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Ghanaian youth unemployment- Need for voluntarism, internship, apprenticeship, and self-employment interventions?
By Dr Kwesi Atta Sakyi
4th September, 2015
Massive youth unemployment of 60% in Ghana is defined as among those aged 15 to 25 years of age. The rate is even higher among females. Last year, about 430,000 students sat the BECE exams and about half passed to progress to senior high school. The WASSCE results came out recently and about a quarter of the nearly 200,000 candidates made it to tertiary institutions. So every year, approximately 300,000 youth fail to continue their education for failing to pass their exams, and they pour into the labour market.
Of late, the problem of massive youth unemployment in the world has taken centre stage, and the problem is not peculiar to Ghana alone as it has become endemic worldwide. The problem does not seem to be going away as governments around the world have failed to come up with clear-cut policies and programmes to address this burning issue. The problem has reached agenda status and it should be thrown into the policy arenas of world bodies like the EU, UN and AU.
With China and India’s economies currently growing at 7% as against 11% a few years ago, one wonders whether the youth unemployment rate in the world will not get worse, seeing the economic uptake of the world’s largest economy, China, has slowed down, though that of the USA is on the upward trajectory and on the mend, with August posting 173,000 brand new jobs created.
The high magnitude of youth unemployment in Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring when and where a young university graduate who was unemployed and so frustrated, was driven from pillar to post by his unrelenting local council tax officials. Their inhumane actions towards him forced him to commit suicide by dousing himself with petrol and setting himself ablaze.
That singular act of self-inflicted martyrdom sent shock waves around the world as the social media of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, among many others, and the international media of TV and cable network disseminated and circulated the gruesome photos and news around the world. It spread fast like Harmattan wildfire. So also is the current coverage of hordes and swarms of migrants pouring like soldier and driver ants into the EU countries raising the hubbub and hullaballoo, and it has become a horrendous human catastrophe of gargantuan proportions to behold on the TV screens.
That incident of the martyr, Mohamed Bouazizi, in Tunisia on 17th December, 2010 soon ballooned into a malignant maelstrom and within days, many Arab countries had cashed in on the story and capitalised on it to launch their own resentment against the current global economic paradigm of the ever-widening income gap between the haves and have-nots.
The Arabs initiated riots and demonstrations, first against their own oppressive regimes at home, and secondly against the powers-that-be who have unleashed lop-sided and unfair trade arrangements, Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP), Heavily-Indebted Poor Country Initiatives (HIPIC), Enhanced Poverty Reduction Programmes, highly disintermediated supply chains, and implementation of other brutally detrimental and socially-destructive capitalist claptrap, and unworkable economic policy panacea packages which were proffered to the poor countries via liberalised trade protocols, archaic mercantilist beggar-my-neighbour economic reforms and arrangements, among others, forgetting that the best arrangements for long term sustainability is a world of ‘live and let’s live’ or a win-win arrangement.
The poor indebted countries had to swallow the bitter pill prescriptions in order to be considered for vulture-fund bailouts, and they had no option but to accept the economic reform conditionalities as if under duress. The poor developing countries facing balance of payments deficits, budget deficits, and dire economic straits had to bite the bullet, and swallow the policy prescriptions hook, line and sinker, or lock, stock, and barrel. Many viable and some not- so -viable but strategic state-owned enterprises in Ghana like Ghana Telecoms (GT), Ghana Airways, State Transport Corporation (STC), Black Star Line (BSL), Nsawam Canneries, among many others, were privatised or they went under divestiture, and some thousands of their workers were retrenched and thrown out into the cold without proper compensation. Suddenly, we beheld the spectre of street adults.
Some of those lucrative state establishments were sold for a song. Of course, before their offloading into the private sector, some had been poorly managed and abused due to political corruption, political interference, ineptitude, nepotism, and vandalism. In the midst of all that, in 1986, Ghana introduced massification of secondary education, converting the former middle schools into makeshift junior secondary schools, and making education readily accessible to all and sundry through compulsory and relatively free education, echoing the eleemosynary economics of the immediate post-independence days in the early 60s.
That was the genesis of the current youth unemployment problem afflicting us here now in Ghana. Had some of our state-owned corporations been conscious of value-addition, wastage minimisation, and prudent best practices, they would perhaps have escaped the axe. Be that as it may, that is history now.
Various governments in Ghana have come up with various schemes and outfits to deal with youth unemployment, and we have not been short of acronyms. Kufuor initiated the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP). Since then, we have had SADA, YES, GYEEDA, among others. Despite the existence of these money-wasting and high sounding but phoney outfits, nothing has happened to abate the storm of youth unemployment in Ghana as the problem gets worse every year.
