Lesotho’s Great Skills Mismatch Debate

By Thabang Letsatsi - Originally Published by NUL Research and Innovations

Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash
Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash

Thabiso and Selloane are fictional characters debating skills mismatch theory in Lesotho.

Selloane : I have always wondered why there is so much unemployment in Lesotho. Everyone I talk to says it is because the graduates we produce don’t meet the needs of our industry. They call it a mismatch theory. It is beginning to make sense.

Thabiso : I have heard about that mismatch stuff too. They say it is the reason for soaring unemployment rates in Lesotho. It is so often repeated, it has almost become an official argument. I am always puzzled!

Selloane : Why?

Thabiso : It doesn’t make sense.

Selloane : It does make sense. Is it not true that we produce students who don’t meet the requirements of our industry?

Thabiso : Which industry?

Selloane : All industry

Thabiso : Can you give an example?

Selloane : The mining industry.

Thabiso : And then?

Selloane : I don’t know, a couple of other industries, I guess.

Thabiso : Which ones?

Selloane : None readily comes to my mind.

Thabiso : That’s true. None will readily come to your mind because there is not much of an industry to start with. So it doesn’t make sense to say graduates don’t meet the needs of industry which barely exists.

But let’s get it right, are you telling me that there are thousands of vacancies out there which we can’t fill because our graduates don’t have the matching skills? Is that the basis of the whole skills mismatch theory?

Selloane : I guess.

Thabiso : Any proof of such vacancies?

Selloane : I will have to find out.

Thabiso : Good luck. But I bet you won’t find anything.

Selloane : Why?

Thabiso : Because such vacancies don’t exist. If they did, they would be filled up.

Selloane : You think so?

Thabiso : Let me ask you a question. We are told that Lesotho spends more money on education as a percentage of GDP than many countries. Do you believe that?

Selloane : There are statistics to prove it, I guess.

Thabiso : You are right.

Selloane : So what?

Thabiso : Do you think that the money is spent only on educating students in Lesotho?

Selloane : No, we spend some of that money in educating our students in South Africa and elsewhere. We have even imported some educational institutions from as far as Malaysia and Botswana.

Thabiso : Which is good.

Selloane : So what’s your point?

Thabiso : If we already have our own educational institutions here, what do you think is the rationale for spending billions of Maloti in other countries, even importing some institutions?

Selloane : I suppose so that we can fill the skills gap left by our local institutions.

Thabiso : You are right. So when we spend billions outside, it is with the justification that we train those students in skills that our local institutions don’t produce, am I right?

Selloane : Right.

Thabiso : Then, if we are spending so much money, billions of Maloti, to address skills mismatch so we can create jobs, why are we still crying skills mismatch when we fail to create jobs? Are we spending all these billions for nothing?

Selloane : Maybe we still don’t get enough of the skills we want.

Thabiso : And we’ll never get enough of the skills!

Selloane : What do you mean?

Thabiso : Because our problem is not scarcity of skills, but scarcity of vision.

Selloane : Huh!

Thabiso : The reason we have this high unemployment rate is not because we have a shortage of skills but a shortage of industries and a shortage of institutions that will enable the creation of such industries.

Selloane : So what should we do?

Thabiso : First, we should stop offering simplistic solutions to complex problems. educating the youth and then blaming them for having the “wrong” skills is an insult to them. Why did we give them “wrong” skills in the first place?

Selloane : So what should we do?

Thabiso : It is true that we don’t have all the skills we need. We will never do. However, we should learn to appreciate the skills we already have by making the most out of them. Only then will we be rewarded with more.

Selloane : So what should we do?

Thabiso : We should not assume that giving people education is enough to start creating jobs. It doesn’t matter what type education it is. It is not enough. Rather, we should now focus on creating enabling institutions.

Selloane : Like what?

Thabiso : We should start building product development laboratories (good products are not a matter of chance), we should start creating incubation and innovation hubs to test our businesses enmasse , we should learn to incubate businesses, not entrepreneurs, we should create industrial hubs where we will mass-produce all kinds of products, we should create supporting policies such as intellectual property policies, and, above all, we should create innovation and entrepreneurship funds to support all these efforts with not strings attached.

We should fund, fund, fund and fund all efforts towards job creation. We should never hope for a miracle. It won’t happen. If it means cutting per diem trips by half to fund the efforts, let us cut the per diem trips by half and allocate that money to meaningful efforts.

Selloane : Then our problems will be solved?

Thabiso : Far from it. But at least you will have achieved something better. This thinking is better than going along with the self-defeating skills mismatch theory as a means to justify our own shortsightedness.

Selloane : Huh!