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Opinions of Friday, 16 November 2018

Columnist: Esther A. Armah

Job versus opportunity! Our future, Our fortune

The 2019 Budget. Breakdown, balancing the numbers and beating the odds. On Thursday, our Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, clad in his trademark white – as if warding off the evils of unbalanced budgets will stand in Parliament and deliver the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government for the year ending December 31, 2019.

These numbers are partial storytellers. They are about the current state of our economy, its infrastructure, policy and programs, our immediate future, what will go up and the unlikeliness of what might come down, all manifest by the numbers allotted to them.

One big focus JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.

Road safety is likely to feature in the wake of the horror stories, stolen lives and dreams of pedestrians navigating neglect with the absence of footbridges and meeting their maker. Adenta became Ground Zero for roads ravaged by politicking and protest. In the wake of the most recent deaths, those who gathered, marched and then spoke to amassed media about the unnecessary challenges of successive government failure to erect safety and transform danger. Local politicians joined the protest to ensure they contributed to reframing a narrative that indicted them. Cue the Minister for Roads on the mic. Road creation and completion has traditionally featured in State of the Nation addresses. Who can forget that monumental menu of roads built delivered by former President John Dramani Mahama in his State of the Nation address.

The Budget is a marker. It allows a nation to measure government’s focus and future. Priority is measured by how much is allotted to any particular thing.

From inauguration, jobs, unemployment and its implications have been a primary point of contention, discussion and exploration.

The launch of ‘One District, One Factory’ in August 2017 was government’s landmark policy effort to transform dying economies and resurrect them for local people lured to the City by the absence of jobs where they lived and loved. It’s aim: one factory in each of the 216 districts across Ghana. Government would invest 30%, the other 70% would come from private enterprise, organizations and companies.

There have been openings, soddings, ribbon cuttings as factories have been erected in a spattering of districts across the country.

My focus is this: understanding that in this 21st century market and this moment, what we need to recognize is the difference between JOBS vs OPPORTUNITY.

So, Jobs vs Opportunity – what is the difference? Why does it matter?

Jobs are about salary, title, job description, a fixed start and stop time, a V8, an air conditioned office, a nice suit and power over someone else. It seems with my engagements with graduates, students, those in the job market – that is what they seek. They seek money for skills they do not have, and seem unwilling to work to acquire. The expectation is that a certificate – however weak – is the automatic passport to a job with benefits and certainty.

Opportunity is about initiative, possibility and learning to recognize that position need not limit your path to growth. It is challenging, exciting and scary – it is also clearly the direction in which our economy, nation and Continent is going. Opportunity means surveying and landscape and seeking to solve problems; it requires a reimagining of leadership and understanding that willingness to learn, grow and expand is crucial to benefitting from this economy.

Jobs abound in our public sector.

It is riddled with inefficiency, bureaucracy and constant allegations of corruption. These jobs are set. They come with a specific salary, no implications for failure, mediocrity or incompetence, and little real room for expansion and growth.

Our education systems trains citizens to become employees, to become job-seekers. But in this current market, we are witnessing the rise and rise of opportunity, even as we struggle with a stagnant job market that offers fewer guarantees for a growing graduate population seeking guarantees.

Our education system’s worst legacy is encouraging young minds that their singular strongest skill is obedience, silence and seeking invitation and permission as pathways to jobs, success and power. This is especially true for young women. Our blessing is a growing number of young minds bent towards change and reimagining choice beyond the limitations of classrooms and corridors.

This matters.

More and more employers complain about the lack of market readiness by the growing stream of emerging graduates. We are a nation that adores certificates but ignores skillsets. We are over certified and under-skilled. We think those letters equal job certainty. The market knows different. And it keeps telling us this even as private universities continue to grow and explode across Ghana.

Lucy Quist, CEO of Quist Blue Diamond and former CEO of Airtel argues for ‘The Bold New Normal’ in her viral TedTalk. It’s a mind-set shift that encourages a generation to make change. “Change happens from the inside out – if you want to be sustainable. You have to understand the lives people live to change them. Where people are willing to drive the change from within – that is where change is happening in Africa.

“For too long the goal has been eliminating poverty. Why is that a goal? Why is the perspective that a little better is acceptable? I believe that we need to focus on creating prosperity for Africa. To do that, we need a new normal. We need a new normal that changes what Africa is today, a new normal that is bold.”

Kathleen Addy, Deputy Chair of the National Commission for Civic Education believes that reimagining civic education is one of the crucial keys to shifting a mindset that recognizes and embraces opportunity. In an interview for this year’s African Woman Day, she said: “Civic education – when done right – can be a fundamental game changer. We can train ourselves to become a set way. It’s about making a decision about the kind of citizen you want – and putting in the effort to create that citizen. Civic education – when done right – can solve a lot of problems. It’s about knowing that you as a citizen are part of the problem and you really can be part of the solution.”

Jobs are scarce. Our education develops a scarcity mentality.

That mentality influences our approach to our economy. It creates a waiting game on a government to deliver beyond its remit. It’s a waiting game that we keep losing. We need not keep losing it.

Change is hard. For all of us. This is not about an easy fix and a quick out. It is about seeing that we are a nation for whom recognizing opportunity, rather than seeking jobs, offers fresh paths to success, leadership and prosperity.

We are in this moment of Jobs vs Opportunity. It’s our future and our fortune. Are we ready to reckon with opportunity and transform our futures?