Blackhole of graduate unemployment- Sustainable solution in sight?

BY: Peter Dadzie & Philip Afran Gaisie
Girls being trained in electrical repairs
Girls being trained in electrical repairs

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 European Union (EU)  and associated nations, Malta leads with 96 per cent employment of recent graduates. He further revealed that 96.4 per cent of recent graduates in the USA and 70 per cent in Australia find work soon after graduation.

The situation is, however, dire in Africa. According to a 2016 report by the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET), about 50 per cent of graduates in Africa do not find work each year.

Sadly, only 10 per cent 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.The 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 not get access to enough capital, mentoring and the needed support.

Inadequate vocational, technical and entrepreneurial education

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 programmes they are not passionate about. The few technical and vocational courses lack the practicalities.

According to an article published by The Finder Online on October 4, 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

Many graduates have innovative and entrepreneurial ideas but lack the training, mentoring and the 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 unsustainable.

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 July 19, 2021 as thousands of youth including graduates thronged there for medical screening to be recruited into the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) as reported by Modernghana.com.

Modernghana.com also reported on September 9, 2021 that thousands of unemployed youths including graduates thronged the Youth Employment Agency’s Job Fair at the AICC with their CVs for employment.

This breads 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 another 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 GH¢10,000 to GH¢15,000. 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

A lot of desperate unemployed graduates have fallen prey to fraudsters who have set up agencies under the pretence of giving them juicy jobs.

Such agencies even advertise non-existing job openings in the media, organise aptitude tests and extort huge sums of moneys 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 GH¢2,000 and GH¢7,000 to the fraudsters.

It is obvious this far that graduate unemployment is dehumanising 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 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, prioritise 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 teaming unemployed youths including graduates in the country.

The government and tertiary institutions must also actively support graduates with viable business ideas with soft loans, specialised training and mentorship so they start and sustain their businesses and employ other graduates.

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 youth including graduates who are patriotic and honestly and diligently want to serve their country.

A critical mass of highly skilled and experienced people are a sine qua non for a 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.

The writers are Peter Dadzie & Philip Afran Gaisie, MPhil Economics student, UG/District Census Officer, Akyemansa District, Ghana Statistical Service; and MA International Development Studies student, Presbyterian University College/Regional Volunteers Coordinator, Young at Heart-Ghana, respectively.