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The intractable youth unemployment

BY: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
Youth queued up at the El-Wak stadium for the GIS recruitment exercise last year
Youth queued up at the El-Wak stadium for the GIS recruitment exercise last year

I am absolutely indebted to you, Speaker, for this opportunity to make a statement on what is undoubtedly Ghana's most pressing and intractable crisis – youth unemployment.

Mr Speaker, the 2021 Population and Housing Census (PHC) conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) did not only reveal that Ghana’s population had increased from 24,658,823 in 2010 to 30,832,019 in 2021; it also revealed rather depressingly that the unemployment rate had almost tripled in about a decade.

The census indicates that more than 1.55 million people or 13.4 per cent of Ghana’s economically active population are out of work — this compares to a jobless rate of 5.3 per cent in the 2010 census.

According to the 2021 census, the unemployment figure gets even more precarious when data is analysed for the 15 to 24 years category — unemployment for that age bracket jumps to a staggering 32.8 per cent.

As the unemployment situation worsens, we seem also to be running out of time.

Paragraph 33 of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government which was presented to this House on November 17, 2021 by Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, projects that by 2024, six million young Ghanaians will join the labour force while nine million jobs in Ghana will require digital skills by 2030.


If anyone was tempted to downplay or underestimate the enormity of this national crisis which threatens the very stability and viability of our nation-state, the heart-wrenching spectacle of long arduous seemingly unending queues by prospective applicants seeking recruitment into our security services only a few months ago at various regional capitals must settle the matter.

Preceding these recent meandering, seemingly unending and acutely distressing queues was the harrowing stampede which left many young job seekers injured on September 10, 2021 at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC) when the Youth Employment Agency organised a job fair.

There are a number of additional credible reports that highlight the gravity of the challenge confronting us: a Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) – Ghana 2020 post-election survey conducted from May 23 to June 3, 2021 revealed that 57 per cent of Ghanaians considered unemployment as the most important issue requiring government's policy priority.

As the people’s elected representatives, this is the grim reality that stares us in the face and we all know it.

There's not a single day without an avalanche of requests from anxious constituents and other desperate young Ghanaians about helping them find jobs. Most of the personal stories leave you totally downcast.

Some recount how they have been home after graduating with honours for as long as four or five or six years.

Others speak of how they have been compelled to pursue further higher education, including multiple Master’s and PHDs to enable them to get occupied academically as they seek to acquire better qualifications to beat the competition, and yet often that appears also not to be a saving grace.

It will not be an exaggeration to surmise that the long queues we have seen across regional capitals for recruitment into the security agencies, if put together, in addition to all Ghanaians in search of employment outside security establishments, will most likely form a queue from Parliament House, Accra all the way to Techiman.

The desperate queues we have witnessed — and I made it a point to observe keenly the queue from the El-Wak Sports Stadium through the Lands Commission and via the Ghana International School all the way to the Togo Embassy Roundabout — give rise to fundamental concerns.

Immigration officers directing applicants at the GIS recruitment centre last year

These archaic methods of recruitment where the youth are put at the mercy of the vagaries of all kinds of weather conditions do not protect the dignity and health of these young Ghanaians. The era of digitalisation must reflect a new recruitment approach.

The other fundamental concern is the unconscionable practice of selling forms to prospective job seekers by the security services and other public sector departments.

I hold the firm view that this practice which cuts across governments cannot be allowed to continue.

It creates the terrible impression that those in authority are determined to make financial gain for institutions they run at the expense of already emaciated unemployed youth, most of whom have been home earning nothing for more than three years.

A free online recruitment process is the least we can do for our people.

Protocol recruitments

Then, there is the other fundamental concern about a growing perception of so-called protocol recruitments.

It appears "who you know" and "who knows you" are dominating the job search narrative.

A transparent, credible, meritocratic and orderly recruitment system must be urgently erected to restore confidence and begin to address the waning patriotism amongst the Ghanaian youth.

Security threats

All security experts are ad idem and have indeed loudly cautioned about the major national security threat that our current youth unemployment conditions pose to our nation.

