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Feature Article of Saturday, 29 September 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Overcoming Youth Unemployment in Ghana - Part 2

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

The youth are defined as those between 15 and 24 years old, while unemployment is a situation whereby those who are actively looking for a job for three months and above, have not found any vacancy, or where demand for labour is less than the supply. Unemployment is a huge cost to the working class in terms of looking after many dependants, loss to GDP growth because of idle and unutilised resources, potential brain drain, dampening of the multiplier effect because of low levels of consumption and aggregate demand, among others. Social costs could include increase in social vices such as drug abuse, prostitution, armed robbery, drinking sprees and debauchery, early marriages, teenage pregnancies, among others.

High levels of unemployment are associated with deflation or falling prices and decrease in economic activities (famous Phillip Curve trade off), though other empirical researches have proven otherwise that with high unemployment, we also have high levels of inflation, especially where local supply of staple foods and necessities are insufficient. This latter type is the severest and worst kind, now being experienced in Ghana, with massification of education over the last 30 years, it has unfortunately led to churning out many school graduands and dropouts, who are not prepared to work on the land, as they have high expectations of landing white collar jobs in the formal sector in urban areas.

These have matured into the albatross now on our necks, made up of half-baked scholars with no employable skills. The JSS/SSS, now JHS and SHS examinations and curriculums have not been labour-market friendly because the objectives and outcomes of our school system have been far removed from the modern labour market job trends and requirements. Our educational system has been most disappointing to the extent that even university and polytechnic graduates are unemployed. Youth unemployment is now a global problem and not only common to Ghana. Readers will recall the Arab Spring and the problems in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt, which were mainly caused partly by high levels of youth unemployment and other socio-political factors.

According to UNData, it is estimated that 60% of the unemployed in Africa are youth, numbering 40 million. This serious problem needs radical government intervention as well as intervention by other stakeholders such as cooperating partners, NGOs and business entities. Youth unemployment in Ghana is put at 25% and it is higher in urban areas, and high among females. Youth unemployment in Ghana now is a veritable social time bomb waiting to detonate. There are certain sectors which can create vast business opportunities and vistas for the youth. These include agro-based industries, the transportation sector, outsourcing of international calls, banking, insurance, retail, teaching, tourism and the hospitality industry, medical services, marketing and personal services such as tailoring, beauty care, massaging, physiotherapy, hairdressing, psychology, among others.

Because of the current trend in the world to massively cut costs and post huge profit margins, we come across business conglomerates and multinationals engaging in outsourcing, off-shoring, casualisation of labour, disintermediation of middlemen from the value chain, hierarchy or non-market solutions through vertical, lateral and horizontal integration in the value chain, contract workers, lean production to eliminate muda (waste), cellular production, multiskilling and multitasking, freelancing, home working and other flexible working practices which greatly reduce cost. Thus, with internet banking, use of ATMs and online booking of air tickets, many low level jobs have been eliminated or reduced. We are now in the era of miniaturisation of businesses, following the philosophy of Schumpeter that small is beautiful.

Large corporations atomise into SBUs or divisions in order to be nimble on their feet and to empower their divisions. With the use of internet and ICT facilities, the jobs of typists and personal assistants have become a thing of the past. Companies have reduced on employing drivers for their managers, as these managers drive themselves to work. Many large shops, have packages such as DIY (do it yourself) or after sale services and free installation. Many apothecaries or pharmacies are online, dispensing drugs. People engage in self medication and self surgery by accessing websites. Teachers are becoming irrelevant in some areas where they have virtual or online classrooms or distance learning.

Teachers may very soon be called consultants, providing background services such as writing courses, giving career guidance and writing references or grading course work. The use of modern advanced technology in mining, shipping and the assembly line means that many enterprises have downsized, right sized and pared huge chunks of labour in order to post huge profit margins.

The globalisation process has taken us to another level of robotics, automation and computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD, CAM). Now, one person can produce his own music, using computerised musical instruments. Here is where one needs to be very creative, passionate and entrepreneurial in order to survive. It may not need huge capital to launch your musical or fine art career. What is needed is dreaming big, persevering and knocking on many doors with your ideas and business plans. We need to make Ghana a cheap, safe and efficient FDI destination. This means providing quality and competitive global education, being cheap in terms of wages and interest rate on capital, having quality infrastructure by way of very fast internet access, quality roads and railways, quality hotels and restaurants, safe and clean environment, political and social stability, and above all, adventurous and entrepreneurial class of local investors. We need to provide cheap and efficient energy as well as alternative energy sources.

Each youth in Ghana should seek to become multi-talented, multi-skilled and multi-disciplinary by reading many courses, if they want to survive. For example, a qualified ACCA or CIMA accountant should have ICT skills as well as human resource or people skills. Better still, he should in addition to his professional qualification, have academic or graduate qualifications. This is the trend now in the world of work because employers want to cut cost by employing one person to do a variety of jobs. If you are a teacher in a secondary school in Ghana, you need to be versatile in teaching of local languages, maths, English, science, art, social studies, ICT, among others, in order to retain your job. Perhaps, you need to run a poultry farm or grocery shop on the sides to make ends meet.

This is because we live in a world of self-sufficiency, as no employer can pay you enough to meet all your needs. Our youth in Ghana can start working on obtaining their Computer Driving Licence (CDL), because very soon without it, you will not find a job anywhere in the world. The era of specialisation is gone and we are back to the era of the generalist.

The youth are advised also to consider doing voluntary work in churches or with charities so that they establish networks that can open doors for them. They could go as interns to companies or government departments to ask to be attached to work for free, for say 3 months so that they can sell or market themselves to prospective employers and also to gain skills, insight and job experience, which will enrich their CVs.

They should work hard to acquire laptops or advanced cell phones with internet browsing to be able to search for jobs online. However, there are many dupes online so they should be wary. The youth are also advised to become entrepreneurial and technopreneurial by setting up their businesses online and having a website, like Mark Zuckerberg. I have known people who started trading in auto spare parts and now they are big business tycoons. Start small as a sole trader or start-up, then with discipline, hard work and dedication, your business will grow.

These days, it is hard to get a job even in teaching or the army or the police, because of high levels of bribery, corruption, nepotism and tribalism. Why cannot you get career guidance from your teachers at school? Or you can discuss with your pastor or imam or guru. You can start a small backyard garden, growing vegetables, ginger, tomatoes, pepper, and others. Or you can start a small poultry farm or a piggery.

There is a huge market in Ghana for food items. This is why we import a lot of food. Many farmers have become richer than university graduates. There are opportunities in areas such as hairdressing, catering, retailing, truck farming, fish farming, NGO operations, being Pastors and Bishops of churches, among others. There are vast opportunities out there to exploit. If possible, acquire tertiary education to any higher level but do not let it stand in your way if you do not land a white collar job. This is because there is more money in the soil. Besides, more money is made in running your own business, despite the initial teething problems and risks of failure. The Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffets, Rothchilds, Henry Fords, Rockefellers, Onassis, Paul Ghettys, Alfred Nobels, Ambanis, Mittals and Mo Ibrahims of this world started small.

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