The blackhole of graduate unemployment in Ghana, will there ever be a sustainable solution?

2021 YEA Job Fair AICC Many unemployed graduates were present at the YEA Job Fair over the week

Sat, 11 Sep 2021 Source: Peter Dadzie, Philip Afrane Gaisie

Graduate unemployment, used to refer to tertiary school leavers who are willing and able to work at the going wage rate but are unable to find work, is a global problem.

In Geoff Maslen's analysis of the variation of global graduate employment in 2019, he found that, among graduates in the EU and associated nations, Malta leads with 96% employment of recent graduates. He further revealed that 96.4% of recent graduates in the USA and 70% in Australia find work soon after graduation.

The situation is however very dire in Africa. According to a 2016 report by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), about 50% of graduates in Africa do not find work each year. Sadly, only 10% of graduates in Ghana find work immediately after their mandatory national service, and it takes the remainder about 10 years to secure permanent employment, according to a report by the Institute of Statistics, Social and Economic Research (ISSER).

Using the 2020/21 service year, approximately 8,648 out of the 86,478 service personnel deployed will be employed after their national service, and it may take up to 10 years for the remaining 77,830 to be employed permanently.

However demeaning it sounds, there are little to no coordinated policies and efforts to sustainably solve the graduate unemployment menace in the country. According to a research by Kwofie, Dadzie and Dwamena (2020), the practice of winner-take-all in Ghana’s body politic gravely affects the sustainability of graduate employment interventions of successive governments.

The authors cited various employment policies such as Vision 2020, Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy, Ghana Shared Growth Development Agenda, Agenda for Jobs, etc. which had not been able to deal with the graduate unemployment menace sustainably. Nations Builders Corps (NABCO), the recent graduate employment policy by the government is also having its fair share of challenges.

Can one therefore liken graduate unemployment to a black hole? Will Ghana ever find a sustainable solution to the menace so she catches up with the developed world? A careful analysis of the causes of the menace is the first step to answering the questions as done below.

Theoretical method of teaching

Most of the models and courses taught from the basic to the tertiary institutions in the country are more theoretically inclined. This does not groom students to be more innovative, entrepreneurial and problem-solving oriented. The average graduate can only speak and write good English without the ability to identify problems and proffer sustainable solutions to them.

The few exceptional ones who are able to think outside their classroom and put together innovative ideas to set up businesses do get access to enough capital, mentoring and the needed support.

Inadequate vocational, technical and entrepreneurial education and training.

There is not much focus on enhancing the skills of graduates necessary to make them employable after school. There is a general belief that people who are well versed in vocational and technical skills are "academically poor". This notion has forced individuals to study programs they are not passionate about. The few technical and vocational courses lack the practicalities.

According to an article published by The Finder Online on 4th October 2017, which we totally agree with, vocational and technical skills improve the socio-economic conditions of the country by making the individuals employable which will encourage them to set up businesses and industries to solve the graduate unemployment menace.

Inadequate support for innovative ideas

Many graduates have innovative and entrepreneurial ideas but lack the training, mentoring and much-needed financial support. Access to funds by fresh graduates to implement their entrepreneurial and innovative ideas is next to impossible in Ghana as the banks have a plethora of requirements including collaterals unattainable by the graduates.

Even when funds are secured, the interests on them are too much and coupled with the numerous corporate taxes, cost of electricity, and many others, the cost of starting a business becomes overly unbearable making startups unstainable. It is not surprising to see many startups fold up within a few years of establishments with the owners in heavy debts.

The graduate unemployment menace has a number of symptoms which we explore below;

Protocol job placements

There is always a mad rush for the few job openings in the country. This happened at the El Wak Sports Stadium in Accra on 19th July 2021 as thousands of youths including graduates thronged there for medical screening to be recruited into the Ghana Army as reported by Modernghana.com.

Modernghana.com also reported on 9th September, 2021 that thousands of unemployed youths including graduates thronged the Youth Employment Agency’s Job Fair at AICC with their CVs for employment. This bleeds nepotism popularly known as "who you know" instead of "what you know" in Ghana.

Usually, people associated with the political class or other elites get employed easily leaving the equally or many times highly qualified graduates with no connections wasting money and time moving from one job interview to the other to no avail. Also graduates are asked to pay huge sums of money before they are employed. It is rumored that, before one will be enlisted into any of Ghana’s security services, one needs to pay 10,000 to 15,000 cedis. Once you are able to cough out that amount, your qualification does not matter at all thereby putting square pegs in round holes and hampering our progress.

Recruitment scam on the rise

A lot of desperate unemployed graduates have fallen prey to fraudsters who have set up agencies under the pretense of giving them juicy jobs. Such agencies even advertise non-existing job openings in the media, organize aptitude tests and extort huge sums of money from unemployed graduates.

According to a Ghanaian Times report on February 28, 2015, hundreds of youths thronged five police training depots across the country for enlistment into the Ghana Police Service (GPS), only to discover that they were victims of the biggest recruitment scam in the history of the security service. The victims revealed that they paid between 2,000 and 7,000 cedis to the fraudsters.

Dear reader, it is obvious this far that graduate unemployment is dehumanizing in Ghana and therefore coordinated policies and efforts must be directed at dealing with it sustainably as it is the surest way to end armed robbery, and other social vices perpetrated by some unemployed graduates. We end by proffering pragmatic solutions to the graduate unemployment menace.

First, technical, vocational and entrepreneurial training should be topmost on the list of priorities of the government and institutions of higher learning in Ghana. It is surprising to know that most technical universities in the country mount much more humanities and social sciences-related programmes than technical and vocational programmes. When all is said and done, skills acquisition as opposed to just ‘chewing and pouring’ of knowledge should be revered, supported and embraced by all.

Moreover, lend us your ears dear graduates. Your human capital development must be paramount to yourself. Your destiny is in your hands. Therefore, prioritize the acquisition of soft skills such as public speaking, communication, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving skills and many more.

Again, governments must continue to do more in partnering the private sector to provide much more opportunities to the teeming unemployed youths including graduates in the country. The government and tertiary institutions must also actively support graduates with viable business ideas with soft loans, specialized training and mentorship so they start and sustain their businesses and employ other graduates.

The government should as a matter of urgency scrap the sale of forms for enlistment into the various security services in the country. This is a burden to the already broke and worried unemployed youths including graduates who are patriotic and honestly and diligently want to serve their country.

To conclude, a critical mass of highly skilled and experienced people is a sine qua non for the sustained growth and development of the Ghanaian economy.

Let’s not look unconcerned as most of our graduates become wastes and a burden to their families and the country. All relevant persons and agencies should act now.

Columnist: Peter Dadzie, Philip Afrane Gaisie