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Betting on wrong education to beat youth unemployment

By Agnes E. Nantaba

Experts say education and training need to predict and follow labour market dynamics

John Komakech likes to arrive early at his workplace. Most times, the young man in his late twenties is at work by 8am. Although he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Travel and Tourism Management, he works in a completely different area.  His workplace is a sports betting shop in Kawempe, a suburb of Kampala. He wakes up to place sports bets.

Here he mingles with other mainly young people to discuss winning bets and mull over their losses all day long. On the morning we spoke, Komakech –as often- was feeling unlucky. The day before, he had lost Shs25, 000 on two bets; one loss was on an English Barclays Premier League Football game and the other on a kick boxing match. Had he won, Komakech says, he could have walked away with a whopping Shs 340,000.


“I made a wrong prediction,” he says, “But I will be more vigilant in today’s bet. Losing today doesn’t mean a loss tomorrow.”

Komakech has no choice but to live on hope. For five years now, since he graduated, he has been among Uganda’s hordes of unemployed youth whose search for a job has yielded no results.

“Only one of our group mates at the University was lucky to get a job with one of the Tour Operators in Western Uganda after two years in search,” laments Komakech.

Esther Nampiima is another such graduate. Although she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, the only job she has landed so far is one of dusting shelves at supermarkets as she displays the goods of the company she works for that imports and distributes Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) in Uganda. She performs her chores with zeal but the look on her face betrays her discontent. She narrates how she has looked in vain for a job in her line of study. “My mother did all odd jobs to get me through University, but all I call tell her is how I work as a merchandiser,” narrated Nampiima. Such touching stories by youths depict the unemployment situation in Uganda. Most are graduates but they cannot find jobs in their field of study. The course Komakech studied has recently been scrapped by the university.

Some graduates like Aisha Namuleme opt to start their own ventures, however small. The 28-year old graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Hotel Management and initially worked as a chef at an Indian restaurant in the heart of the city. She quit over low pay and now runs a sidewalk restaurant, manning two frying pans, five plastic chairs and a stack of steel plates.  On a good day, she bags a profit of Shs 35,000 (Approx. US$12), which is twice as much as she was paid working as a chef.

“Unless we create our own jobs, we shall go hungry and the end result is chaos and mob justice,” she says. She is convinced that only self-employment can guarantee a future for the masses of unemployed youth.

Highest unemployment in Africa

In a recent report, the international anti-poverty and injustice NGO Action Aid said the unemployment rate in Uganda is the highest in Africa. In the report titled “Lost Opportunity” Gaps in Youth Policy and Programming in Uganda”, the rate of youth unemployment in Uganda is reported to be at 62%. An earlier African Development Bank report had placed it higher, at over 83%.  But another joint study done by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), places the youth unemployment rate at just 5%. The number rises slightly to more than 13% when taking into account “youth who are without work and are available to work but not actively seeking work” are included.

Rebecca Kukundakwe; a coordinator at Action Aid, says the variances in statistics of unemployment levels are not unusual and arise from different definitions of unemployment.   While ILO and UBOS emphasise that unemployment occurs when people who are “without work yet they are currently available for work” are “actively seeking work” in a specified reference—normally the past four weeks, the Action Aid report refers to unemployment as a state of non-engagement in any economic activity by someone who is available and willing to work. The Action Aid definition comprises of persons in the working age population, who were not working during the reference period. It includes those who were seeking and/or those who were available for work even if they were not seeking work.

For a long time, Uganda’s high rate of unemployment has been getting worse especially because the country has one of the youngest populations in the world. Over 78% of the population are youths. The unemployment story is playing in an environment where Uganda’s population growth rate is the third highest in the world at 3.5%.

Persistent problem

As the country marks International Labour Day May 1 in Kisoro District in Western Uganda, the main challenge is how to secure a decent and productive employment for such a youthful population.

The theme for the day: ‘Accelerating Social Economic Transformation through Promotion of the Decent Work Agenda, Social Justice and Equity’, signals the determination of policy makers and influencers to seek to significantly improve specific socio-economic development indicators pertinent to social transformation.

It is not far removed from the 2014 Labour Day celebration theme of, “Working with the youth to tackle the unemployment problem in Uganda”.

Analysts say despite working around such ambitious themes has not yielded enough positive results as the unemployment problem persists.

Gemma Ahaibwe; a research analyst at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), says unemployment remains a big problem in Uganda and the many report figures do not reflect the actuality of the problem. He notes that the low measured unemployment figures only signify an unhealthy labour market.

“For instance, a large proportion of youth have given up the search for jobs and are more likely to be discouraged than unemployed,” he says. He says the officially measured unemployment does not capture this disillusionment among those who are unemployed but have given up trying to find work.

