The selection of Uganda to host the Ninth Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting this year was not only timely, but also an awakening call to all stakeholders to change their approach to the challenges of youth unemployment.
Currently, Uganda’s youth population stands at about 78 per cent. These are below 30 years of age; the most productive age group. Unfortunately, this is the same group that is most affected by the social and economic challenges in the country. During the Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting in Kampala, ministers said the commitment of young people to be agents of social and economic progress continues to be undermined by a wide range of challenges they face.
The ministers mentioned challenges such as limited funding for youth-focused and youth-led initiatives and issues such as violent conflicts, natural disasters, poverty, lack of decent work opportunities, climate and demographic changes, weak youth participation structures, limited access to health and education services.
The above mentioned situation is worsened by the youth unemployment, which is at 22.3 per cent yet sadly, these numbers keep growing. Every year in Uganda, a total of 400,000 youth graduates enter the job market. Unfortunately, there is a maximum of 90,000 available jobs. This leaves the remaining 310,000 youth with no jobs and if they are not job creators (do not have vocational skills), they will continue seeking for jobs that have either been taken or are still occupied by people who should be retired.
While government has come up with a number of ways to resolve the problem of youth unemployment through programmes such as wealth creation and commitment to service delivery among others, these have been frustrated due to vices such as corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy.
Fortunately, Uganda still has time to redeem the situation and our redemption lies in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). This is the education that equips the youth with practical skills. For this kind of education to meet its purpose, it should be incorporated into the conventional education system so that every student who graduates, but fails to get into formal employment, can choose to start up own business.
Share An Opportunity Uganda (SAO) has a similar programme for the out-of-school youth. Through this programme, SAOU has realised merits for vocational education that include higher wages, improved productivity, livelihood and income growth, among the youth. It also improves the youth’s commitment to work and this in the long-run, reduces crime since young people will not have time to get involved in criminal activities.
Additionally, for the time SAO has been involved the youth in this kind of education, we have realised that Uganda has a treasure of ambitious young entrepreneurs who just need to be helped with skills in enterprise selection and job creation.
This is why TVET is important because it imparts the much needed skills in the youth. It will also meet society’s demand for competent plumbers, mechanics, hairdressers, tailors, carpenters, and electricians, among others. It equally helps the country to reverse the trend of unemployment. But for this to happen, government should increase domestic funding for TVET. Parents shjould also play a role by encouraging their children to take on vocational courses besides their professional studies given that vocational skills carry a lot of weight if included on the curriculum Vitae.
Given the high level of youth unemployment, Uganda is seated on a time bomb. If a large number of youths find themselves redundant, they become an economic burden, not only to their families, but also to the country. As the adage goes, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. Therefore, redundancy is likely to lead to disruption of the peace. As a country, we need to appreciate the fact that young people are important in helping Uganda achieve the dream of becoming a middle income country by 2020. It will also help the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
It is for this reason that we should develop policies and programmes that support technical education training. This will also help us achieve this year’s International Youth Day theme of ‘Youth Building Peace’.
Ms Soobi is the national director Share An Opportunity Uganda