Every now and again I get a call or a message from a former student of mine and other social media ‘friends’ asking if I know anyone in my network of friends that can give them a job.
At times they have seen someone they think could potentially link them up and prompt you. ‘I have seen you are a friend to so and so; can you talk to them about a student of yours that needs a job?’
Sometimes, you want to skip the request but, looking back at your own experience with no job, you emotively connect with their anxiety and frustration at that trying stage of life. Some share their job hunting experiences with me, with all sorts of gruesome stories and disappointments.
Youth unemployment is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. The ‘degree’ prestige perception that pushes many of us to shun vocational studies is part of it.
There is the issue of courses that have been said to be irrelevant to our circumstances, that by necessity chauffer their graduates into joblessness. In my view, this is partly a problem but just a small factor among many others.
We seldom ever look at how the courses are taught in the first place. Many people who have studied the same courses elsewhere have been able to take off with little push.
In his book ‘After University, What Next’ (2018 Edition), Ambrose Kibuuka has argued that the problem is not with the courses per se; rather, that they are “designed and implemented with a 20 century mindset.”
It’s the failure to constantly study the times and innovate accordingly. Indeed, as in the words of Alvin Toffler, the illiterate of the 21 century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
In many of our universities, we are still stuck to the old ways of a know-it-all lecturer standing in front of a class, doing most of the talking (as though at a church pulpit) while students are reduced to mere note-takers – no meaningful engagement. At worst, the lecturer is dictating notes that he/she also collected from somewhere. And it is these that we expect students to reproduce in exams.
This is how we produce graduates that can hardly think/innovate on their own. Someone must tell them what to do, how, and with so much instruction. Many of our high schools and universities are spaces of mass strangulation of capacities for independent thought, critical thinking, and creativity. We are preoccupied with brain-filling.
Expectedly, as some employers have complained, many of our graduates are not really employable. Some cannot even write a motivation statement speaking about themselves. They can hardly innovate at the workplace. So much retraining, even in things they supposedly studied, has to be done by the employers!
Unfortunately, this comes at a time when their numbers have also multiplied, merit scarcely considered, and in an environment where the culture of retirement hasn’t taken root. The job market is clogged, especially in the world of white-collar jobs that many aspire to.
We should consider, too, that the demands of today’s job market are changing quite fast. Some specialities become so popular in a flash, only to run obsolete while those who have flooded into them are finishing school. The need to sharpen learners’ brains into creativity and flexibility is higher than ever before.
It is quite crucial for today’s student to learn how to decipher grey areas and opportunities, instead of learning to swim along conventions. They should be more information literate, astute at analysing societal trends and futures, communication savvy, and skilled at networking. Such skills should not be discipline-specific; they should cut across.
But while we look at some of the not really ideal products we have produced, we shouldn’t as well lose sight of some well-qualified graduates and other ‘less-schooled’ but skilled youths who cannot find a job to do for various other reasons.
Yet even for those that we didn’t educate meaningfully, we still ought to help them in finding what to do to eke a living. They are our children, we are largely responsible for what they became, and, if we don’t find a solution to their plight, we shall not know peace either. Many are both hungry and angry.
It is at that stage of life that one starts desiring an independent life. Some are already using their little monies from small errands and quick jobs to rent a room somewhere, but not quite sure about tomorrow – as they send out several application letters with no response.
Many of the available jobs, those that remain after cronies, relatives, and tribe-mates have been fixed, have to bought, either in cash or kind. Hearing testimonies of young people on such experiences sinks the heart.
The so many girls that have been bluntly asked to either give in to sex conditions or ‘forget the job’, sometimes by men older than their fathers! Plus boys are turned down because a girl offered what the former didn’t have…!
Some organisations have instead taken youth unemployment as an opportunity to get free labour. They take in several fresh graduates as volunteers, which is ideally a good thing in helping them gain experience.
However, what is unfortunate is that they make them work for up to a year, at times with neither meals nor transport, as they wait for the next graduation lot to dump the old ones. And some of such organisations profess to be human rights defenders!
With such mass desperation, random political show gestures of throwing money at youths will yield very little in cooling tempers of this energetic idle mass. We need a more comprehensive approach in addressing the intricate layers contributing to this mess.
The author works with the Center for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.