THE MISSING ELEMENT – HOW GOVERNMENT COULD PARTNER WITH TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS AND THE INDUSTRY TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF SKILLED TRAINING AND GRADUATE LABOUR MARKET IN GHANA
In this article, I seek to address both the short and long term solutions to the graduate unemployment situation in Ghana. The objective is to propose a policy strategy for sustainable employment creation and graduate future skills training in Ghana which could lead to productivity, economic growth and an efficient labour force.
In Ghana, graduate unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the Government. Unemployment, in recent times, has emerged as one of the central focuses of global economies. The situation in Ghana is not different than other Sub-Saharan African countries, particularly in West Africa where graduate unemployment is most prevalent. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in their report “Global Employment Trends 2014” noted that global employment is not expanding sufficiently fast to keep up with the growing labour, and if the trends continue, global unemployment is set to worsen further.
The Government of Ghana is particularly concerned with unemployment among the youth (6.1 percent in 2005 for 15-24 years old), which has been attributable to the rapid population growth rate of the youth, the rapid urbanization rate, the quality of labour supply, and low labour absorption rate of the economy (World Bank, 2009).
Graduate unemployment can have many adverse effects on both the economy and society. It is a potential threat to national security, places a huge financial burden on Government, drives down wages, reduces tax revenues, increases crime and violence, lowers standard of living and contributes to loss of confidence/depression among graduates. Probably, the rise of graduate unemployment could be attributed to the gradual collapse of industries at a time when there has been increase in the number of tertiary graduates. In Ghana, there are 152 tertiary institutions (public and private universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education and nursing) with an estimated annual graduate turnover of over 300,000 students in 2012/2013 academic year. The table below shows the trend in tertiary student enrolment:
|TREND OF STUDENT ENROLMENT|
|Public Tertiary Institutions||152,424||199,673||31%|
|Private Tertiary Institutions||47,180||62,495||32%|
|Colleges of Education||27,362||38,409||40%|
|Colleges of Nursing and Midwifery||4,505||6,082||35%|
|TOTAL STUDENT ENROLMENT||277,692||358,699||29%|
|Source: National Accreditation Board – “Tertiary Education Statistics Report” (Oct. 2015)|
Graduate unemployment was not much of a major issue in Ghana until the late 1960s when Ghana experienced a series of coup d’états between 1966-1981, resulting in a serious economic problems which led to the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) with the IMF and World Bank, to save the situation. However, according to Poku-Boansi & Afrane (2011), although the employment situation in Ghana has not been very favourable over the years, the situation has worsened in the last two decades because of structural economic reforms introduced into the economy. In fact, employment levels started a downward trend at the inception of the second phase of the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) in 1986 when retrenchment and redeployment policies were introduced.
Several Governments struggled with the battle of coming-up with ideas to address youth unemployment. Alternatively, politicians or leaders in different regimes have tried to provide ad hoc solutions to the problem of youth unemployment, probably, to partially meet their political promises. However, there has been very little, if any, concrete long-term strategic policies exist, to provide sustainable future skill training and employment for the youth.
OECD (2014), in its report titled “Effective local strategies to boost quality job creation, employment, and participation”, noted that “Central governments manage a range of policies whose impact can reinforce each other and contribute to fulfilling economic potential, business expansion and social cohesion at the local level. Job creation can be stimulated through a stable macroeconomic framework, but also structural policies which encourage innovation, skills, and business development. In order for new jobs to be created, businesses need access to skilled people”. The problem of graduate unemployment could raise questions on the focus of Government priorities and leadership. A successful leader is one who leaves a good legacy for his predecessors. Good leadership, and willingness, could influence government priorities to focus on initiating strategic policies that can
stimulate stable macro economy and industry development to prepare the groundwork for employment creation and skills development.
The National Youth Employment Program (NYEP) is the main employment program. Ghana has a number of employment-related programs, such as the Special Presidential Initiatives (SPI), the Rural Enterprise Development Program (REDP), the National Board of Small Scale Enterprises (NBSSE), and others run by a number of sectoral ministries and agencies. However, the NYEP is the only major program that focuses primarily on job creation, with the rest targeting overall poverty reduction and private sector development rather than job creation per se (World Bank, 2009).
