strategic funding and investment in affordable education and skill-focused training programs becomes paramount, not only to equip the youth with essential skills but also to incentivize job creation. Additionally, ensuring accessible and affordable healthcare tailored to the needs of the youth is crucial for fostering their physical and mental well-being, thus enhancing their performance in their respective workplaces.
Moreover, integrating the youth’s perspectives into policy formulation and decision-making processes both at local and international levels is necessary to facilitate their representation and participation. Addressing these issues through targeted intervention in policy restructuring is crucial for holistic youth development.