Youth unemployment remains a serious policy challenge in many sub-Saharan African countries, including Uganda. The third National Development Plan estimates that the  unemployment rate is 13.3% as insufficient creation of quality and gainful jobs remains a significant development challenge.   Given the rapid growth of the Ugandan population—three-quarters of the population are below the age of 30 years which represents at least 31 million people, the government recognises this as a development resource of cheap labour.Yet the youth bulge presents a challenge as there is mismatch between the skills required for labour markets and knowledge produced by training institutions.Equally the limitations of investment capital make it difficult for the youth to tap into the available opportunities. Hence unless concerted effort is made to exploit the potential demographic dividends arising from the youthful population, the unemployment problem will continue to increase.

Causes of youth unemployment are believed to be multifaceted, ranging from an inadequate investment/supply side of jobs, insufficient employable skills (i.e., youth possess skills that are not compatible with available jobs) and low levels of self employment owing to limited access to affordable capital.

It takes a young person on average 31 months to attain a first job deemed to be either satisfactory or stable. This is according to a  2015 study done by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. According to the same UBOS study, unemployment is higher among graduates than youth with no education. Additionally, 1 in 4 graduates found work after school even if on average it took almost 3 years.

Specifically among University graduates, there is evidence of social factors at play, for instance 1 in 2 graduates in employment achieved their first employment placement through a personal contact which suggest that employment opportunities are distributed through social networks rather than on merit. Additionally, graduates with limited social capital(networks and contacts) are unable to raise sufficient capital to pursue self employment.

In the search for employment, science graduates whose skills and competencies are in high demand in the labour market, have been known to take up jobs in the humanities and other non-scientific fields. This suggests that University training has not endowed graduates with sufficient skills to take up the available industrial jobs. It also indicates that University training should not be too specialised, rather it should focus on preparing students for diverse work situations and ensure graduates are adaptable to the changing demands of the labour market.

The choices of degree programmes students pursue are influenced by social factors. Degrees are a status symbol in Ugandan society and as such students pursue degrees with low failure rates, even in fields with low employment prospects. The objective being to graduate with a degree. Therefore degrees in scientific fields that have high failure rates are not in demand even though they potentially have higher employment prospects.

On the part of higher education institutions, commercial concerns influence the degree programmes they provide, as much as the demands of the labour market. Institutions of higher learning provide degree programmes that attract fee payers to ensure the sustainability of the institutions as going concerns. Therefore medical programmes for example that are in relatively low demand among prospective students, are in short supply even though graduates are likely to find work.

The attitude of graduates towards working in rural areas is a recurring talking point in public debates about youth unemployment with assertions made, with little limited supporting evidence, that graduates would rather be unemployed in urban areas rather than work in rural areas. It is worth pointing out however that in the context of the government’s concentration of development in urban centres, widespread rural urban migration among young people, largely motivated by seeking employment, there are limited incentives available to graduates to seek employment in rural areas.

Young graduates who seek self employment face the challenge of access to affordable capital as it is distributed largely through social networks. This suggests that those graduates who have access to affordable capital also have access to job opportunities through their social networks. As such affordable capital is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few and is not distributed on merit.Further, graduates prefer the relative security and growth opportunities of paid employment in comparison to the available opportunities in self employment. The opportunities available for self employment are mainly in the informal sector, in stressful work conditions  with limited prospects for growth and are seen by graduates as temporary/stop-gap measures. You can listen to this space on minimum wage below:

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