With the introduction of massification of secondary education in 1986, quality education has been sacrificed on the altar of quantity and political expediency. School facilities have been over-stretched as the supply of trained teachers is far lagging behind demand, and classrooms are also not enough anywhere in the country. Hopefully, the current regime’s promise to build 250 new Senior High Secondary Schools throughout Ghana should come in handy if they put their money where their mouth is or walk the tall talk of delivering on their promises. The private sector is chipping in as we are seeing many individuals and organisations setting up parallel quality private secondary schools to run alongside some of the run-down public sector schools.
It is worth noting that the World Bank has bought into the idea of beefing up quality education in our senior secondary schools, and has come on board by providing a loan of 156 million (USD) dollars as of May 2014, to help the programme materialise through the Secondary Education Improvement Project (SEIP). Currently, funds are not enough to run the schools efficiently in Ghana, as many public secondary schools have had to rely on central government capitation grants to meet needs like buying chalk, books, science equipment, chemicals, and specimens, school furniture, among others. These grants are paltry, and they trickle in in dribbles and driblets. Schools are forced to increase boarding fees every now and then but they are sometimes restrained by ministerial caveats and fiats.
We should remember that education and health care are merit goods which should be readily available to all, on account of their enormous contribution to positive externalities and long term economic growth, as shown by the great economic strides made in the Scandinavian countries where they pursued the welfare state and invested heavily in human capital. Economic models of eminent economists such as Solow, Cobb-Douglas, Kuznets, Leontif, Harrod–Domar, among others, attest to the macroeconomic benefits of investment in human capital. However, these models do not seem to work well for developing countries like Ghana because of leakages in our systems and sometimes weak and uncoordinated policies, weak governance systems, and weak institutions.
Britain, Canada, and most OECD countries have prospered through their subsidisation of education, health care, and other social and public infrastructure such as housing, urban transport, skills training centres, among others. After the introduction of the 1992 Constitution in Ghana, there was politicisation of the local government system by converting it into the current District and Municipal Assemblies, which are led most times by lack-lustre party cadres and apparatchiks, some of whom are half-baked government-imposed functionaries and foot soldiers or government appointees, as they are popularly called. This follows the famous ‘Spoils system’ introduced into the USA by former President Andrew Jackson in the mid-19th century, and which has long been discarded by them.
The bastardisation of the local government system in Ghana through its politicisation in 1992 calls for a radical overhaul and reform of our current inoperable local government. It is the curse and bane of all our woes in Ghana because development should be bottom up and not top down. GIMPA (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration) and the political science faculties at Legon and KNUST should research the current state of our local government system and offer policy guidelines to government for urgent and immediate reforms, perhaps reverting to the old system which served us well in the past, and which continues to offer best practice in other countries such as the UK, South Africa, the USA, among others.
The reform should strengthen decentralisation and empower the governments at the grassroots to generate their own incomes and initiate local projects to create jobs for the youth. This should follow the principle of subsidiarity whereby subsidiaries take actions germane to their localities and then submit reports to headquarters.
Before the current secondary school system was implemented in 1986, no proper long term planning strategies were put in place, nor thorough research carried out as to its long term viability, suitability, feasibility, acceptability, attractiveness, competitiveness, efficacy, and the assessment of the quality of its end results or outcomes. Ad-hoc measures were implemented in a stop-gap cycle and khakistocratic manner. To add salt to injury, many trained personnel in education, health, engineering, and other critical sectors of the Ghanaian economy left the country in droves in the brain-drain wave when some of them found the economic imbroglio and political dispensation unbearable. Some of them were also dejected by the political ethos in vogue then.
Back in the Arab world, following the Tunisian incident, demonstrators had demanded for socio-politico-economic reforms. The wind of change blew across Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, among others in the Middle East. Fortunately for us, it did not reach us in sub-Saharan Africa. On our part, some of our many unemployed youth, as of now, rather choose quietly to demonstrate frustration in life with their feet by becoming economic migrants, trekking across the Sahara Desert to places like Libya where they hope to take the perilous sea crossing across the boisterous and tempestuous Mediterranean Sea to reach places like Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Lesbos, Lampedusa, among others, in their quest to access the elusive and imaginary Golden Fleece, greener pastures, and the El Dorado.
Unfortunately, some never make it to their cherished dream destinations in Germany or UK or Netherlands, as they either tragically get drowned in the Mediterranean or they get locked up in foreign prisons, or they end up on harsh times in cold, hostile, and inclement climes, where the cultural shock is enough to jolt them out of their senses, and then they begin to have nostalgic feelings of home sweet home. For, there is the saying that, “East, west, home best”. Agony sets in when they are trapped in foreign lands, and they cannot come home. They become illegal immigrants, anomie, and sometimes stateless if they have lost all their travelling documents.