We do know it was this threat that led the Kufuor administration to launch the National Youth Employment Programme in 2006.

The Mills/Mahama era consolidated this with the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) in 2012 and later the Youth Employment Agency by passing the Youth Employment Agency Act, 2015 (Act 887).

Under President Akufo-Addo, the Nation Builders Corps was created with beneficiaries receiving a three-year engagement contract which appears to have lapsed in October last year despite mixed signals from officialdom.

What is clear is that all these measures were intended to be stopgap interventions to address an emergency — the unemployment crisis — as more sustainable policies are pursued to deliver more permanent and decent jobs.

With the YEA estimating that of the 100,000 graduates leaving our tertiary institutions every year, only some 10 per cent of that figure find jobs; it is obvious that all the employment schemes by successive governments in the Fourth Republic, though useful interventions, have been most inadequate.

COVID-19 impact

Ghana's unemployment crisis has been further worsened by the impact of COVID-19 which led to an economic recession.

Results from a COVID-19 Business Tracker Survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank show that about 770,000 workers (25.7 per cent of the total workforce) had their wages reduced and about 42,000 employees were laid off during the country’s COVID-19 partial lockdown. The pandemic also led to reduction in working hours for close to 700,000 workers.

Ghana is in urgent need of a Marshall Plan to arrest the unemployment conundrum.

A business-as-usual approach will only extend the scary queues and bring much closer the day of Armageddon.

This is the time to question traditional notions with vigorous creative thinking. How can we accept that the public sector is choked when there are over 400,000 vacancies from the security services, education, health, sanitation, civil service, local government and so on and so forth?

It is clear to me that the issue is really about our inability to grow and transform the Ghanaian economy which is capable of employing the right numbers we need in the public sector.


Some youth providing personal details at a job fair

We must be honest and willing to admit that, and be ready to carry out the hard work and dynamic vision required to change our economic fortunes.

We sincerely do not need the international credit-rating agencies to tell us just how much work we have to put in to revive and revitalise this economy.

We must also pay attention to our national human resource management which must be aligned to our educational system.

Entrepreneur

Mr Speaker, our entrepreneurship drive will not succeed if we do not create a unique capital regime for young entrepreneurs.

How about establishing an entrepreneurs’ bank specially designed for start-ups with the lowest or abolished interest rates and a deliberate mentorship package since we know that traditionally about 80 per cent of start-ups collapse at inception largely because of lack of support and an unfavourable ecosystem.

Industralisation

The current industrialisation policy under the 1D1F initiative seems to be taking off gradually and it is quite obvious that a more aggressive scaling up is needed.

Too many districts like mine are yet to benefit and many more existing industries such as Juapong Textiles, Akosombo Textiles and Kumasi Shoe Factory just to mention a few are struggling to survive.

Our industrialisation landscape must look much better for a country grappling with a debilitating unemployment crisis.

Youth registering at a job fair

In times of crisis we must be unconventional and think differently – isn't it time to create more opportunities for the youth of our country by placing a moratorium on the granting of contracts to retired staff? Let's encourage all retirees to go home and enjoy their pensions instead of encumbering their positions under the cloak of contract staff.

Stability

There can be no future for this democracy and no stability for this republic if we do not urgently address the unemployment crisis which has robbed so many young people of their dignity and promise.

This year marks 30 years since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992; that is the same period – 30 years, Lee Kuan Yew used to transform Singapore from third world to first when per capita GDP climbed from $400 in 1960 to more than $12,200 in 1990 by the time Lee Kuan Yew was stepping down as Prime Minister.

The other Asian Tigers we celebrate used the same period to transform their economic fortunes and create nations of limitless opportunities for their young people.

Some young jobseekers at a recruitment exercise

Thirty years is enough time for our people to reap the democratic dividend and fulfil the dreams of our forebears; they may be unwilling to wait for another 30 years of missed opportunities. May God help us.

Statement by Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, MP for North Tongu/Ranking Member on the Committee of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, February 15, 2022.