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Support National Graduate Scheme Bill

It offers a solution to the more than 500,000 unemployable graduates that enter the job market every year

COMMENT | PATRICK AJUNA | Parliament is getting ready for debate of the National Graduate Scheme Bill, 2018 for debate in the following a series of consultations and discussions by its Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development with key interested organisations like the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) and the Private Sector Foundation Unit (PSFU) about is objects and contents.

The National Graduate Scheme Bill, 2018 is a private member’s Bill drafted by Waira Kyewalabye Majegere, the Member of Parliament for Bunya East County Constituency in response to the prevailing rampant unemployment problem in the country; especially for the university graduates.

According to the statistics, more than 500,000 graduates enter the job market every year with inadequate skills or those skills that are not demanded on the job market due to a mismatch between the curriculum in the tertiary institutions and the labour market requirements leading to the problem of skills mismatch and shortages which is currently being experienced by many employers in the face of the prevailing high unemployment rates in the country.

The National Graduate Scheme Bill, 2018 acknowledges the existence of a number of government and non-government interventions that are already in operation to address this problem of skills gaps and shortages. These include the internship programme which is meant to be compulsory for all university students during the course of their studies, the Uganda Graduate Volunteer Scheme (UGVS) – a skills initiative programme for graduates courtesy of the partnership between the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Volunteers Programme and the government of Uganda through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD), and the Graduate Trainee Programme (GTP); a scheme undertaken by some companies in the country both public and private like URA, UMEME, Electricity Regulatory Authority and the Judicial Service Commission. It is intended to bridge the gap between the knowledge and skills acquired at the university and those required in the job market.

However, as rightly observed in the Graduate Scheme Bill, such schemes are not premised in a legal framework and therefore are not insulated from being abused by some unscrupulous officials among those who manage them.

In addition, while such initiatives are commendable as they seek to address this disturbing issue of skills gap in the labour market, each of them has some shortcomings. For example, the UGVS and GTP have low coverage and therefore benefit only a very small fraction of graduates. This could probably explain why there is little information to the public concerning the existence of such schemes. As for the internship programme, it is not only given inadequate time but students are left to find placements for themselves which at times are inappropriate for meaningful work-based training.

Besides, the fact that UGVS is a donor funded scheme, its sustainability may not be guaranteed hence the need for a law to provide for its continuity in the event that such donors funding has stopped.

Since the main objective of the National Graduate Scheme Bill is to enhance graduates skills development for employability, increased productivity and competitiveness which objective is consistent with FUE priority area number one, ‘Facilitate skills for employment and development’ as contained in its Business Agenda – the lobbying tool to the government, it implies that FUE supports the said Bill. This could be subject to the issues raised in its (FUE) Position Paper that was presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development. Widening of the target group beyond university graduates is one of such issues.

Whereas unemployment tends to be high among university graduates, the objective of the scheme is to provide an opportunity for national service and to facilitate the transition from school to work. This, coupled with the fact that employers both in the public and private sectors not only employ university graduates but the diploma and certificate holders as well, suggests that this Bill needs to consider Ugandans beyond the graduates.

True, it’s an enormous task and costly venture to expand the scheme beyond the university graduates by including the Diploma holders as well given the overwhelming number of students to be involved. For instance, according to the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) records, there are 47 universities nine of which are public, 29 private and nine degree-awarding institutions. Besides the universities, there are 207 other tertiary institutions. All these send their students (products) into the world of work annually where they find a multitude of others already floating on the labour market.

Since the state of joblessness in the country is every one’s concern which affects all of us in one way or another, there is need for sobre and meaningful discussions; especially by the key stakeholders – the government, employers (private sector), workers’ unions, parents and students to be involved in which each of the fore mentioned categories of stakeholders ought to come well prepared to make consideration and compromise (sacrifice) in order to arrive at win-win situation. As they say, where there is a will there is always a way.

Similarly, it’s important that the government provides meaningful incentives to employers to provide placement opportunities for the trainees under this National Graduate Scheme as proposed in Clause 17(3) of the Bill so that a reasonable number of interns can be accommodated since such a sacrifice goes with high costs.

Therefore, it’s matter of necessity that cabinet, MPs and the general public support the passing of this Bill into law. This can be followed by consultations with all interest groups on the strategies and guidelines of creating an efficient and effective system for this National Graduate Scheme. This will ensure that the multitudes of unemployed young and educated Ugandans who are floating on the labour market and others who will graduate from the many tertiary institutions in the country can be empowered with appropriate skills of employability and self-employment together with the culture of national service and work ethics. It is through this way that the prevailing state of rampant unemployment and hopelessness especially among the majority youth can be overcome.

As rightly put by Harbison, a world renowned economist, a country which is unable to develop the skills and knowledge of its people and utilise them effectively in the national economy will be unable to develop anything else.  The development of Human Capital Quality is very essential for employability, high productivity, higher incomes and sustainable economic growth.

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Patrick Ajuna works with Federation of Uganda Employers, department of policy and research

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