Investing in youth: Rwanda’s safe bet in the 21st century economy

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“The reason I chose this program is that I need to learn fashion design skills that will help me grow,” said Divine, a young Rwandan girl who recently started working as a trainee for a Rwandan garment manufacturing companyom/file/d/1OJXJREHu-i-nb7daAygauQiOWXJEY21J/view>.

George, the company’s general manager, stresses the importance of programs like the one Divine joined: “We had a big skills gap, but now we’re filling it with the training program,” he said. he declares.

This win-win situation between Divine and George is not unique. Rwanda has an ambitious goal of becoming an upper-middle-income economy by 2035, and it understands that investing in its people and matching employer demand with worker skills are necessary to achieve this goal.

Over the past four years, the government has launched a skills development program for young people at different levels of education as part of its development blueprint 2018-2024 – the National Transformation Strategy (NST).

This strategy aims to equip the more than 200,000 young people entering the labor market each year with essential skills to become productive citizens with access to quality jobs that can catalyze economic development and help meet the challenges posed by issues such as as climate change and the digital revolution.

Progress has been made, but many challenges persist.

First, more than 90% of enterprises operate in the informal sector with few opportunities for upgrading.

Second, about 14% of the workforce in Rwanda is unemployed and not actively developing market-relevant skills.

Third, the unemployment rate is around 21% for young people.

Fourth, about 60% of employed people work in subsistence agriculture, retail, construction and low productivity jobs.

In other words, the country faces massive levels of youth unemployment and insufficient access to quality jobs.

This situation is exacerbated by a changing global economy where labor markets are changing at a rapid pace.

So how do we support these young people so that they become active and productive economic players?

A holistic approach where skills development plays a crucial role is needed.

Specifically, Rwanda can pave the way to more productive jobs by supporting skills development in the informal sector to improve enterprise productivity and worker mobility.

The country must also enable young people in training and job seekers to acquire the higher level and entrepreneurial skills necessary for the formal sector, where better paid jobs can be found.

This includes growing sectors such as energy, construction, transport, logistics, ICT and tourism.

The World Bank supports these efforts comprehensively through two programs. Rwanda’s Priority Skills for Growthank.org/en/projects-operations/project-detail/P252350> (PSG), initially supported the development of Rwanda’s National Skills Development and Employment Promotion Strategy, setting out a clear vision for the country.

Building on this, the project is now helping to expand opportunities for young people to acquire quality skills demanded by employers.

So far, the program has supported the training of more than 27,000 people to become agents of change in sectors such as climate change, energy and transport.

In addition, PSG contributed to the redesign of the labor market information system to generate relevant evidence allowing young people to take control of their careers and life trajectories while finding jobs that allow the Rwanda to embrace the future and become a low carbon and digital economy.

Photo courtesy of Workforce Development Authority.

The initiative also guides policy makers towards better labor market and education planning while leveraging opportunities emerging from the COVID-19 crisis, particularly for the adoption of digital trade.

In addition to young people with strong technical skills, growing economies need professionals who can lead economic transformation and innovate to expand the country’s development opportunities.

Thus, the second programme, the Centers of Excellence for Higher Education in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACE II),k.org/en/projects-operations/project-detail/P151847> strengthens four centers of excellence at the University of Rwanda.

These centers provide quality postgraduate training and build collaborative research capacity in the fields of energy, ICT, data science and education.

Going forward, these initiatives will need to be complemented by good quality jobs that can lead to sustainable and inclusive growth in the medium to long term.
There are at least three priorities to highlight:

i) It is crucial to strengthen the foundations for skills development. Basic education is a building block for further skills development and ultimately employment in quality jobs. Basic learning and skills are essential to maximizing the return on investment in post-secondary education.

ii) greater efforts are needed to ensure that girls are not left behind, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which tends to be male-dominated. Despite government efforts to achieve gender parity in STEM by 2024/25, female students still make up only 32% of students enrolled in STEM programs at tertiary level. Structured pre-university or transition university support programs can be considered to fill gaps before young women transition into higher education.

iii) Rwanda’s vision of being a leading ICT hub and becoming a digital and knowledge economy will require continued investment in digital skills and infrastructure. Digitization could generate around three million jobs by 2030, compared to one million created in 2016, in professions such as creation, processing and management of content, digital communication, analysis, management of equipment , software development and application management. In addition, specific skills and/or professions associated with climate change adaptation and decarbonization will be required in the fields of solar energy, climate-smart agriculture and electric mobility.

The World Bank is a committed, long-term partner supporting Rwanda on this journey.

Today, Divine is part of a quality training program that facilitates the development of its human capital. Soon, she will also be able to create jobs for other young people: “Thanks to the training that I am in, I plan to create my own fashion business,” she says. Investing in skills development from a holistic perspective will ensure that the current generation of young people can become the leaders of the future and apply their skills in a modern economy while contributing to a more prosperous Rwanda for all.

About the authors:
Rolande Pryce (L) is the World Bank’s Country Manager for Rwanda and Ruth Karimi Charo (R) the World Bank’s Senior Education Specialist.

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