Apprenticeship Will Not Solve Ghana’s Unemployment Problems

Thu, 22 May 2014 Source: Pobee-Mensah, Tony

Apprenticeship works, and Germany has used apprenticeship very successfully in recent years to solve youth unemployment problems in Germany. Germany has industries. CEOs of those industries are looking at the bottom line of their industries so they want to put people with experience on the job rather than hire and train people with no experience. In comes the German government offering to pay part of the wages if industries hire the inexperienced youth and train them thereby making it cheaper for industries to create entry level jobs and there lies the success of Germany’s apprentice program.

If VALCO for instance has a need for skilled labor and would sit and complain that there is no skilled labor in Ghana rather than doing something about it, then I would have no respect for the leaders of VALCO. Industries and Universities work together all the time to ensure that the universities are graduating people for the jobs that are available.

As a matter of fact, I used to work for a university, and in a meeting, the President of the university said that industries were telling them (University Presidents) that they needed people who understood engineering and had a solid training in the Humanities and social sciences, so he was creating a new degree course in Industrial Engineering. I later steered my niece into Industrial Engineering and she got a job right away with General Motors on graduating. Not many years ago I have received a letter from an old dean saying that a company had provided funds for scholarship for people taking CNC (Computer Numeric Controls) which is used in industries to control machines in manufacturing and that he was recruiting.

What are VALCO’s labor needs? How many VALCOs are there and what are their labor needs? We do not have much of an industry to create jobs and no apprenticeship program will solve that problem. Besides a few industrial jobs and government jobs, all we have is a massive merchandising “industry” and you don’t need much of a training to get job in that industry.

In actuality, Ghana has an apprentice program called “National Service.” What could be more of an apprentice job than that? You can put someone on national service in a classroom to be a pupil teacher or you can put the same person at VALCO to learn skills that will get him or her a job at VALCO. The real problem may be that we are not putting people on national service at the right places if we indeed have a need for apprenticeship. I do not believe that is the problem. I will give the plight of my own nephew as an example.

After graduating with a degree in computer science, he got a national service job at the parliament. He thought that would lead to a permanent job with parliament. This was under Kuffour’s government. When a new government came, he was let go. If parliament had a need for the skills that he had learnt, he would have had the job. He was there only because they made room for national service not because there was a need for a new computer scientist. Let me say those skills didn’t get him a job elsewhere. If there were jobs, I am sure he would have found something to do with his degree and the skills he got from working at Parliament.

Though I do not think apprenticeship is our problem, I will say this. We look at apprenticeship as someone learning to be a “fitter” as we call it. In America, they call them Mechanics and Mechanics in America make a good portion of the American middle class. It is our government that should be pointing this fact out to us. Our government should provide the environment for us to see that a “fitter” is a worthwhile job. How? We have a Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations, don’t we?

I recently had work done on my car. The mechanic told me how many hours it would take to do the job and how much he charged per hour. I listen to a show on the radio called “Car Talk”. The guys on the show have said over and over again that if it takes your mechanic as long as the book says to do the job, you should find a new mechanic. The fact is Automobile manufacturers put out how long it takes to do a particular repair on their cars. Often it won’t take as long as they say, but that’s how much they will charge you for the job no matter what. So how much the mechanic charges per hour and how much the parts cost and the hours the book says it will take determines your cost. There is no getting around it.

Our Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations should be publishing a list of certain repair work on many things like plumbing repairs, car repairs, electrical repairs and list how many hours can be charged for a job and what the recommended hourly rate is, and they should encourage people in these trades to abide by the list. I doubt if it will take too much convincing. We just may be on our way to creating new income group that may be attractive to the unemployed and possibly create a new group who will pay taxes and help the national coffers.

It is not the skills that we lack; it is the job that is not there. If we had the jobs, we would do what it took to get the skills. I have not heard that industries are going outside to find the skills they need yet and that should tell us all that we need to know. Otherwise we would be assuming that industries have needs for skilled labor and they are not doing anything about it. I believe that would be a wrong assumption.

Incidentally we can always do what Nigeria is doing: They just had a commission recommend that they pay each graduate without a job about 300 Ghana Cedis worth of Niara to help put a lid on unrest.

As I have said before, our government is a window through which outsiders look to see Ghana and through which we look to see the outside. If Ghanaians don’t know any better, our government should bring “it” to us. UK brought in a former General Motors Executive called John DeLorean to start a new automobile industry to create jobs in Ireland. Even though the venture didn’t work out well, Ghana can look at it and maybe mimic it and create an appliance industry making sure to work to avoid the pitfalls the UK fell into. Though not big, little things like this can start to set us in the right direction. It certainly is better than doing nothing. We are quite experienced in doing nothing. We must change that.


Columnist: Pobee-Mensah, Tony