Youth Unemployment in Ethiopia: Perspectives from the Ground, by Nani Detti (MALD 23)

by MH
Sep 08

The past couple of months have been exciting and busy! I had the opportunity to engage with individuals and organizations working to address youth unemployment in Ethiopia. The main goal of my trip this summer was to better understand the needs of young people in Ethiopia, and the actions being taken by various stakeholders to help them secure a brighter future. As the founder of a non-profit whose main goal is to provide mentorship and career advice to young people, I wanted to make sure that the programs I am launching under Misale were tailored to the problems facing young people in the Ethiopian context.


With these goals in mind, I set out to engage with everyone from high-level government officials to university professors and career centers to share a bit about Misale, and understand their perspectives on what is working and what is not working when it comes to initiatives to address youth unemployment.


In July, I focused on connecting with university officials, career centers and job skill trainers to understand the gaps in Ethiopia’s education system, and how that impacts the employability of graduates leaving Ethiopia’s higher education institutions. I first met Abeselom Samson Yosef, a trainer who works with Dereja, a partner of the Mastercard Foundation that provides career development services for fresh graduates. Abeselom was able to share his experience traveling across Ethiopia to train university students and fresh graduates, and the impact of the lack of career centers on their employability. Abeselom explained how some graduates do not even have the basic knowledge of putting together a CV, which reflects the gap that exists on university campuses when it comes to career guidance. My conversation with Abeselom was encouraging in that it confirmed to me the importance of career support, and the work that Misale is trying to do. But I also realized that graduates and young unemployed people need more than short training on topics like CV writing, if they are to secure a meaningful job, and excel in their line of work.


To better understand what other support is needed, I met with the members of the career center team at Addis Ababa University (AAU). Career centers are not widely available in most universities in Ethiopia. But in 2018, the government began a pilot project aimed at launching career centers at select universities. The team at the AAU career center works with 7 other universities in providing career counseling for students and graduates. In my conversation with the team, I was able to learn the challenges that they are facing in their work. One challenge they raised is the lack of career counseling training for the team themselves. The team felt that they needed better training to equip themselves with the skills and tools they need to support students. Additionally, the lack of funding and resources such as computers, and even chairs and desks makes their task even more difficult. As an office tasked with supporting thousands of students, they felt that they needed more support to meet the demand for career support better. Misale has made plans to support the AAU career center by raising funds to purchase essential materials and equipment, and helping them with other partners who can support them in training their staff. In addition to the AAU career center, I have also connected with the career center at Bahir Dar University. Misale plans to recruit its next cohort of mentees from these two universities.


While there aren’t many studies conducted on career development services in Ethiopia, the few that exist have been conducted by Abera Getachew, an Associate Professor at AAU. I had a chance to catch up with Abera to learn more about his work in pushing for the creation of more career centers in Ethiopia. Abera emphasized the need for well-trained career counselors–which many universities in Ethiopia lack. He explained that most people who are assigned to join these career centers as counselors have not received the proper training needed to qualify for the position. Additionally, he mentioned that the poor quality of Ethiopia’s education system has caused a mismatch between the skills that the job market needs, and the skills that graduating students have. This points to the need for a robust education reform that can adequately address the skills gap, while also providing young people with an opportunity to be employed in fields that reflect their passions and strengths.


So far, I had spoken to individuals and groups working with students and graduates to help them get employed. But what about employers? What is their perspective on the applicants they get for the positions they post? What skill gaps do they see, and where do they think the solutions lie? To understand this better, I met with Mehert Yonas, who heads the Human Resources department of Heineken Brewery’s Ethiopia office. Mehert explained the challenges of getting top talent from the universities across the country due to a mismatch of skills. She explained how in the last recruitment drive, her company received 4,000 applications, out of which only 26 were selected. She explained that most of the applicants didn’t even have the confidence to introduce themselves and communicate effectively. Moreover, she explained that most applicants would not be able to thrive in a fast-paced environment as the one her company offers. Since in their mind, all they need to succeed is the degree that they have earned, this makes them unmotivated and unprepared to take on challenges. Mehret said that one area that the majority of training and programs on youth unemployment have failed to work on is helping young people become self-reflective on their strengths and weaknesses. Instead of simply focusing on teaching them CV writing—which they can learn on their own, and which doesn’t fully reflect what they bring to the table—spending time pushing them to reflect on what they want to achieve, and what kind of life they want for themselves is more valuable. This will make sure that they can thrive in whatever environment they find themselves in, and it will make them open-minded. Employers do not simply want someone who looks good on paper. They need an effective communicator, a team-player, and someone who is willing to learn and grow. Mehert said that finding such a candidate in the current Ethiopian job market is difficult, so more focus should be given by various stakeholders on how to better prepare students and graduates to be well-rounded.


August kicked off with an exciting partnership for Misale. Misale signed an MOU with Aspire Leaders Program, a program which provides a host of academic and professional development resources through a tiered application structure that reaches thousands of students globally. Participants of the program, will:

  • Gain access to fully-funded HarvardX courses and leadership development tools.
  • Participate in live seminars with Harvard and world-class faculty.
  • Exchange ideas in a virtual classroom with a global community of peers.


Misale is now the official partner of Aspire Leaders Program, and in this capacity will help promote the program to higher education institutions in Ethiopia, and will help recruit first-generation university students to join the program.


Another exciting opportunity for Misale was being a part of the second National Job Summit, which took place on August 15th and 16th under the theme “Sustainable Jobs for a Bright Future.” The event was organized by the Ministry of Labor and Skills, and it brought together high-level government officials as well as higher education institutions and members of the private sector to discuss the Ethiopian national job creation agenda. The two-day event accomplished the following:

  • Indicated the government of Ethiopia’s strategic direction on skill development, job creation, and the national labor market.
  • Provided a platform to connect key stakeholders in the labor market, policymakers, institutions working on the jobs-creation agenda, and the job seekers.
  • Announced major progress made by the government of Ethiopia in building a vibrant tech ecosystem through policy changes and direct support to ecosystem players.
  • Outlined Ethiopia’s strategic direction to expand freelancing, outsourcing, and gigs, including key reforms in the tech sector.


The event provided a great networking opportunity for Misale. The remaining meetings I had in August were focused on recruiting interns for Misale. I had an opportunity to connect with members of various Rotaract clubs in Addis, whose members are young people committed to volunteering and giving back to their communities. On August 28th, I was invited to speak at a convening of Rotaract Mella, one of the Rotaract chapters in Addis Ababa. During the session I got to share my education and professional background, as well as about Misale Initiative. It was refreshing to be surrounded by young people who were so eager to give back to their community, and find ways to learn and grow despite the challenges they were facing.


I was inspired by the work that Rotaract was doing that I decided to collaborate with them to launch the application for Misale’s 2022/23 internship program. Over the course of a week, I have received 210 applicants from universities across the country. I am now in the process of shortlisting candidates who will be interviewed for the positions.


My time in Ethiopia this summer has been productive and successful. I am grateful for the support that I have received from IGL, because without it, this trip would not have been possible.