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How the Mobile Network Ecosystem Supports Informal Youth Employment

By Wayan Vota on July 20, 2022

gsma mobile phone report

Youth employment is an enormous challenge in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). Demographically, the region is experiencing a “youth bulge” that has left a rapidly growing workforce without enough formal jobs.

Many economies have not experienced the structural shift to labour-intensive manufacturing seen in other parts of the world, and this has limited job creation. In addition to these challenges, youth lack the skills employer’s demand.  Despite improvements in educational outcomes, the quality of education in the region remains low and there is a wide gap between the skills young people have and those that formal jobs require.

For these reasons, according to the International Labour Organization, 95% of youth aged 15 to 24 in SSA have taken up informal employment, a vital source of income and critical to building their livelihoods.

Informal Youth Employment Research

In 2020, GSMA Mobile for Development conducted a study of formal youth employment in the mobile industry in SSA and found that 800,000 youth found informal work in the industry in 2018, and this is expected to increase to one million by 2025. These jobs can be an essential source of livelihood for youth, but more often they provide a vital source of additional income to their existing business or other economic activity as part of a mixed livelihoods strategy.

The Informal Youth Employment in the Mobile Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa report shines a light on informal economic opportunities created directly in the mobile industry value chain. The research assessed the drivers, working conditions, challenges and benefits of these economic opportunities from the perspective of youth and other stakeholders. Research findings are based on a range of methods.

  • Surveys of more than 400 youth (aged 18 to 34) working informally in the mobile industry in six countries in SSA: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda. The research was conducted between December 2020 and February 2021 through an online panel survey, phone survey and face-to-face survey using different sampling methods.
  • Qualitative interviews with 40 key informants, 90 youth working informally in the industry and 40 industry workers who supply, employ, or manage them. This gives a more granular understanding of the experiences of youth working informally in the mobile industry from a variety of perspectives.
  • Extensive desk research on informality and employment and findings from past GSMA reports also underpin the research.

Mobile Industry Youth Income Opportunity

The aim of the research was to understand the drivers, benefits and challenges of their work and to assess working conditions. The key findings were as follows:

  1. Most youth in SSA engage in informal income generating activities in the mobile industry as part of a mixed livelihoods strategy. This work supplements their income, which comes from a range of other economic activities.
  2. More than 70% of informal jobs in the mobile industry are in retail and distribution networks and mobile money agent roles.
  3. A third of informal retailers and distributors and mobile money agents have built stable, long-term careers in the industry in sustainable enterprises, while two-thirds are working in the industry for short-term income generation.
  4. Youth working informally in non-retail segments of the industry primarily repair mobile phones and a smaller proportion work as content and application (app) developers or casual construction workers on network infrastructure.
  5. While women are well represented in retail and distribution and mobile money services, qualitative research indicates they are less well represented higher up the value chain as entrepreneurs where economic gains are also higher.
  6. The number of women working informally in content and app development and phone repair is notably low, which tend to be well-remunerated jobs. There is also an absence of women employed in infrastructure provision.

Income-generating opportunities in the mobile industry will continue to support the livelihoods of youth in SSA. Collaboration with key stakeholders can make these informal jobs more productive.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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