OPINION: How can we equip graduates with the workplace skills they need?

By Justus Kamuhanda

Some time back, there was a demonstration by Ugandan graduate swearing Makerere graduation gowns on the streets of Kampala asking “what next” after graduation.

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has emphasised many times on creation of decent jobs, for example, at the beginning of his Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo (no-games) term, the President tasked Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) to create one million jobs annually aiming at engrossing of Ugandans that graduate annually and those already looking for the jobs.

Estimates indicate that only a fraction of graduates in Uganda with some form of qualification get absorbed in the limited job market. At least 400,000 graduate each year at the various public and private universities including over 130,000 who graduate from Makerere annually and the world bank’s status of the youth report of 2016 placed the rate of unemployment in Uganda at 83%.

Unfortunately, projects registered by the Uganda Investment Authority indicate that only 150,000 jobs are created annually leaving an estimated 350,000 potentially jobless.

With the rise in the number of universities and other degree-awarding institutions, the quality of training intended to boost students’ skills in preparation for the job market has not been at best.

As universities struggle to break even, commercial manoeuvring has resulted into over duplication of courses, high student enrollment; widening the student-lecturer ratio breeding inadequate training and instruction methodologies that affect the quality of output.

Half-baked graduates resort to trekking the street for years looking for their first job in vain and even the ones employed, cry out for underemployment.

The majority of the working are in vulnerable employment. Vulnerable employment is often characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and difficult conditions of work that undermine worker’s fundamental rights. UBOS (2017) estimated that 54.3 percent of the working population is self-employed with 6.9 percent as contributing family workers. With more than half (61 percent) of the persons in employment classified as in vulnerable employment in Uganda (UNHS 2016/17), it implies that majority of Ugandans earn less than what is required to meet their expenses and make investments that are necessary to increase the country’s GDP growth rate and consequently increase GDP percapita to 1039 USD for the country to leap-frog to a lower-middle-income status by 2020 as was government’s vision 2020.

However, it has been argued that graduates lack essential skills such as communication, teamwork, punctuality and the ability to work under pressure. Many graduates lack the essential skills required to get employed by in the workplace, a new survey has suggested.

In a poll of graduate employers, more than half said that none or few graduates were “work ready”, with new recruits lacking basic attributes such as teamwork, communication, punctuality and the ability to cope under pressure.

Majority of employers say that majority of graduates are not ready to work due to lack of skills, such companies which are directly responsible for recruiting graduates, you can just find one in five saying all or most graduates were ready for employment.

The issue of unemployment is not only in Uganda but global issue a case in point the research, conducted by YouGov to accompany the launch of the new Good University Guide, raises questions over whether universities can justify their hike in tuition fees.

Despite the employers’ concern that graduates don’t have employability skills, not all universities are failing to equip their graduates sufficiently. Using a calculation that measures “positive” outcomes for graduates – a professional job or further study – the survey shows a wide range of fortunes for Makerere University and their alumni.

For some years now, the blame game has centred on the graduate skills gap and limited working experience as the underlying cause of youth unemployment.

More importantly, to ponder is whom to blame? Graduates are lacking basic skills to get by in the workplace, according to a new survey. Who’s to blame? And how can we rectify the problem?

What do you think needs to be done to rectify this severe lack of workplace skills among our graduates? Are universities doing enough to prepare students for work? Is it their role to equip them with the skills that employers demand, or is that students’ responsibility?

The transition from student life to full-time work can often be challenging, so should employers do more to smooth this change in lifestyle? Maybe you think recruiters expect too much of graduates and need to be more patient and accommodating to new recruits.

Uganda’s plan to fight unemployment

The government of Uganda Under the leadership of H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has initiated programmes aiming at changing curriculum both at Secondary school and University. Currently, the Makerere University Quality Assurance and Gender Mainstreaming Committee, a committee of the University council is undergoing the Consultative meeting with Colleges to change curriculum that will see about the current degree courses eighty (80) reduced to fifty (50) undergraduate courses.

Also, there has been a debate in public and parliament about the proposed and yet to be implemented new curriculum at secondary school. In fact, RT. HON. Rebecca Kadaga the Speaker of parliament has been heard inviting the HON. Minister of Education and sports to come to the parliament tho explain the new curriculum, as well as the NRM Parliamentary coccus, has been convened to debate the same.

Also, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni through government Ministries, Agencies and Authorities, have initiated programs intended to end unemployment instead to create jobs aiming at addressing the above said challenges of Unemployment, Poverty and increase productivity.

For example, there is Uganda Government Volunteer Scheme under Green Jobs programmes implemented by the Government in partnership UNDP through the Ministry of Gender and Social Development co-ordinated by Alex Asiimwe under the current permanent Secretary James Ebitu with good leadership of Minister Frank Tumwebaze and Mwesigwa Rukutana.

The Ministry is implementing the Uganda Graduate Volunteer Scheme (UGVS) with support from UNDP since 2018. The scheme aims at creating employment avenues for young graduates while building the capacity of national institutions, the private sector and other key partners to mainstream youth employment into their workplaces. The scheme caters for graduate Ugandan youth (males, females, youth with disabilities). Among the key objectives of the scheme are to address persistent unemployment challenges facing young graduates by improving employability skills and labour productivity. The Graduate Volunteer Schemes support the rollout of the Green Jobs Programme particularly component two (2) that focuses on the revitalization of the Quality Apprenticeship and Volunteerism.

A call for applications for graduate volunteers to join the Uganda Graduate Volunteer Scheme was published on UNDP Websites (Global and Uganda Country Office Website), United Volunteer Programme Website, National Newspapers, MGLSD website, and on the Social media. To date, over 15,000 volunteer applications have been received. A total of 149 host institutions have expressed interest to offer volunteer placement opportunities. Before placements, volunteers are inducted and trained to prepare them for work environment. Volunteers are facilitated with stipend while at host institutions. Since the implementation of the Scheme, the Ministry has trained and placed 210 volunteers in 34 institutions both public and private.

The ministry matches and places graduates with certificates, diplomas, bachelors’ and master’s degrees across all MDAs (Agriculture, Tourism and Hospitality, Finance and Banking, Information Technology, Energy and Minerals, Infrastructure Development including construction, Health and Education and Social Development sectors) and Private Sector. This will later expand to all other sectors depending on the demand.

This will ensure that the labor force has the appropriate skills will increase productivity. Skills allow firms to operate at a higher level of productivity and empower the labour force to participate in higher productivity jobs. Providing foundation skills through high-quality primary education and a higher rate of transition to secondary education, and encouraging the private sector to participate in upgrading of Uganda’s labor force are necessary.

That despite President Museveni’s statement that “having unemployed youth who are educated and health isn’t a bad thing, he has been on several forums saying he is determined to create decent jobs for young Ugandans. It is also seen from his party (NRM) Manifesto 2016 to 2021.

I, therefore, opined that there is a need to have laws, regulations and policies in place to regulate the implementation of the above programs intended to end unemployment.


The writer is an environmental lawyer working with the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MGLSD)


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