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COMMENT: On-job training for graduates

COMMENT BY: Badru Walusansa

Facilitate transition from education the world of work by passing on work skills and industry competencies

Graduate unemployment in Uganda is stale news. Graduate unemployment figures have significantly soared for the last decade leaving no sign of scaling down. Every year, both public and private universities graduate more than 400,000 graduates into a smaller job market with only close to 90,000 jobs.

Yet it’s every graduate’s dream to find work that is relatable to their field of study or profession. However, this seems far from the reality given the minuscule job market vis-à-vis the complex job requirements that do not match the competencies of many fresh graduates.

In such a volatile labour market, many graduates risk being unemployed for so long as they lack the skills or experience that may be required for several jobs; especially in the public sector.

Its business as usual for many graduates to be barred from applying for certain jobs in the public service on grounds of not meeting the required work experience.

I remember daily buying newspapers, purposely to check for job vacancies. Unfortunately, I was always beaten out on the required skills and work experience. I then thought I was standing alone but only to find out later it was a crosscutting challenge that applied to several graduates.

If the current situation is to go by, the pinch is likely to be felt, not only by the unemployed graduates but also the public sector which risks missing out on fresh talent with new knowledge and insight to drive public sector development.

Many employers in the public sector insist on employing skilled human resource. Such employers are not willing to hone the skills of the fresh graduates. I am also cognisant that the government is expediting multi-pronged strategies to create jobs in order to close the graduate unemployment gap but I find this mission shaky because majority of the targeted human resource lack the requisite skills for such jobs.

It’s however not too late to explore options on how we can skill our graduates. On-job training could be the missing link to reducing graduate unemployment. Both the public and private sector should become more aggressive in appreciating on job training as a tool that can be used to identify potential employees who can be considered for retainment. Such trainings could also be beneficial to graduates who can still find jobs elsewhere without being trapped for lack of experience.

Several corporate companies such as MTN, PWC, Deloitte, TOTAL to mention but a few have developed comprehensive graduate-training-programmes which have helped to build the capacity of fresh graduates. The beneficiaries of such programmes have successfully ended up getting jobs in the same companies hence narrowing on graduate unemployment.

The public sector though doesn’t rest in isolation of having in place such programmes. The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has a graduate training programme in place that enrols more than 100 graduates each year. These are trained in a wide range of operations of the authority. Trainees that excel are retained.

Other government enterprises should also adopt such best practices. In cases where they are limited by the resource envelop, the government should deliberately appropriate resources for such programmes and perhaps have a policy in place that supports the same.

Higher institutions of learning should also use the existing opportunity to collaborate with both the public and private sector to strengthen graduate trainings. Although there could be such establishments in place they need to be broadened.

According to the `Skilled Workforce for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth; A G20 Training Strategy by ILO (2011)’, on job training provides the core work skills, general knowledge, and industry-based and professional competencies that facilitate the transition from education into the world of work.

ILO’s strategy needs to be relied upon by employers that might wish to employ fresh graduates though with a lot of doubt whether the new talent can cope with the work standards or output.

The Uganda Vision 2040 envisages a strong labour force that can act as an enabling factor to help the country leapfrog from a lower-income to a middle-income status; it further identifies skilling or training as one of the proponents that can help equip the labour force with appropriate skills required for sustainable production. I hope such initiatives (if they are there) can be tapped into by our graduates.

Apart from reducing the unemployment burden, on job trainings could also help both private and public enterprises save costs spent on technocrats and imported human labour that do work equivalent to what can be done by local trained personnel.

Countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and China are successful in terms of human capital development. Their experience shows there is no rocket science to that effect. It’s just that they undertook robust efforts in skilling their labour force and this has strategically enabled their graduates find jobs. If such countries did, we too can.

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Badru Walusansa is a Commonwealth correspondent in Uganda

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