Earlier this year, pictures of graduates who had taken to the streets in their graduation gowns to bring the governments’ attention to the increasing unemployment rate in country were trending on social media. Having sadly looked at them and recognised a law graduate; a fellow learned friend, I wondered if I had just wasted five years in law school only to be a street vendor.
I was worried; mainly because I had always thought being a university graduate guarantees an easy passage into any desired market. I discovered, to my utter dismay, that this was not necessarily the case. My worry had me reflecting on my own future as a soon to be graduate and I began thinking of what the cause of this problem was. Why was it so difficult for graduates to find jobs after school? What could be done, and by whom, to try and address this problem?
In my quest to find answers and a solution, I discovered that youth unemployment was not a unique problem to my country; it is a general problem of the entire world, although it is much worse in the African Continent. Mr Kelvin Balogun, President of Coca-cola in Africa, during his address at the Africa Transformation Forum explained that Africa is sitting on a time bomb with almost half of the ten million graduates churned out of the, over six hundred and sixty-eight universities in Africa yearly not getting a job.
Youth unemployment is thought by many to be Africa’s biggest problem, strongly holding back its development like an anchor. Stunned by these findings, I carried on my mission with a greater determination to finding a cure for this deadly cancer slowly eating away at my beloved Africa.
My discussions with a number of different people, of various ages, would have me believing it is the government’s fault. That the government is not playing its role as effectively as it should. However; having thought of the problem for some time, I realised the problem was so much broader than that.
The problem lay profoundly rooted in the defective educational system, that is riddled with flaws of focusing exclusively on producing employees as opposed to employers. It dawned onto me; the reason I was deeply concerned over the pictures I had seen was because of the thought that my future might be doomed. The truth is, my future is not doomed but this is the line of reasoning we are taught at school.
The educational system had thoroughly inculcated in me a sense of seeking a job and not seeking to create jobs to secure my future. I knew quite well that neither I nor my family knew anybody that would help get me a job because the reality was, getting a job in Lesotho had long ceased to be about qualifications but how strong one’s connections are or the level of pressure and influence they can exert.
I began seeing the bigger picture. The curriculum of most higher learning institutions in the country did not seek to impart practical skills but promoted the grasping of theory to the detriment of practical skills. This outdated curriculum, out of touch with the demands of the world of technology, tests students’ minds with facts and figures but never equips them to challenge the adversities of life such as youth unemployment.
As a result, graduates stay at home with idle minds making them susceptible to live a life of dishonesty and readily available to anti-criminal behavior. Those with a lot of family responsibilities and who are easily frustrated join gangs and use their skills and competence to benefit criminals with a hope of earning what could to enable them to make ends meet. All these heavy consequences follow simply because of a flawed educational system that conditions graduates to be employees.
The worrisome unemployment of the youth is exacerbated by employees who refuse to employ graduates with no previous work experience from their sector; coupled with undisciplined politicians who use the funds reserved for implementing strategies intended to ensure reduction, and ultimately, elimination of youth unemployment by the government for all other purposes other than the one it was reserved for. This leaves the deficiency created by the defective educational system unmitigated calling for stronger transparency mechanisms.
Further; the stereotype perceptions held by the society perceiving employed graduates as more esteemed than self employed entrepreneurs has not helped the situation either. This perception has discouraged graduates to refrain from starting small businesses which could greatly reduce unemployment and lower economic migration.
So what needs to be done and by whom? Our country’s educational system should be immediately revised and updated to incorporate more educational programs that promote practical skills, in particular, entrepreneurship skills. This solution is working well in the United States of America with small businesses mostly ran by young graduates providing about fifty million jobs.
In our country, the government is pumping capital into small businesses but without strong business advice and guidance, these businesses fail in the first five years of being established thus becoming a pyrrhic victory for the government. The government, corporations, society and the youth themselves have to consolidate efforts and push to enhance the employability of graduates; it cannot be done by the government alone; though it certainly cannot be denied that the government has a bigger role to play.
The government should not only provide capital but should establish internship programs for young graduates to impart practical skills. It should moreover urge institutions of higher learning to impart practical skills which will directly deal with the problem bottom-up, taking it from the roots.
As for corporations that do not employ graduates with no previous work experience form their sectors, the government should also urge them to take in and retrain students to fit their standard. Additionally, the graduates have to continue to develop and educate themselves on an array of the disciplines of life because the capacity of a graduate is mostly influenced by learning experiences outside the university.
Lastly, to overcome the stereotype perceptions on the society, people need to be educated as to the importance of entrepreneurship and the profound impact it could have, not just on the reduction of youth unemployment, but on the economy. In fact, since the country is only beginning to lay fundamental steps towards constitutional, media and security reforms, an inclusion of education would not be a bad idea.