The world celebrates World Population Day today with the theme, “Invest in Young People Today to Ensure a Bright Future.” More than 78 per cent of Uganda’s population comprises young people below the age of 30, making it a country with one of the highest percentage of young people in the world.
According to the State of Uganda Population Report 2010, about 56 per cent of our population is below 18 years. This statistic justifies the World Development Report, which emphasises that young people are Africa’s assets.
There has never been a time better than now to invest in them, especially at a time when the rate and impact of unemployment among young people continues to pose a huge threat to our economic growth.
Young people who have graduated from university and other higher institutions of learning face one major problem – finding jobs! This is because many fresh graduates lack skills and they have very limited exposure to internships and mentoring opportunities while still at the university. Internships usually provide students with an opportunity to gain working experience and insight regarding how organisations operate. The majority of graduating students who participle in internships have a much better chance at landing full-time positions upon graduation.
At Wagner College in New York for example, each student is involved in field work directly related to their courses. University education focused on training students to be practically ready to confront the challenges of their generation and generations after them is the hallmark of learning and should be embraced by all.
Other programmes that have provided internship opportunities for young people include the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The programme has offered 500 young people from Africa an opportunity for leadership training and internship within the USA. The programme is an initiative of US President Barack Obama and aims at empowering young African leaders through leadership training, internship and professional mentoring opportunities in the USA.
As a current beneficiary of the programme, I have had the opportunity to learn about practical issues related to leadership, economic development and community health from renowned professors, consultants, leaders of civil society organisation and young people like me who come from different parts of Africa.
Through my interaction with other Fellows in this programme, I have learnt about strategies that I can replicate or deploy to increase the reach and impact of my organisation’s work. As part of the Washington Fellowship, the 500 individuals attending this programme have had an opportunity to visit companies like Google, CNN, Clinton Foundation and Generation Citizen. This interaction has enabled them gain skills in media relations, fundraising, monitoring programmes as well as advocacy.
Today, I imagine that if all young people in Uganda are provided with a platform conducive for their growth through practically relevant training and mentorship programmes, then we shall have young people who are living to their full potential. Young people can meaningfully contribute to development when given the right opportunities.
Internships and mentoring must be a prerequisite at all levels for those both at the university and those who have completed school. The government needs to put into place a well-structured and monitored internship system for youth at all levels to motivate them and provide real work experience, as well as investment in relevant school-to-work transition and continued learning for those already within the job market.
Ms Nassozi, currently a Young African Leaders Initiative Fellow in the USA, works with Marie Stopes Uganda. firstname.lastname@example.org