It is high time our Junior High School (JHS) students in Ghana were introduced to the rudiments of entrepreneurship so that they chart their own career paths early. Career Counsellors and guidance teachers should be attached to all schools to direct students to follow and nurture their dreams by working on developing their talents. Many students should be guided to enter the middle level jobs by becoming artisans and designers such as carpenters, masons, mechanics, interior decorators, draughtsmen, farmers, tailors and seamstresses, drivers, footballers, sports men and women, estate developers, among others.
If the youth are empowered with skills, they can set up on their own without becoming a burden to anyone or themselves. They can band together to form small contracting firms to gain some synergies. They should research online and learn how to write bankable business plans for setting up as sole traders or companies, business proposals for setting up NGOs, and also they should read around the legal structures of different business entities.
They should research online about the regulations in Ghana regarding the establishment of businesses and research on sources of finance for SMEs and NGOs. They should research on market gaps which exist and which need exploiting. For instance, if you have a talent for painting houses or cooking or making furniture or baking, you can start in a small way by setting up a small sole enterprise to get contracts for painting houses or providing food at weddings, funerals, and other social events, or opening up a restaurant. You can get some friends together and follow your dream as Bill Gates did when he was in his final year at Harvard.
You should research on job opportunities and adverts which exist but you should be extra careful because there are out there many scammers and fake adverts. You should know how to prepare excellent CVs, how to prepare simple cash flow forecasts for your proposed business. If you seek a job, walk to offices and working places to drop your CVs and chat with your prospective employers. To look for a job requires tenacity, resilience, creativity, drive, and self-confidence. Have faith and do not quit searching. Avoid get-rich-quick routes such as Sakawa or becoming an internet scammer. Use your social networks or family contacts also to help you get a job. Above all, ensure you have acquired higher qualifications through undertaking many courses, both long term and short term ones.
We need to have well organised artisanal guilds or professionalised groupings to oversee the professional competence of newly graduated artisans. These should serve as gatekeepers and oversight regulators. They could also help registered members to locate vacant job openings. President Obama in his speech in Accra some time ago in 2009 said that Africa needs strong institutions rather than strong men and women, and he was perfectly right. The District and Municipal Assemblies have to set up skills and community training centres across the country in partnership with NGOs and private corporate entities that can fund such ventures. We should seek Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) with both local and foreign entities.
Furthermore, the old system of apprenticeship has to be revived and formalised to create avenues for imparting skills to the youth in the informal sector. We should foster coaching and mentorship of the youth. Non-formal and Adult Education should be revived to give people a second chance in education. Many youth who are unemployed but have academic potential to further their education should be encouraged and assisted financially to continue their education in order to increase their skills set, their employability, and also increase human capacity in the country.
Schools should encourage organisation of science and technological innovation fairs and competitions, so that those who show promise, ingenuity, and innovation can be identified for financial sponsorship to enable them set up their businesses and become business tycoons and magnates like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, William Buffet, Donald Trump, Mo Ibrahim, Aliko Dangote, Azuma Banda, Agambire, Swaniker, Awuah, and Apostle Kweku Osafo. Corporate houses in Ghana should be encouraged to twin or partner with schools and colleges so that they can have input into school and college curriculum design by stating the skills they are interested in. Corporate entities should be persuaded to create avenues for students to do internships with them so that they expose students early to the world of work.
All secondary schools and tertiary institutions in Ghana should be made to introduce practical training and internship programmes as part of their final assessment for their final year students so as to help them acquire some skills such as people skills, interpersonal skills, ICT skills, managerial skills of decision making, problem-solving skills, among others. We need to close the industry and school gap in the country where we do have a mismatch between what students are taught and what actually obtains on the ground in industry. Schools should arrange motivational talks by successful people to inspire the youth to have role models, and also help them shape their future careers.
In Ghana, we do not have enough middle level workers such as artisans, nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists, fabricators, among others, but rather, we have many university graduates and diploma holders from the polytechnics with HNDs. However, the question goes begging, “Where will these middle level workers work even when we have produced enough of them?” We do lack industrial clusters and heavy industrialisation base. We should begin to think of using ECOWAS to create industrial clusters and hubs to link up with COMESA in East and Southern Africa.
These industrial hubs and clusters will create many dependencies and jobs in the supply chain, and hopefully our youth will find jobs. There is a gross anomaly in Africa because in advanced countries like the UK, Germany, and others, the reverse is the case where they have more middle level technician workers than university graduates, and there, we find no labour mobility rigidities because of enhancement of human rights and free movements across borders within the EU.