According to statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBoS) and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), more than 400,000 young Ugandans enter the labour market each year, but only about 113,000 or 28% are absorbed in formal employment. That leaves the72% to forage for jobs in the informal sector.

Some youths have gone an extra mile to search for employment beyond Uganda’s borders. Young Ugandan women; university graduates inclusive, are seeking mainly menial jobs overseas. While some succeed, others have ended up in prostitution and drug trafficking.

“Every month, we get reports of over 20 Ugandans stranded seeking help. If the figure is multiplied in a year, it comes to over 250 Ugandans stranded abroad every year,” says Moses Binoga, co-ordinator of the Anti-human Trafficking National Task Force.

Combined efforts

A number of interventions have been put in place and others are mooted regularly to attempt to solve the unemployment problem. Given the rapid growth of the Ugandan population—three-quarters of the population are below the age of 30 years—coupled with the fact that the youth are getting better educated through higher access to primary and secondary education, a stronger focus on job creation for this cohort of people cannot be over-emphasised.  One approach has been the promotion of self-employment through the establishment of National Youth Funds by the government.

Specifically, the Youth Venture Capital Fund (UYVCF) worth Shs25 billion (about US$ 10 million) was introduced in 2011 and more recently, in September 2013, government significantly boosted youth schemes by allocating Shs265 billion (about US$ 100 million) to the Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP) over a five-year period.

However Kukundakwe says such funds alone are not enough to solve the problem. She says an education system that is tailored towards market needs will help equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge.

“Upon recognizing that youth lack employable skills or possess skills that are irrelevant in the current job market, government should continuously focus on a phased curriculum review at all levels of education with a focus on business, technical, vocational education and industrial training,” says Kukundakwe.

“For this to happen, it is important that training is geared towards the needs of the labour market. One way of doing this is to create a mechanism for predicting or following the dynamics of the labour market.”

Kukundakwe advocates for the channelling of government funds through Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs) rather than banks to reduce the pressures of high interest rates and provide an enabling ground for self-entrepreneurship.  Like Kukundakwe, Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, an economist and consultant believes that the unemployment problem should be blamed on the education system. He says the country is stuck with the colonial education system that trains students to be clerks, teachers, and lawyers and does not impart in them the skills required by the market.

“The country needs metal fabricators, carpenters and mechanics,” says Nuwagaba, “Many foreign investors also bemoan the lack of skilled workers in Uganda.”The question is; how many youth want to be metal fabricators, carpenters and mechanics?

Experts say education and training need to predict and follow labour market dynamics

John Komakech likes to arrive early at his workplace. Most times, the young man in his late twenties is at work by 8am. Although he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Travel and Tourism Management, he works in a completely different area.  His workplace is a sports betting shop in Kawempe, a suburb of Kampala. He wakes up to place sports bets.

Here he mingles with other mainly young people to discuss winning bets and mull over their losses all day long. On the morning we spoke, Komakech –as often- was feeling unlucky. The day before, he had lost Shs25, 000 on two bets; one loss was on an English Barclays Premier League Football game and the other on a kick boxing match. Had he won, Komakech says, he could have walked away with a whopping Shs 340,000.


“I made a wrong prediction,” he says, “But I will be more vigilant in today’s bet. Losing today doesn’t mean a loss tomorrow.”

Komakech has no choice but to live on hope. For five years now, since he graduated, he has been among Uganda’s hordes of unemployed youth whose search for a job has yielded no results.

“Only one of our group mates at the University was lucky to get a job with one of the Tour Operators in Western Uganda after two years in search,” laments Komakech.

Esther Nampiima is another such graduate. Although she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, the only job she has landed so far is one of dusting shelves at supermarkets as she displays the goods of the company she works for that imports and distributes Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) in Uganda. She performs her chores with zeal but the look on her face betrays her discontent. She narrates how she has looked in vain for a job in her line of study. “My mother did all odd jobs to get me through University, but all I call tell her is how I work as a merchandiser,” narrated Nampiima. Such touching stories by youths depict the unemployment situation in Uganda. Most are graduates but they cannot find jobs in their field of study. The course Komakech studied has recently been scrapped by the university.

Some graduates like Aisha Namuleme opt to start their own ventures, however small. The 28-year old graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Hotel Management and initially worked as a chef at an Indian restaurant in the heart of the city. She quit over low pay and now runs a sidewalk restaurant, manning two frying pans, five plastic chairs and a stack of steel plates.  On a good day, she bags a profit of Shs 35,000 (Approx. US$12), which is twice as much as she was paid working as a chef.

“Unless we create our own jobs, we shall go hungry and the end result is chaos and mob justice,” she says. She is convinced that only self-employment can guarantee a future for the masses of unemployed youth.

