A recent study commissioned by Microsoft Corp. from the International Youth foundation (IYF) reveals that 76% of workers in Sub- Saharan Africa are working at low skilled, low quality jobs that do not pay enough to lift them out of poverty. 72% of youth live on less than USD 2 a day and have to work long hours to earn enough to survive. This prevents them from investing their time or resources in acquiring the education or training that could prepare them for a better-paying job for the future.

Further, the report shows that 2.2 million youth in Sub-Saharan Africa enter the labor market every year, a labor market in which 70% of the job growth has been in vulnerable employment: unpaid work in family enterprises or self-employment in the informal sector. But despite Sub-Sahara's relatively favorable economic outlook, even rapid growth of formal sector jobs will not be enough to create the 15 million new jobs that are needed each year just to avoid an increase in unemployment. What's more even if the jobs in the private sector grow, most youth will remain unqualified to fill them.

"To address the increasing need for decent work for youth, it is important to support the development of private-sector jobs that offer living wages, benefits, and protections. Programs that empower youth, develop their leadership potential, and provide opportunities for community service can fill gaps in experience, bolster their employability, and nurture a sense of ability to improve conditions in their communities and shape their own future", said Benson Masero, Program Officer at the African Centre for Women Information and Communications Technology, a local partner of the IYF.

The report underlines the emergence of an opportunity divide among young people worldwide. While some youth are prospering, many others who lack access to education, skills and opportunities face growing challenges. As the global youth population of 1.2 billion -- the largest in history -- grows over time, the gap risks widening even further between those with opportunity and those without.

In response to the report findings, Louis Otieno, General Manager, Microsoft East and Southern Africa said, "While the reasons for the opportunity divide vary from country to country, the global trend is unfortunately the same everywhere. As the International Youth Foundation reports, unemployment has been on the rise for young people worldwide. More than ever, the public and private sectors need to work together to provide youth with access to education, skills, and better job opportunities. We must move from 'opportunity divided' to 'opportunity provided' for all."

For the past decade, Microsoft programs and partnerships have helped millions of young people worldwide create a better future for themselves through investments in education, skills training and programs that provide access to job opportunities.

Through an ongoing partnership with Net Hope, Microsoft East and Southern Africa and its business partners have embarked on a program to train, mentor and place young computer science graduates in an internship programme that has seen 40 students hired by Microsoft business partners and other host organizations to work as interns and after 6 months graduate to full time employees.

To further support the SMEs in Africa, Microsoft launched the Build Your Business program which is a free online, content-rich training curriculum for micro and small businesses. Build Your Business will help entrepreneurs leverage productivity and technology tools to grow their businesses.

The International Youth Foundation report indicates that there is more work to be done.

"History has shown us that when young people thrive, society prospers. The data in this report show us that far too many young people today are struggling and the reasons why. We must act now so that young people have the opportunities they need to succeed in the 21st century workforce. Our collective future depends upon it "said Mr. Masero.

Microsoft is working with governments, nonprofits, industry colleagues, educators and youth themselves to close the opportunity divide. A first step is shining a light on the problem through the IYF report and learning more directly from young people through a series of upcoming conferences and events in different regions of the world about the best ways to help. The company is incorporating the insights gained from these discussions into its work to develop new plans to improve youth access to education, skills training, and communities where they can create and seize real-world opportunities.