EU citizens can relocate anywhere or work anywhere without many restrictions. They have created a large market and added value to their own businesses through intra-EU trade creation and trade diversion. They have removed information asymmetries, incomplete contracts, logistics nightmares, and reduced considerably the cost of transactions through having tighter supply chains, and low cost of production, technological inter-linkages, and deriving economies of scope and scale from industrial clusters, following the Diamond model of Michael Porter. They have joint research initiatives and joint projects.
In Ghana, we should emphasise the teaching of Technical Drawing in all schools as it is the basis for technological breakthrough. This is what happens in Russia, Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, USA, Germany, among others. Many times on this forum, many contributors have advocated for the introduction of STEM education in Ghana as an intervention but how many times should we be harping on the importance of strengthening the teaching of Science, Technology, English, and Mathematics education in our schools and colleges?
The Royal Society in the UK sends me updates on these issues, so we had better take note and borrow a leaf from them. I was recently privileged and honoured to be invited to attend the Oxford Round Table Conference in July (from 19th July to 22nd July 2015) to present a paper on Early Childhood Education, which gave me a lot of insight into best practices elsewhere from papers presented by other presenters from countries such as Singapore, Australia, China, Saudi Arabia, Canada, South Korea, Namibia, USA, Zambia, and New Zealand.
Many youth do not know that in this day and age, it is difficult to find ready-made jobs. Young graduates should take the bull by its horns and walk into workplaces to sell themselves and to ask to do voluntary work. Through voluntary work, their work ethic, character, attitudes, passion for work, integrity, ingenuity, and zeal will be noted and they can be offered permanent or contract jobs.
They should be prepared to take on lowly- remunerated jobs to acquire skills first, and also to enrich their CVs. Modern day employers are looking for multi-talented and multi-skilled workers with leadership and personable people skills who can work in teams. I remember in the mid-60s when I was in the teacher training college, every holiday, for four years, I did voluntary teaching of form four pupils preparing for the Middle School Leaving Certificate (MSLC) examination at my former school, the Winneba Methodist Middle Boys School which was located very close to my house. The Winneba Methodist Girls’ School also brought their girls to join the boys and I took them in English, Mathematics, Geography, and History, which are my strengths.
In 1977, while in my second year at the University of Ghana, Legon, my cousin invited me to Takoradi to help him with his A Levels preparation. Whilst there, I sought voluntary vacation employment with the then Western Region headquarters of the then Ghana Posts and Telecommunications Corporation. I was attached to the mason’s department where we were making heavy concrete slabs for covering some cable joints. The slabs measured about four feet by two and half feet, by 4 inches thick, and they were indeed very heavy.
Coming from a background of masons with my father and two brothers and a maternal uncle being masons, I was familiar with how to mix concrete and deal with mortar. We had to move the heavy slabs with wheelbarrows after they were dry and set. Many white collar workers at PTC, Takoradi, were astounded and flabbergasted that an Economics undergraduate major would be found doing such heavy duty and risky job on volunteering basis.
I even caught the attention of the MD, one Mr Cudjoe, and his deputy, one affable Mr Mensah. I did it knowing I was serving mother Ghana, and also to send a message around that we can both do academic and manual labour and we lose nothing into the bargain, but rather enrich our insight by gaining everything.
These days, many employers want to save on labour cost. Unemployed youth can volunteer to teach in schools or gather the village kids and start teaching them, and they will get noticed. They can likewise volunteer to work for churches, hospitals, supermarkets, and other faith-based organisations and NGOs, and reap the results later. If you have no job, continue studying by taking courses online or part-time or evening study programmes.
But remember, there is no ready-made job that comes on a silver platter. You have to search and sweat for it. Volunteer first by sacrificing to work for free to acquire skills, and then you will get noticed and then be offered a job. If you are an unemployed youth reading this, remember the old adage, “A rolling stone gathers no moss”. Cast your bucket where you are and you could make a big catch rather than migrating to Europe or the USA or any advanced country where life is really demanding and taxing.
There is no place like home. Make the best of the resources in your God-given country and environment. There is nothing special out there where you want to go because some of them also envy your country and want to come and settle or work there. So stay at home and guard your assets. This is my own piece of advice to you then youth in Ghana to stay at home. The risks involved in being outside are high. You are better off being home with all the Dumsor or power blackouts. There is the Akan proverb which states’ No matter how tainted or reddish your teeth are; they are the only ones you have for licking around’.
By Dr Kwesi Atta Sakyi
4th September, 2015
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