In 2006, Ghana government initiated the NYEP now the Youth Employment Agency (YEA), to address the country’s youth unemployment, with the aim of empowering Ghanaian youth so they could contribute positively to the socio-economic and sustainable development of the nation. The program had about nine models such as youth in ‘education’, ‘health’, ‘agriculture’, ‘waste & sanitation, ‘trade & vocation’, ‘youth in paid internship’, among others. So far the program has impacted positively on apprenticeship development. Unfortunately, since its establishment, there have been issues regarding mismanagement and embezzlement of funds, from Manasi Azure’s investigative findings which is still having some pending issues to be addressed. However, in my view, the program is indeed a good policy; but perhaps, the key model that needs to be readdressed and possibly broadened further is the “youth in paid internship”. From the National Accreditation Board’s data, there are an estimated number of over 300,000 students graduate annually from tertiary institutions, but very few of these graduates are beneficiaries of the YEA program. The program should be targeted at students who are still in school to give them basic work experience, inculcate in them good working culture and help shape their career path to decide who they want to become. If we want to equip the youth with entrepreneurial skills and also improve the quality of human resource, we must do so whilst they are in school.
The Educational System and the Labour Market
Ghana has been successful in expanding basic education, but challenges remain, among others, in ensuring that the education and training system allows youth and older workers to acquire skills and return, when needed, for further education (World Bank, 2009). This statement from the world goes to suggest that the existing perception held by the Ghanaian public that the current education system practiced in Ghana is more theory-concentrated and has very little link with industry needs, which in our local terrene is termed “chew and pour; pass and forget”, is actually true. Education is a social experience and should therefore have a combination of both classroom learning and active engagement in practice. According to Grugulis (2007), the highly regarded German apprenticeship is one of the best known rotes to achieving vocational qualifications. Full apprenticeships last three years and participants spend one or two days a week in the classroom and three or four in the workplace.
Every education system must have a clear vision and goals on its philosophy, content, the process of teaching and learning in shaping the future skills and build quality human resource. It should also have a link to the industry needs and the ability to impact on economic development. As a country, if we want to solve the graduate unemployment problem, create sustainable employment opportunities and promote youth skills development, we must restructure our education system to have a combined classroom with vocational or industrial attachment.
In my opinion, the problem of unemployment in Ghana is embedded in our educational structure, such that students do not get the right skills and vocational training to prepare them for the industrial world, leading to poor ‘working culture’ of the workforce. Currently, students spend six/seven years from high school to tertiary level, and yet in each vocation throughout this period, students are home idling about. So, for these six or so years, the large number of students only read theories but has no clue about what is happening in the practical world.
However, students are faced with a myriad of challenges when looking for placement to do internships during long vacation periods. Meanwhile, these idle times could have contributed in boosting the economy by way of productivity. The impact of this to the economy is that it creates a lot of waste, crime, laziness and low productivity. Imagine how, during each long vacation for many years, tens of thousands of tertiary students would be home idling about, which could potentially divert their minds to other vices. Commendably, some tertiary institutions have incorporated industrial attachment as part of their academic curricular in the final year. However, the challenge has been that most organisations are reluctant at accepting students for internship, making it difficult to achieve its intended objective.
Policy Proposal to Address Future Skill Training and Employment Creation
In this article, I suggest that Government should lay the groundwork by engaging the business community and the association of tertiary institutions (both public and private) to adopt the under listed policy measures towards shaping the future skills of the youth. This, I believe, could help reduce unemployment in the long-run and enhance productivity and quality human resource capacity. Below are the policy measures for government’s consideration:
- Industrial attachment or internship should be made compulsory as part of the academic curricular for students from first to final year of study in each vocation, with only one or two week(s) leave period.
- All business entities (including public organisations) should be obliged to engage a quota of students for internship / industrial attachment in their respective organisations, of which failure to engage students by any company, should attract a penalty (e.g. a levy of 1% on turnover or profit). However, the activities should be well-guided and monitored to avoid students being abused to serving individuals instead of engaging in work.
