This year’s International Labour Day that was marked in Ntungamo District centred on the theme of youth and the unemployment challenge.
Youth unemployment is the biggest challenge afflicting the Ugandan economy. World Bank statistics put the rate of youth unemployment at 83 per cent.
The recent survey conducted by ActionAid International in collaboration with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics puts the unemployment rate at 65 per cent. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development puts the unemployment rate at 5 per cent.
Uganda has the youngest population rate in the world after Niger. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 78 per cent of Uganda’s population is aged between 18-35 years. This is the group that is the most active and yet the most desperate because they are poor and unemployed.
The rate of population growth doesn’t match the rate of employment opportunities, prompting experts to project a time bomb if unemployment is not addressed.
Unemployment is exacerbated by the fact that every year, universities, colleges, institutions and centres of learning churn out graduates who cannot find employment in the formal sector. Many are left to languish on the streets, chasing jobs that do not exist, or find something to do in the informal sector, which, though largely unregulated, apparently accounts for 86 per cent of the national economy.
Uganda is at crossroads when it comes to viable skills and innovations for national development. There are millions of Ugandan youth who have gone through school and acquired degree or diploma certificates and other credentials, but without the requisite skills to enable them apply the knowledge acquired in school in everyday practical life.
Emphasis has been placed on theoretical learning without much interaction with the real environment outside the classroom. A university graduate will leave school without knowing how to fix a bulb into a lamp holder; or change a car tyre; or fix a broken chair; or a leaking water pipe; or grow tomatoes; or write a job application letter, among others.
At a regional level, under a fully-fledged Common Market of the East African Community, Ugandan youth stand a big disadvantage to benefit from the proceeds of free movement of labour and capital across the East African borders.
Compared to their counterparts in other countries such as Kenya or Rwanda, Uganda’s youth are bereft of competitive survival and employment skills. As a result, the Kenyan youth have flooded Uganda’s job market taking up jobs in the hospitality industry, supermarket chains, telecommunications industry, IT, banking, and even petty business.
The difference is that the Kenyan youth are trained right from their formative years to the completion of school to be aggressive and risk takers. They are trained to take on hard tasks and challenges and discover the new world. Ugandan youth are the opposite.
There must, therefore, be deliberate efforts mainly driven by the private sector under public-private partnership to provide exposure to Ugandan youth to the world of jobs. During holidays, students must be given the chance to work in factories, showrooms, farms, garages, and call centres, oil companies, etc, so that they get acquainted with skills and the right attitude while still at school.
The private sector should champion a student mentorship programme by opening up their work places to youth right from primary school to secondary and university or tertiary level.
Now that the Shs265 billion Youth Livelihood Programme has been rolled out, the government should reach out to private businesses or companies to create incubation centres from where the youth could get hands-on experience, having undergone training on enterprise selection, management and sustainability.
The government should identify and fund some incubation points using part of this fund to provide apprenticeship to the intended beneficiaries of the fund, and only the youth who complete the cycle of training at the incubation centres should qualify for the money.
Mr Akampurira is the secretary for external affairs - National Youth Council