Skilling Uganda is a big promise but a huge failure

Monday September 29 2014

By Peter Alip Oyoo

For a country to make its way into the league of advanced nations, skills development offers the best solution to realise this aspiration. More than 60 per cent of Uganda’s population is below 40 years.

Such young population is a great strength if they are gainfully employed, otherwise they will turn out to be a great liability. It is, therefore, imperative for Uganda to have massive skills development programmes and create employment opportunities through growth-oriented schemes.
To achieve this philosophy, the government plans to roll out Skilling Uganda programme in selected technical and vocational institutions across the country beginning next year.

Shs200 billion is available to kick-start the programme. The government, through Skilling Uganda Authority, aims to engage in empowering Ugandans with skills that would allow them to participate in and contribute to the process of inclusive growth and development. But this is where the good news ends.
Though the government has made skills development a vital agenda, we should not just jump on the skills bandwagon with much enthusiasm. There is need to prepare comprehensive action plans and activities to promote skills development. Challenges for the skills training segment are many.

First, vocational education must begin from the early stages. It must be introduced in schools so that it coheres with other academic options rather than competing with them. Students joining vocational schools already suffer from a significant disadvantage carried over from primary schools.

Instead of having their deficiencies compensated for, they continue to fall behind to such a degree that most of them are seen as functionally illiterate. The failure of the education system is largely responsible for the excessively low employment rate in Uganda.

Second, the quality and content of vocational training education should be examined. Properly trained and skilled workers who are prepared for lifelong learning are, in fact, in short supply.

Rapidly changing workplace conditions and requirements have resulted in increased appreciation of general skills across the board, while specific skills have undergone a drastic devaluation – regardless of how well a specific skill happens to match the demands of the labour market at a given time.

It is the content and quality of vocational training that has failed to adapt to the new challenges of the labour market in as much as it does not provide students with the ability to adjust to economic–technological changes and to upgrade their skills accordingly.

Third, learning technical skills is not enough. Soft skills that make people employable are equally critical. It is important to understand the attributes that will enable one to get a job and grow within the workplace. Vocational training can only have its full economic impact if it produces people with skills that can get them well-paying, fulfilling work as per industry requirements.

There are ways in which the industry can work with training providers by offering more apprenticeships, curriculum development, or by offering secondments to training personnel to ensure they are familiar with the latest tools, techniques and technology in use in their sector.

It is obvious that more needs to be done as the definition of skills development is fast changing. Vocational training should be in line with changes, especially in the labour force.

We must shift from the one-dimensional model, which has wrongly viewed economic progresses only by statistical growth. The pace at which this transition happens would determine where Uganda would stand 20 years from now. Government must seriously ponder why their well carved out plans might not work.

Mr Oyoo is a finance/business education specialist. opalixug@gmail.com

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