It is an indisputable fact that Zimbabwe is one of the Sub-Saharan African countries with high levels of youth unemployment. The problem of youth unemployment and under-employment in Zimbabwe poses complex economic, social and moral policy issues. The youth are undeniably among the most important formidable force and resource a country can have in order to boost its social and economic development. In addition to being large in number, the youth are energetic and if they are well coordinated and actively engaged in economic activities, could contribute significantly to socio-economic development. Though youth unemployment is among the major challenges facing both developed and developing countries in the world today, the problem is more acute in developing countries. Unemployment has caused a surge in all sorts of vices including participation in politically motivated violence, spread of HIV/AIDS and drug abuse among the youth. With a new political dispensation in Zimbabwe in the form of the post Mugabe era, there is a general consensus on the need to reduce unemployment. This paper seeks to identify some of the challenges of youth unemployment in Zimbabwe. Additionally, it proposes some possible recommendations in addressing youth unemployment.

The 2013 International Labour Organization  report  shows that the number of employed youth declined by 22.9 million from 2008 to 2012 despite the growth of the youth population by 12 million for the same period . The enormity of the problem of youth unemployment has made it a threat to the social, economic and political stability of most developing countries. Economically, youth unemployment has led to labor market instability, increased welfare costs, erosion of the tax base and unused investments in education and training. Socially, youth unemployment is not only of concern to the unemployed but also to the family members of the unemployed and the general society. In Zimbabwe, youth unemployment is one of the most formidable problems facing the country. In 2008 Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate was estimated to be the highest in the world at a rate of 70-95%.


Some of the Challenges of Youth unemployment in Zimbabwe

Youth unemployment has contributed to the increase in international legal and illegal migration as unemployed youth go in search of decent employment as well as better life. In the last decade, Zimbabwe has experienced the worst brain drain to other neighboring countries in the region and overseas countries. There are assumptions that South Africa is accommodating more than 2 million Zimbabweans and not including the undocumented. The majority of them who have migrated to neighboring South Africa and Botswana are both skilled and unskilled youth. Youth who are economic immigrants often have to bear the burdens of being used as cheap labor since the Labour laws of those countries do not protect them because most of them are illegal immigrants in the country. The illegal immigration of youth to other countries in search of greener pastures has additionally created problems in the receiving countries. A classic example is the case of South Africa where xenophobic related attacks were recorded because of an increased number of immigrants in the country. Thus, the youth unemployment crisis in Zimbabwe assumes an international dimension.

Evidence has also shown that youth unemployment results in malnutrition, mental illness and loss of self-confidence resulting in depression. It is also associated with high stress leading to persons committing suicide and poor physical health and heart attack in later life. Youth unemployment also brings stress to the societies and families who after high investment in the youth education, expect them to be employed and hence contribute to the wellbeing of family and society. There are also cases of youth who end up engaging in criminal activities, drug addiction and prostitution which takes them away from normal labor market activities. It is now normal in urban areas of Zimbabwe to find young women and girls engaging in activities like prostitution. Most of these acts emanate from the problem of youth unemployment. Even girls as young as 15 years engage in prostitution because some of them are orphans while others have been left behind by parents who have crossed the borders for greener pastures.



Support structures that promote youth entrepreneurship 

There is need for the establishment and strengthening of entrepreneurship education in schools and tertiary institutions to foster the development of an entrepreneurial culture among the youth to facilitate self-employment.  Although there are support structures that promote youth entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe, there is still the need to assess the extent to which their contribution can lead to sustainable entrepreneurship which creates jobs for the active population. The current structures that promote youth entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe include the Ministry of Small and Micro Enterprises, Ministry of youth, Zimbabwe Youth Council, vocational training centres and microfinance schemes like the Youth Fund. There are also other structures at Provincial levels and District levels. Therefore the Government of Zimbabwe, ought to fully support and strengthen these structures and put in place mechanisms which will monitor and evaluate whether these structures are benefiting the target group and reaching out to the youths who are in rural areas as well as those who are disabled.



