University education should help answer the “what next” question

Friday February 7 2020

After graduation, many graduates in Uganda

After graduation, many graduates in Uganda don't know their next move after failing to get jobs.  

By Carolyne B. Atangaza

Early this week, a number of university graduates staged demonstrations at city roundabouts dressed in their graduation garb and carrying placards that read “What next?” These young people are among a generation that has been encouraged to pursue a degree with the thinking that a degree would give them better job opportunities and more stability.

The reality is that there are not enough jobs to match the numbers that graduate from different universities every year. To compound the problem, most jobs require years of experience for one to be qualified. The alternative is to work for several years in entry level positions that pay peanuts. What this demonstration revealed is university does not prepare people for the job search and employment experience adequately. Dr Alice Nabatanzi and Sylvia, recount their transition journey after graduation.

University should have helped you answer the what next question
After University, what everyone thinks is they will apply for a job, get it, own an office and start a family. This is not always the case, especially in the current circumstances both locally and internationally. The problem of youth unemployment is a global one that will need everyone’s efforts to be fixed. Let us get more creative and innovative and become our own employers instead of waiting for someone to give us a desk and a salary.
First job
I started work during my Senior Six vacation and continued to work during my university holidays. During my second year, the company I was working for decided to start funding individuals who would produce goods and sell them to the company. I was approached and asked to be part of those individuals.

I accepted without hesitation because I trust myself and have the confidence that I can do anything and deliver appropriately. I discussed this opportunity with my mum and she gave me a go-ahead. She helped me figure out how to get staff, how much I would have to pay them for what quantity they produced. At this point I noticed and believed that I had entrepreneurial skills.

During this time, coursework and classwork were the least of my worries; I started thinking about how to make returns on the capital I had and how to motivate my employees so they could deliver on time. So the machines were delivered and work started. I would work day and late night but being home I had no worries.

Becoming a legend
I found myself working harder than anyone to ensure that I made a lot of returns but also delivered to the company as promised. My hard work duly impressed my manager because I delivered more than any other manager did. I created a legend that is still talked about in that company to date.


This went on until my third year when I left university. As everyone was applying for jobs I was thinking of what products I could make to get more money since I was more interested in further studies than a job by then.
I knew even if I went for further studies my business would still give me the money I needed for my daily needs. I was earning even more than my peers who had got jobs. However, an opportunity came when I was doing my masters and I took it. The truth is if it had not come, I would still have been okay.

Start with what you have
Let us stop stressing the government. Let us stop stressing the President and the public at large. It is high time, a graduate, a school dropout, whatever level of education you have you started exercising your brains, thought out of the box and became more productive. Why wait for employment? Think of a product or service you can offer to the community and do it. You do not need millions to start an enterprise, start with what you have. If you feel you have no skill, enrol at a technical institute and get skilling; it is all we need now to solve problems not even graduates can solve.

Dear graduates, put your posters down, stop asking people what is next because it is you who knows best what is next for you, not me, not the public, not the President. Change your perspective about white collar jobs and life will be smoother than waking up and holding placards at roundabouts. If a white-collar job comes well and good, but you will even be earning extra money from that enterprise or little business you started. Look at the wealthiest people starting from Uganda all the way to the countries many admire say the US, France, they are not graduates who waited for jobs from people; they are people who came up with innovative ideas and now they are worth billions of money.
Alice Nabatanzi lecturer at Makerere University’s College of Natural Sciences.

It took me 15 years to find a job
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Social Administration in 2002. I started applying for jobs immediately for which, the furthest I got to qualifying, was going for the interviews. The first few months were okay and I was still hopeful. But after a year without anything, I became desperate and took an administrative job at my father’s friend’s company, working in the library.
Being naturally optimistic, I hoped that if I did my best I would soon be considered for other better paying jobs in the company. One evening I got a call from my boss instructing me to prepare for a trip upcountry the following morning because his personal assistant was not well. I was naively excited thinking working closely with the “big man” would get me the elusive position.

That evening as we were having tea at L.View Hotel, Mbarara, I broached the subject and gave him my CV that I had carried. He looked at me and smiled. “I thought you were a smart girl, if you want to advance in your career, you should know better than offering me a CV,” he said. I had heard rumours of what “offerings” he preferred but I had thought I was an exception. This is when I realised this job searching thing was no joke.

Homeless, broke
Shortly after, I was laid off. I could not afford my rented home, so I went back to the family home. I continued applying for jobs but three years later with nothing I gave up. I instead applied for a scholarship and was accepted for a master’s degree in International Relations at St. Thomas University in Canada.

Overqualified, under experienced
I returned to Uganda with my master’s degree hoping for better chances. Instead I was rejected for being overqualified and having little working experience. I gave up searching for jobs and enrolled for a bakery course. Soon I started baking and selling banana cakes. My business grew and gave me enough capital to open up a café and a washing bay. But my heart still ached at not being able to practice my passion, so I volunteered at my local church, and felt fulfilled.

With time, I started noticing that my age was no longer legible for most jobs being advertised. This did not bother me since I was comfortably growing my business.
About four years ago, a lady from my church told me of a position that was opening up in a certain company and I applied for it. She had seen me work at church so she wrote for me a recommendation. Guess what?! I got the job. I am now working as a mid-level manager in a parastatal company. It seems strange that when I had given up, I finally got the job I always dreamed about. Now I am planning my retirement. I doubt I will ever be a head of a government body which had been my childhood dream. Even this does not matter anymore since my priorities changed along the way.

Sylvia, Administrative assistant.