Labour makes an indispensable contribution in the production of commodities. Labour is the human productive factor. However, not only is the human factor crucial for production, it also serves an economic function of consumption. However, to be effective its role as a consumer, labour requires compensation for its productive role.

In this article, it is argued that youths are an essential ingredient in the labour matrix and their role in the development process is indispensable. For without fully utilizing the youths, it is not possible to maximize economic growth and development. While by way of occupation, youths can serve in different roles, including traversing the political landscape, this article focuses on youths as an army of workers. Thus, the article starts by briefly giving an overview of the labour dynamics in Zambia; relying on the 2019 Labour Force Survey, it is shown that youths constitute a critical mass of the labour force, yet they often lack the requisite education and skills to effectively participate in the labour market. In general, there are structural and institutional barriers which hinder youths from penetrating the labour market. By structural features, it is partly understood from the perspicacity of the Zambian economy in which the informal sector is large and levels of industrial development are low, including low levels of agricultural production and productivity. The institutional lens refers to the interplay of the policy and legal ecosystem as well as organizational architecture as a facilitator and translator of policy aspirations into actual practice via effective implementation.

In Zambia, the recognition of labour’s contribution to national development cannot be understated. The country has an entire ministry – the Ministry of Labour and Social Security – dedicated to the affairs of labour. With a population of nearly 18 million people, Zambia is considered to have a young population, with about 65% of the population under the age of 25, and over half¬—52%—under the age of 18. This remarkable population distribution suggests that young Zambians are an incredible resource if the country is to effectively accelerate national development. In 2019, the working age population was about 9.7 million people of which about 3.4 million persons were in the labour force. Of the entire working age population, over half—53.2%—reside in rural areas. Over half of the labour force is composed of youths—53.4%. Urban areas were resident to 62.5% of the employed youths. The informal sector hosts 44.4% of the employed youths while the formal and household sectors host 29.7% and 25.9%, respectively.

This evidences the fact that the majority of Zambians work in the informal sector. In terms of employment by industry, the majority of Zambians ‘Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles” and Agriculture, forestry and fishing” at 27.9% and 22.2%, respectively. Most of the youths do not work in technical jobs; 34.2% work in services and sales, 18.9% in elementary occupations, while only 12.4% are skilled agriculture and forestry workers.

Therefore, any employment policy design and formulation, particularly for the youths, attention must be paid to the employment dynamics; that is, where do the youths live, what type of economic activities are they mostly engaged in and what kinds of economic activities have the largest potential for absorbing youth employment.

In launching the National Youth Policy, Zambia demonstrated strong commitment to address the affairs of the youths and express appreciation of the crucial role of youths in national development. The government has also created platforms for youths to access material resources. However, critics argue that although Zambia has a favorable environment at the policy level for youth participation in the economy and governance, poor implementation and lack of accountability hinder the realization and full utilization of the potential of the youths.

Given the challenges faced by youths in being effective participants in the economy, the following recommendations can be made:

1. Focus on growing employment-maximizing sectors and economic activities such as agriculture in which already a significant proportion of the youth find occupation and livelihoods.

2. Accelerate industrialization and economic diversification, crucial for both forward and backward linkages with agriculture but also for fiscal linkages. The government can then extract rent and reallocate into the educations sector.

3. Skills and education: Promote vocational skills for self-employment, as well as the quality of primary and secondary education to enhance skills and literacy.

4. At the policy level, there is need to institutionalize systems and mechanisms to hold accountable government for its commitments.

5. The political space must be tolerant of youths’ voices. The government must protect the rights and privileges of the youths and respond to the needs and reasonable demands of young people. Data shows that citizens normally possess the knowledge of what it takes to transform their lives. People also normally understand the challenges they face in their own progress, and can help contribute to the design and formulation of effective policies.

About the Author
Dr Gabriel Pollen is a Senior Researcher (Public Finance Management) at the Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) and a Lecturer with the University of Zambia, Department of Economics.