Op-ed – On-job training can reduce graduate unemployment

By Badru Walusansa

Graduate unemployment in Uganda is stale news. The soaring figures of unemployed graduates is not new either. Every year, both public and private universities release more than 400,000 graduates into a job market that only has 90,000 jobs, according to figures from the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

It’s every graduate’s dream to find work that is relevant to their field of study or profession. However, this seems far from the reality given the limited job opportunities and complex job requirements that do not match the competence of many fresh graduates.

Several graduates have trekked the streets for years looking for jobs and failed on grounds of not having the required work experience.

I remember buying newspapers on a daily basis to peruse through job advertisements. Unfortunately, for every job I applied for, I was always beaten for lack of required skills and work experience. I soon realised that many others like me, were facing the same challenge.

Many employers in the public sector insist on employing skilled human resource but are not willing to hone the skills of fresh graduates. I am also cognizant of the fact that government is expediting multi-pronged strategies to create jobs to reduce the graduate unemployment gap but I find this flimsy because majority of the targeted human resource lack the requisite skills for such jobs.

It’s however not too late to explore options on how to skill graduates. On-job training could be the missing link in reducing graduate unemployment. Both the public and private sector should start appreciating on-job training as a way of identifying potential employees. Such on-job trainings could also be beneficial to graduates who can still find jobs elsewhere without being trapped for lack of experience.

Several corporate companies such as MTN, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, TOTAL, among others, have developed comprehensive graduate-training-programmes which have helped build the capacity of fresh graduates. The beneficiaries of such programmes have successfully ended up getting jobs in the same companies hence reducing graduate unemployment.

Uganda Revenue Authority also has a graduate training programme that enrols more than 100 graduates each year and trains them in a wide range of work done by the government tax collector.

Other government agencies should also adopt such best practices, and in case limited by resources, the government should deliberately appropriate resources for such programmes and have a policy in place that supports the same.

Higher institutions of learning should also get interested in starting collaborations with the public and private sectors to strengthen graduate training. While such collaborations may exist already, they need to be publicised and broadened.

According to the Skilled Workforce for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth; A G20 Training Strategy by International Labour Organisation, 2011, on-job training provides the core work skills, general knowledge, industry-based and professional competencies that facilitate the transition from education into the world of work.

ILO’s strategy needs to be relied upon by several employers that might wish to employ fresh graduates.

The Uganda Vision 2040 – the country’s long-term development plan – envisages a strong labour force that can act as an enabling factor to help the country leapfrog from a lower-income to a middle-income status. It further identifies skilling or training as a means of equipping the labour force with appropriate skills required for sustainable production. I hope such initiatives (if they are there) can be tapped into by our graduates.

Apart from reducing the rate of unemployment burden, on job trainings could also help both private and public enterprises save costs spent on imported human labour that do work equivalent to what can be done by local trained personnel.

Countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and China are successful in terms of human capital development because they undertook robust efforts in skilling their labour force. This has strategically enabled their graduates to find jobs. If such countries took that step and succeeded, Uganda too can!

Mr Walusansa is a Commonwealth correspondent in Uganda

*****

Editor’s Note: Do you have strong and informed opinion on current affairs in Uganda and beyond? Send a 800-word opinion to info [at] acme-ug [dot] org and let your views be read.