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Feature Article of Friday, 28 September 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Overcoming Youth Unemployment in Ghana – Part 1

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 25th September 2012

We must examine ways to empower our graduating students with entrepreneurial skills so that before they leave school, they know which niche in the market they are going to exploit to become employers rather than employees. We should seriously evaluate scientifically the educational outcomes of our educational system and map on these outcomes to the labour market, because in Ghana, there seems to be a mismatch between educational attainment and employability. It seems as though the skills and knowledge acquired at college or university do not match with what employers are looking for.

Besides, we make our courses too theoretical with very little practical content. This is because we lack teachers who are practically-biased and we also lack adequate equipment to teach our students. Our graduating students, in some cases, are over-educated or in some worst case scenarios, under-educated. I think we need to sit down as a nation and come up with a strategic paper on youth unemployment, poverty reduction and mitigating factors. Our banks also should be proactive and innovative, and come out with new products targeted at the youth, such as micro-finance products.

Our politicians should pull up their socks and get to work by coming up with short, medium and long term plans to tackle youth unemployment. I read somewhere that in our country of about 24 million people (Ghana), we have about 30 universities, both private and public. Nigeria, with a population of 160 million people, has 89 universities. It seems though that we in Ghana have an overpopulation of universities. We should here pause and ask, is it quality education or quantity? If everyone of us in the Diaspora should go to our villages to set up a farm or school, with the help of our friends abroad, I think that will go a long way to ameliorate the critical youth unemployment problem.

Let us hope that the current plans being rolled out by the NDC–led government can be fully implemented to set the growth multiplier in motion to create jobs. Here, I am thinking of the 3 billion dollar Chinese loan which is going to be used for the western sector railway line from the port of Takoradi to Kumasi, the Eastern sector corridor road, the dual carriage road planned between Accra and Takoradi; the oil and gas infrastructure, including building of refineries and power stations, the expansion of Tema and Takoradi ports, the building of 11 fishing harbours, the construction of thousands of housing units, the opening of new universities at IPS, Ho and Sunyani, the expansion of the airports at KIA (Accra), Kumasi, Tamale and Takoradi, the acceleration of development in northern Ghana through SADA, among others.

Government alone cannot shoulder the heavy burden of creating jobs for the youth. Other viable options have to be sought such as exporting some of our surplus labour (brain drain?), taking long term measures such as decentralising most government departments, empowering and strengthening district assemblies or local governments, creating more public-private partnerships, (PPP), among others. I think Ghana should spearhead a UN Conference on youth unemployment. We should also invite many industrialists to come and set up more labour-intensive industries in Ghana, such as food processing, textiles and garment factories, rubber and tyre factories, edible oil refinement industries, car assembly plants, petrol chemicals, and more supermarket/hypermarket malls in all the 10 regional capitals.

We should encourage our indigenous suppliers to have first preference in supplying these shopping malls. I see a lot of wastage of our farm produce because they lack markets and our supply chain is woefully inefficient. A lot of tomatoes, pineapples, mangoes, citrus fruits and staple foods such as yams, cassava, plantain and bananas go to waste in the producing areas because of lack of markets, poor transport network and poor storage and preservation facilities. A lot of jobs can be created in the supply chain between the producer and the final destination market.

In conclusion, there are huge potentials for job creation in Ghana, especially in the service sector. The youth themselves should meet the challenge by being proactive and equip themselves with adequate skills to discover and exploit business opportunities. There is a big market gap out there to fill. The youth can organise and form cooperatives in order to better access huge loans from banks. We should go back (sankofa) to tap into our ndoboa (cooperative) concept. Churches and religious bodies can set up farms and businesses to create jobs, such as setting up schools, poultry farms, and vegetable farms. Groups of youth can go to China to learn how to set up polythene bag production units, water purification and bottling, among others. These are easy start-ups.

Better still there are thousands of companies outside Ghana which are looking for agents and distributors in Ghana. You could Google and land a lucrative job as a distributor or agent for a Multinational company. Readers will realise that this phenomenon of youth unemployment is not unconnected to events such as global recession, trade liberalisation and other changes in the way business is run. Our youth should accept the new international economic order which has been forced on them by both endogenous and exogenous factors.

They should also not consider that our politicians and society have failed them. It is better for them to accept this challenge of their time and move on. This is because out of adversities can come great break-throughs and opportunities. We hope the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) will strengthen their structures on the ground and come up with apolitical and sustainable employment projects. As of now, I deem them as a white elephant and propaganda outfit. Finally, the government of Ghana should reduce all those labyrinth of tariffs, customs duties and the useless mountain of bureaucracy which discourage those of us in the Diaspora who want to send cars or machines home. I think if you have lived outside for more than say 5 years, you should get free passage for your imports. In this way, we can create more jobs for the youth in the transport, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing sectors.

Let the government create conducive environment for doing business in Ghana by checking the massive corruption at our ports of entry. That way, we will encourage investors and much inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI). My personal advice to the youth of today is to pursue non-degree professional courses in accounting, marketing, ICT, insurance, nursing, teacher training, catering, banking, hospitality, among others. This is what our friends in South East Asia have pursued and they have developed a sizable entrepreneurial class.

Our universities should redesign their programmes to offer more diploma and non-degree programmes to satisfy the changing labour market. Most of the traditional academic courses could be scaled down considerably, say in areas such as the social sciences and humanities. We should work on changing the mindset of our SHS students so that after graduating, they opt for professional, diploma and certificate courses rather than the traditional academic courses such as political science, geography, economics, sociology, history, among others. We could do with a handful of these graduates in our universities. Education should not be a mere issue of acquiring any degree but a pragmatic qualification that can help you help yourself and others. That is what Michael Porter meant when he wrote his book, Comparative Advantage of Nations.

Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com

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