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SHIRLEY BIRUNGI: Invest in structured graduate training programs to scale-up employment opportunities

Ms. Shirley Birungi is a  Senior PR Manager at Brainchild BCW (PHOTO/Courtesy)

Ms. Shirley Birungi is a  Senior PR Manager at Brainchild BCW (PHOTO/Courtesy)

KAMPALA — Over 10,000 have graduated from A, B, C…university, are some of the stories that make headlines each year when graduands receive their, certificates, diplomas, bachelor’s, and any other form of accreditation upon completing the courses they were undertaking at the various institutions of higher learning.

The number of students that graduate from over 230 Higher Education Institutions each year has been increasing over time. In 2018/19, this figure stood at 78,300 students, according to statistics by the National Council for Higher Education in its ‘State of Higher Education and Training in Uganda 2018/19’ report.

The question is, is the job market ready to absorb all these graduates?
Interestingly, when organizations place adverts to fill their vacancies, one of the qualifications is a bare minimum of 3 to 5 years of experience, which leaves a fresh graduate with no shot at formal employment.

Sourcing for talent that can effectively perform the tasks required is a challenge that organizations are confronted with regularly. The Human Resource (HR) function must ensure it continuously recruits efficient personnel that will guarantee that the business values are emulated in everyday operations.

It is therefore pertinent that deliberate investment is made and guidance from HR experts is sought as this facilitates continuity and ensures new employees represent the organizational values.

This month marks exactly five years of my formal employment, a journey that began on 16th October 2017. As a beneficiary of the Fireworks Advertising Uganda graduate trainee program, I can attest to the fact that the five years of mentorship and training have greatly influenced my growth within the organization and the brands served.

Fresh out of university where I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication, I would start out as an apprentice at Fireworks Advertising.

Later on, the skills attained during the apprenticeship program earned me a promotion to a Public Relations (PR) Executive, then a Senior PR Executive, then PR Manager, up to Senior PR Manager, a role I currently hold.

It has been a greatly rewarding journey that I entirely attribute to the willingness of an organization to take chance on fresh graduates. And an ecosystem that realizes that these graduates’ skills can be honed to achieve utmost efficiency and address the skills gap.

Studies have pointed to a skill mismatch – where young people complete school only to realize that the skills they acquired, are not the skills required in the labor market. One way to tackle this challenge is to combine formal education with work-based training.

A number of organizations have designed and implemented successful programs through which they have been able to recruit resourceful talent who have risen through the ladder of capability within the organization from executives to managerial roles and this has a lot to do with the business’ internal processes or organizational culture.

Borrowing from one of my best reads on organization culture, Damian Hughes in his book titled The Barcelona Way cites different principles with examples from Barcelona Football Club, on how organizational behavior can encourage working together towards shared objectives.

The book looks at five different cultures; Star, Autocratic, Bureaucratic, Engineering, and Commitment. The commitment culture is one that caught my attention. Organizations that build a culture based on commitment build an emotional tie between the organization and employees. Retention is higher in these organizations and, are far less likely to fail.

When organizations on-board new team members, it is key that these members are given the opportunity to understand what the company stands for and their role in realizing this objective.

Having the right talent guarantees expansion of the business and in return creates more employment opportunities. Therefore, investing in training programs should be prioritized as this preserves the organizational culture as well as creates more employment avenues that will address the unemployment challenge since more roles will be created within the organization.

Additionally, to address the unemployment-to-employment ratio, the government should work with key stakeholders like Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) and financial Institutions among others, to create an environment that supports young people to begin enterprises.

Recently, Uganda was ranked as the world’s most entrepreneurial country by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), with 55.6 percent of the youth involved in new or established businesses, though more support is required to enable those who graduate annually to either get employment opportunities or take on the entrepreneurial path.

This writer, Shirley Birungi, is a  Senior PR Manager at Brainchild BCW.

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