Highest unemployment in Africa

In a recent report, the international anti-poverty and injustice NGO Action Aid said the unemployment rate in Uganda is the highest in Africa. In the report titled “Lost Opportunity” Gaps in Youth Policy and Programming in Uganda”, the rate of youth unemployment in Uganda is reported to be at 62%. An earlier African Development Bank report had placed it higher, at over 83%.  But another joint study done by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), places the youth unemployment rate at just 5%. The number rises slightly to more than 13% when taking into account “youth who are without work and are available to work but not actively seeking work” are included.

Rebecca Kukundakwe; a coordinator at Action Aid, says the variances in statistics of unemployment levels are not unusual and arise from different definitions of unemployment.   While ILO and UBOS emphasise that unemployment occurs when people who are “without work yet they are currently available for work” are “actively seeking work” in a specified reference—normally the past four weeks, the Action Aid report refers to unemployment as a state of non-engagement in any economic activity by someone who is available and willing to work. The Action Aid definition comprises of persons in the working age population, who were not working during the reference period. It includes those who were seeking and/or those who were available for work even if they were not seeking work.

For a long time, Uganda’s high rate of unemployment has been getting worse especially because the country has one of the youngest populations in the world. Over 78% of the population are youths. The unemployment story is playing in an environment where Uganda’s population growth rate is the third highest in the world at 3.5%.

Persistent problem

As the country marks International Labour Day May 1 in Kisoro District in Western Uganda, the main challenge is how to secure a decent and productive employment for such a youthful population.

The theme for the day: ‘Accelerating Social Economic Transformation through Promotion of the Decent Work Agenda, Social Justice and Equity’, signals the determination of policy makers and influencers to seek to significantly improve specific socio-economic development indicators pertinent to social transformation.

It is not far removed from the 2014 Labour Day celebration theme of, “Working with the youth to tackle the unemployment problem in Uganda”.

Analysts say despite working around such ambitious themes has not yielded enough positive results as the unemployment problem persists.

Gemma Ahaibwe; a research analyst at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), says unemployment remains a big problem in Uganda and the many report figures do not reflect the actuality of the problem. He notes that the low measured unemployment figures only signify an unhealthy labour market.

“For instance, a large proportion of youth have given up the search for jobs and are more likely to be discouraged than unemployed,” he says. He says the officially measured unemployment does not capture this disillusionment among those who are unemployed but have given up trying to find work.

According to statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBoS) and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), more than 400,000 young Ugandans enter the labour market each year, but only about 113,000 or 28% are absorbed in formal employment. That leaves the72% to forage for jobs in the informal sector.

Some youths have gone an extra mile to search for employment beyond Uganda’s borders. Young Ugandan women; university graduates inclusive, are seeking mainly menial jobs overseas. While some succeed, others have ended up in prostitution and drug trafficking.

“Every month, we get reports of over 20 Ugandans stranded seeking help. If the figure is multiplied in a year, it comes to over 250 Ugandans stranded abroad every year,” says Moses Binoga, co-ordinator of the Anti-human Trafficking National Task Force.

Combined efforts

A number of interventions have been put in place and others are mooted regularly to attempt to solve the unemployment problem. Given the rapid growth of the Ugandan population—three-quarters of the population are below the age of 30 years—coupled with the fact that the youth are getting better educated through higher access to primary and secondary education, a stronger focus on job creation for this cohort of people cannot be over-emphasised.  One approach has been the promotion of self-employment through the establishment of National Youth Funds by the government.

Specifically, the Youth Venture Capital Fund (UYVCF) worth Shs25 billion (about US$ 10 million) was introduced in 2011 and more recently, in September 2013, government significantly boosted youth schemes by allocating Shs265 billion (about US$ 100 million) to the Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP) over a five-year period.

However Kukundakwe says such funds alone are not enough to solve the problem. She says an education system that is tailored towards market needs will help equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge.

“Upon recognizing that youth lack employable skills or possess skills that are irrelevant in the current job market, government should continuously focus on a phased curriculum review at all levels of education with a focus on business, technical, vocational education and industrial training,” says Kukundakwe.

“For this to happen, it is important that training is geared towards the needs of the labour market. One way of doing this is to create a mechanism for predicting or following the dynamics of the labour market.”

Kukundakwe advocates for the channelling of government funds through Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs) rather than banks to reduce the pressures of high interest rates and provide an enabling ground for self-entrepreneurship.  Like Kukundakwe, Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, an economist and consultant believes that the unemployment problem should be blamed on the education system. He says the country is stuck with the colonial education system that trains students to be clerks, teachers, and lawyers and does not impart in them the skills required by the market.

“The country needs metal fabricators, carpenters and mechanics,” says Nuwagaba, “Many foreign investors also bemoan the lack of skilled workers in Uganda.”The question is; how many youth want to be metal fabricators, carpenters and mechanics?

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