The unavailability of relevant research into challenges like unemployment facing youth in Zimbabwe has led to a limitation of data to inform the development of viable solutions to resolve the problem. Although data generation may be a costly process for most developing countries, it is very crucial for the effective implementation of policy.  Without proper research and authentic data, policies passed may create unintended negative consequences. Only a few developing countries have reliable data on youth unemployment rates. This paper therefore proposes public-private partnerships in data generation and research in Zimbabwe to guide policy implementation. It is recommended that a more quantitative study that will be able to rank the impact of challenges identified should be conducted in Zimbabwe. This will help identify which impediments have more impact and which area or problem needs to be given resource priority. 


Creating Conducive and Enabling Environment for Investment

This entails creating an enabling environment for investment through reduction in the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe. There is the need to remove taxes and other unnecessary hurdles to the establishment of businesses in Zimbabwe. This can be done through the creation of Special Economic Zones and reduction in tariffs. Improving relationships with the global world is also key in attracting investment. These need to be addressed in order for prospective investors to have the assurance that Zimbabwe is really open for business.


Revive Agro-based Industries.

Zimbabwe has an agro-based economy, which means its economy is driven by agri-business hence, there is need for full utilization of agro-companies especially those in the Matebeland region. The Cold Storage Company in Bulawayo and the beef canning plant in West Nicholson can be reestablished to resume exports to the European Union (EU). 


Review of the institutional framework and coordination mechanisms

 The government and policy makers should review job market laws and regulation in order to promote smooth transition of youth from education to job market. In the case of Zimbabwe, the Indigenization law has to be revised or totally repealed in order for the country to attract foreign direct investment. The law has proved to be chasing away potential investors since its inception. It is important for the government to create specific interventions especially in the creation of more formal jobs and strengthening job market regulation relating to youth to ensure that all youth with education or skills realize their investments in education and contribute to the country’s development.


Formalization of informal employment

 The government should facilitate the formalization of the informal employment sector in order to motivate more youth to engage in different activities which are currently considered to be informal. This will help to reduce the problem of youth unemployment especially on skilled and educated youth in both urban and rural areas.


Decentralization of government programs to rural areas

The government of Zimbabwe identified entrepreneurship as a major policy thrust to achieve economic growth. This is evidenced by a number of institutions that were established by the government to provide funding and improve operational efficiency in the small and medium enterprises sector. The Youth Fund, Community Share Ownership Trust under the Indigenization Act, Zimbabwe Youth Council has reported some recent developments in funding, training and mentorship programs targeting youth in business or those interested in starting their own businesses. This would go a long way in tapping into the potential of the young population. Since the majority of African youth live in the rural areas, it is reasonable to argue that the youth programs should also be concentrated in rural areas.


Smooth provision of loans to youths

A loan and grant scheme should be in place to assist the needy to finance their education in vocational training colleges, technical colleges and universities. Zimbabwe used to have the cadetship program which used to help students who could not afford university fees. Due to economic and political issues, it does not exist anymore. Such programs including the Presidential scholarship if it was made transparent enough to benefit young people who come from poor backgrounds, will go a long way in boosting the education sector and at the same time, alleviating unemployment in the country.


Skills requirement audit 

A skills requirements audit in the economy should be carried out so that education and training respond to the needs of industry. A good example is polytechnics which are still lagging behind in terms of technology. They are churning out students who are incapacitated in terms of current technology because of lack of up to date machinery. This can be attributed to the fall in the country’s economy hence, the unavailability of resources for government to upgrade the infrastructure within colleges and universities.


Establish basic skills programs for unemployed youths

  There is need for wide dissemination of the skills requirements of the economy by local councils and parastatals. These can be facilitated by youth development program whose sole mandate is to develop technical, business and entrepreneurial skills for unemployed youths who have no tertiary and advanced secondary education. A good case in point is that of the youth programme in South Africa. It collaborates with parastatals and local councils to open doors of opportunity to young unemployed youths. The Johannesburg Water invited 90 young people under the age of 35 who were interested in plumbing, brick laying and welding to enroll for its basic skills programme for unemployed youth. This is one of the outstanding initiatives which Zimbabwe can adopt in order to reduce youth unemployment.


Fast track the devolution of power

In the 2013 constitution, Devolution of power is supposed to be implemented. This will ensure significant reduction of corruption and major sectors benefiting from the natural resources which are in their areas. The corruption which is currently rampant in the government would be eliminated to a certain extent through devolution of power.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Future Africa Forum.