- In the short-run, parents could bear the transportation costs of their wards for mutual sacrifices. However, in the long-run Government should explore ways to establish a fund that could take up the transportation costs, similar to how the national service scheme operates.
I believe the above measures are very feasible, and if successfully implemented, could impact positively by enhancing the quality of the workforce, as well as productivity and economic growth. I urge that Government adopts these measures and assess its impact on Ghana’s economy in the next ten (10) years and beyond.
Students engaging in the industrial attachment will be expected to follow the laid-down guidelines relating to work ethics. The main purpose is to prepare students by giving them first-hand experience on how businesses operate and industrial practices. It is also expected to expose students to the practical aspects of the theories learnt in the classroom and give them experiences in their work profession. This would equip them with more skills, enable them acquire more experience, learn about the work ethics, discipline and how people and organisations relate in the real world. Students’ entrepreneurial skills would also be improved as they become more creative and innovative. On the other hand, companies would not struggle to recruit workers when the need arises, as they will find graduates with practical work experiences.
For example, according to Grugulis (2007), regulation may take a variety of forms. In France, employers are required to support training or pay a levy of 1.5 per cent of turnover plus an apprenticeship tax 0.5 per cent of turnover to the state. In Austria, Denmark , Germany , the Netherlands and Switzerland, there are systems of extensive and rigorous apprenticeships which attract high proportions of young people entering the labour market (Steedman 2001), coupled with licenses to practice for particular occupations. The assumption is that vocational education and training is a public good and it is in the long term interests of all to have a highly skilled workforce – but that, left to themselves, individual firms will prioritize profitability and may not invest in skills development or may fund only short term and low level training; according to Streeck (1992:17).
The process of teaching and learning of our educational system should be tailored-made to meet industry needs. Ironically, in most cases, some firms/organisations have refused to engage students for internship even when students were willing to cater for their own transport cost and upkeep. Meanwhile, the same institutions always seek graduates who have had some years of work experience as part of a job requirement. I think this is not good enough. How do we expect graduates to get the experience needed for employment if they are not engaged in any internship whilst in school? Building the skills and capacity of graduates has many long-term benefits for all stakeholders. Firms that create only those skills that they need may well end up with less than they need. Cost and profit-consciousness are more part of the problem than the solution (Grugulis, 2007). Nevertheless, a few organisations are doing quite well by engaging students to do their internships during long vacations. For instance, Tullow Oil Ghana has an annual internship program which is commendable to note.
There is the need for our leaders and policy makers to find lasting and sustainable solutions to the problem of graduate unemployment in Ghana. The current generation is expected to provide a good foundation for succeeding generations to build upon. It is therefore incumbent on us as a nation, to provide a sustainable solution for employment creation and future skills training for coming generations. In other words, failure to do this would mean that every time we make ‘one step’ progress, the consequences of the ‘paranoid’ unemployment could drag us ‘two steps’ backwards. For children to live up to their potentials, parents must live up to their obligation, and government must live up to its obligations as well.
May God bless mother Ghana and the world at large.
By Abdul-Fatawu Hakeem
- Ghana National Accreditation Board, 2015, ‘Tertiary Education Statistics Report’.
- Grugilis, I., 2007, ‘Skills, training and human resource development. A critical text’. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Ministry of Education, Ghana, 2013, ‘Education Sector Performance Report’.
- OECD, 2014, ‘Effective local strategies to boost quality job creation, employment, and participation’, report prepared for the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting Melbourne, Australia.
- Poku-Boansi, M. and Afrane, S. (2011). Magnitude and Impact of Youth Unemployment in Ghana.
- Sullivan, R., 2001, ‘Voluntary approaches: an assessment and overview’, Presentation at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Conference, Corporate Social Responsibility: From Words to Actions, Chatham House, London.
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO), 2014, ‘Global Employment Trends 2014’.
- World Bank, 2009, ‘Ghana job creation and skills development, Main report (no.40328-GH), vol. 1.
- Youth Employment Agency, Ghana – www.yea.gov.gh