Shortage of skilled labour in some of the most productive economic sectors in Uganda are so glaring, rendering the economy unattractive for long term investment, according to a preliminary assessment seeking to improve the country’s investment climate.
The assessment titled: “EU-Uganda Roadmap to Improved Investment Climate” so far indicates that construction, manufacturing and tourism as the leading economic sectors require the largest amount of skilled and professional workforce.
According to analysis of the situation, the aforementioned are further complicated by insufficient supply of skilled labour with appropriate competencies, work ethics and attitude issues constituting a major challenge for private companies in the country.
The gap between the private sector demand for skills and the education system supply of candidates is further exacerbated by a restrictive immigration scheme, and by significant taxes on imported training services. This affects the long-term competitiveness of Ugandan companies on the international markets.
It emerged during the presentation of the assessment of the report last week in Kampala to various economic sector players and stakeholders that most of the workforce employed in constriction are mostly casual labourers with wanting technical skills.
Presenting the findings of the skills and attitude needs assessment, the labour economist, Ms Ina Pietschmann, said some of those (construction industry players) that were interviewed said many (Ugandans) need to be pushed to do work and that is not productive.
Importantly perhaps, the findings reveal that available skilled labour is highly expensive partly explaining why such positions in construction industry are filled by foreigners among them Chinese nationals.
As for manufacturing sector, a key segment of the economy, there are few value chains. The cost of doing business is high. Infrastructure is not as developed and coordinated as it should be. And notably issues of standards especially for European markets remain a matter of concern, let alone difficulties in finding suitable skills. This is further worsened by the high turnover the sector is grappling with, thanks to limited technical skills.
And then there is tourism sector which is so diverse and fragmented. Its fortunes are seasonal while its success largely depends on several factors. For example the outbreak of epidemics like Ebola or landslides alone can cause massive damage. As a result of uncertainties, the industry is bedevilled with high turnover of labourers. As if that is not bad enough, those employed are not skilled enough and according to the same findings many are not even trainable including on job.
Addressing the problem
The head, Skills Development Facility (SDF), Ms Ruth Biyinzika Musoke, says something is already being done to deal with skills gap. She said the purpose of SDF which is being implemented by the apex body of the private sector in the country, is to among other things support reforms targeted at making the skills development system in the country more efficient and effective. This is in addition to creating a scalable model for high quality and market - relevant vocational and technical training which can be replicated across different sectors and not to mention support for the delivery of short-term training for workers in the formal and informal sectors.
According to the executive director, Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), Mr Gideon Badagawa, the problems are not necessarily the skills gaps, but the real challenge lies in the in critical thinking and ability to solve problems logically.
He said: “What I see as a major problem are the lack of soft skills. We must find answers for lack of integrity, bad attitude, poor communication skills because these are things that make it difficult for private sector to employ local labour.”
The preliminary assessment findings was also faulted by some stakeholders who attended the meeting for generalising challenges yet each sector although operating in the same economy has unique characteristics. For ignoring to assess agriculture sector, considering that it provides livelihood to the largest segment of the population, industry players in this space were left disappointed. In response it emerged that agriculture was left out because of its negligible contribution to the GDP despite being a key economic sector.