Analysis: Equipping Uganda’s youth only way to tackle joblessness

Uganda must act now and quickly in order to adapt its workforce to the changing needs of the employment landscape. The key intervention, investing in its human capital will increase the pace at which the workforce acquires essential skills to maximize the benefits of the country’s economic transformation.  

Labour constitutes a major and critical economic growth driver for the country. Jobs remain the primary mechanism for distributing income and providing citizens with access to the economy. This is especially true in Uganda’s emerging markets where poverty remains a problem, rates of unemployment are high and the social security blanket is thin. 

Growing unemployment in Uganda has forced large numbers of youth to pursue employment in the informal sector, mostly through self-employment or entrepreneurship. It is not surprising that in most African countries, more than 80 per cent of workers are in the informal sector, either engaged in agriculture or in urban informal economic activities such as selling, where low and unpredictable earnings, poor working conditions, and low productivity are commonplace.

To tackle these prevailing issues, the NRM government will have to prioritize Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) as an important tool for the country’s economic growth and development. This is widely viewed as an engine for productivity enhancement towards solving Uganda’s unemployment dilemma. 

TVET focuses on practical applications of skills learned, and is intended to prepare trainees to become effective professionals in a specific vocation. It also equips trainees with a broad range of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are indispensable for meaningful participation in work and life.

If TVET is appropriately leveraged, Uganda’s vast reservoir of its youth can become an important driver of growth in the economy. 

The World Bank predicts that the increased supply of labour-intensive jobs coupled with the demand for goods and services could spur this economic growth. This is however, not the case at present. Uganda is currently plagued by rising graduate youth unemployment as a result of the high number of new entrants into the labour market, which does not correspond with the number of jobs created annually.

This problem could be attributed to Uganda’s flawed educational structures, especially the poor linkage between educational systems and the reality of the job market. The education system emphasizes theoretical education devoid of practical skills and training needed for the job market, leading to limited job creation.

Furthermore, it is paradoxical that employment creation in the formal sector of Uganda’s rapidly growing economy has not kept pace with the growing numbers of new job seekers. It is evident that most new entrants lack the skills required for employment in capital-intensive, technology-driven firms. 

In addition, because the formal industrial sector is not expanding fast enough to absorb significant numbers of graduates and trainees, most young people are more likely to find employment mainly in the small business and informal sectors. 

Thus, the acquisition of relevant skills for employment is a pre-requisite for young people to participate meaningfully in the economy towards the achievement of sustainable livelihoods or the SDGs. 

Interventions

President Yoweri Museveni recently launched the Songhai model, an integrated approach that empowers youth, women and communities to sustainably harness natural resources for improved livelihoods through agriculture. 

The Songhai model which is being piloted and practiced in Kampiringisa, Mpigi district has been identified as one of the places the youth can learn about agriculture and value addition. The site, which sits on 100 acres of land was provided by the Government of Uganda through its Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

“This model reminds us to go back to our indigenous knowledge to boost our agriculture. It improves yields by using a method that is healthier for the soil. I am therefore launching it as a new science for us to practice,” President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said of the model.

The introduction of the Songhai model in Uganda is one of the many such interventions by UNDP to support the government address youth unemployment, increase agricultural productivity and foster sustainable growth.

“We see Songhai Model as a nexus connecting agriculture, science, industry, service provision and tourism,” Ms. Rosa Malango, the former UN Resident Coordinator in Uganda said during the launch of the model.

As Uganda aspires to achieve middle income status envisioned in its National Development Plan and Vision 2040, the need for a skilled workforce becomes even more urgent. The nation for instance needs a skilled labor force to construct and maintain roads, buildings, railways, and bridges. 

Training skilled mechanics, engineers, shoemakers, and garment makers, among other professions increases a country’s competitiveness globally. According to the World Bank, skilled workers enhance the quality and efficiency of product development, production, and maintenance, and they supervise and train workers with lesser skills. 

As a matter of fact, countries with well-established TVET systems tend to enjoy lower youth unemployment. This is because the orientation of TVET coupled with the acquisition of employability skills allow it to address issues such as skills mismatch that has impeded smooth school-to-work transitions for many young people. Tackling youth unemployment is additionally key to improving lives and building stronger communities necessary for growth. 

Countries such as the Asian Tigers; Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan have invested heavily and successfully adopted policies in technical and vocational education which have resulted in the emergence of a highly skilled workforce. It, therefore, becomes increasingly clear that skills development policies such as TVETs play a critical role in national development.

TVET is designed to prepare trainees for a specific profession. It increases the chances of trainees gaining employment quickly, or setting up their own businesses, creating a vibrant labour market and contributing to economic growth. 

For the last two decades, the government has successfully implemented a number of reforms in the education sector. As a result, many youth have basic education but lack necessary skills required by the labour market, hence the revitalization of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system to address the labour market needs.

Funding

So far, the NRM government has made substantial progress in supporting BTVET initiatives by launching the BTVET Strategic Plan which spans from 2011 to 2020. It builds on considerable progress in the reform of the BTVET system achieved during the last decade, notably the BTVET Act of 2008. 

The BTVET Strategic Plan denotes a paradigm shift for skills development in Uganda. The main purpose will be to create employable skills and competencies relevant in the labour market instead of educational certificates. 

It will embrace all Ugandans in need of skills, including but not only primary and secondary school leavers. In 2012, the government officially launched the Skilling Uganda programme at Jinja Vocational Training Institute in a move to reciprocate the gains of vocational training schools countrywide.

Overall, public resource requirements to implement the BTVET Strategic Plan over the nine fiscal years 2011/12 to 2019/20 are estimated at $870 million. Over this period, 39 per cent of the entire recurrent budget is earmarked for capitation grants/bursaries to support school leavers attending formal BTVET programmes. 

The projections indicate a moderate increase in enrolment in formal BTVET from 42,000 to 103,000 in 2019/20, representing an annual enrolment growth rate of 10 per cent and a gradually increasing per capita funding to ensure that training is provided at good standards. 40 per cent of the entire formal BTVET student population are expected to receive a public scholarship to enable increased enrolment

Moving forward 

Government must address the challenges faced with TVET in order to advance its economic development agenda. Technical and vocational training centers still suffer from underfunding, obsolete and inadequate training equipment and tools. 

There is also a consistent decline in the quality of training offered as most instructors do not have the requisite industrial and practical experience, and a lack of linkage between training institutions and the needs of industry. This is because there are limited mechanisms or structures to involve employers and industry in the TVET planning process.

Further, closer dialogue between education providers and the job industry is needed to align and optimize the region’s demand and supply of skills. Additionally, the nation’s employers and educators need better tools to enable them to better understand labour markets new and emerging skills requirements.

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