By Conan Businge
Published on: Saturday, 26th March, 2011
THE S6 exams have just been released and many students are eying one of the more than 20 universities in the country. But is it university education that the students really need to get a job? With the plan to spend millions of shillings on higher education, many youth face a job market that does not seem to need them. Not only is the Ugandan economy producing few new jobs, the ones that are being added are overwhelmingly on the lower end of the skill and pay scale. In fact, surveys from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicate that most job gains in the previous years have gone to workers with only a high school certificate or less, casting some doubt on the conviction that a university degree is the ticket to the prosperous dream. Close to a half of the jobs routinely advertised do not require much more than on-the-job training. One would not need a university degree to have the job. Many people in Uganda work in the agriculture sector or are casual labourers. According to the labour force flow figures at the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and UBOS, of the more than 480,000 Ugandans who enter the labour market each year, only about 80,000 are absorbed in formal employment, leaving the rest for the informal sector. There are about 30,000 students who graduate with degrees every year. The UBOS findings indicate that illiterates are more likely to be available for work. The remaining majority are left to try their luck in the informal sector, venturing into the entertainment industry, retail trade in places like arcades, Owino market as well as in the motorcycle transport business, in Kampala and other towns of the country. The less enterprising languish on the streets or simply remain a burden to the already overstretched parents. Unemployment in Uganda is highest among graduates compared to other categories of the workforce, a labour report has disclosed. The 2005 State of Uganda’s Population report warned that if the youth unemployment rate of 23% persists, then about 4.37 million youth will be jobless and there will be social tension and a lot of crime in the country. In Kampala, the youth unemployment rate is at 32.2%, while among university graduates the unemployment rate is 36%. The country’s labour force can accommodate only 50% of the deserving university graduates. But one of the greatest challenges is that the current workforce appears to be under-skilled. Roughly about 15% of the employment covers semi-skilled occupations. Although the labour force grew by some 1.1 million persons from 2002/3 to 2005/6, job openings did not expand by a commensurate rate, locking out thousands of qualified youth. However, civil service jobs increased by 6% in 2008, possibly due to creation of new districts, but the new opportunities are grossly inadequate to absorb job seekers churned out by educational institutions every year. The most startling finding is that was that only about 545,000 of Ugandans (5% of total labour force) hold permanent jobs, indicating temporary or contract employees plus those in the informal sector largely power the country’s 7% GDP growth. The latest report follows a recent World Bank warning that an increase in joblessness, during the pressing times of economic downturn, could trigger an explosion in crime, resulting in civil unrest. But why are most graduates unemployed? According to the available indications, official reports say, the current business and technical system does not meet the requirements of the economy. A 2006 survey by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicated that a majority of individuals entering the labour market do not have the necessary skills and knowledge. Agriculture and the informal sector are the most important sectors of Uganda’s labour market, according to the report based on business, technical and vocational education and training (BTVET). About 15% of the employment covers semi-skilled occupations, “for which lower level BTVET might be an adequate preparation.” “Agricultural employment continues to cater for some 70% of the Ugandan workforce, and subsistence agriculture still accounts for about 55 to 60% of it. “The service and industrial sectors absorb only 20% and 10% respectively,” adds the report. It says that these proportions are not expected to change in the near future. The same report says there is a big disparity of labour productivity between Uganda’s firms and those in other countries. “Value added per worker in Uganda has been 68% lower than that in India and 96% lower than that in China.” Based on these findings, that is why the education ministry and Government are putting so much emphasis on the development of vocational education in the country. The education ministry’s Permanent Secretary, F.X. Lubanga, argues that with the development of tertiary education, the country will reduce on unemployment since there will be more job creators. Though he does not campaign for people to step off the track of formal education, he believes that informal and formal education should be taught concurrently, for graduates to attain skills. All schools in the country will soon be asked to embed skills and vocational subjects in their teaching time tables. Primary schools, according to Lubanga, will be asked to teach their pupils at least two integrated production skills. Such skills for instance may include handwork sessions. All secondary schools, on the other hand will be asked to take on vocational subjects. The new move is aimed at ensuring graduates obtain the required skills before they can graduate from formal education. But that is for formal education. To boost job creation in the country, there is need for more students to embrace vocation education, which the Government is gradually shifting lots attention to. Every district will soon have a BTVET institution. “We will be constructing these schools in every financial year, till each district has one boarding BTVET institution,” Namirembe Bitamazire, the education minister explained.