On a busy street at Kaneshie in Accra, Daniel Osei walks into a crowded sports betting shop telecasting a live English Premiership game.
The shop is full. Eyes are glued to the screen. Occasionally, tempers flare but the spectators easily make up with a handshake or a hug when a goal is scored.
Daniel has been on a winning spree for almost four weeks, with a few losses in between, and today he is banking his hope on the in-form Chelsea to earn him something to keep his hope of a bigger jackpot alive.
A University of Ghana Social Work graduate, he had big dreams after the mandatory one-year national service but after two years at home without a job, the betting has often brought in manageable income.
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He has passed around what he said had been countless application letters and resume that only yielded a few interviews and email acknowledgements.
About 10 minutes’ drive from the betting scene and in a beautifully decorated house turned into office, tiny sparks are flying from metal fabricators busily welding a caricature of a metal dummy destined for a fashion house.
Draped in blue overalls and safety boots, another group is also busily cutting and joining metal bars into a gate.
This is Accents & Art Limited where its Chief Executive, Ms Constance Swaniker, is advocating a lot more attention to skills training to reduce the country’s increasing unemployment rate as well as add value to the work of thousands of artisans.
Ms Swaniker told the Daily Graphic that Ghana was losing out on a multi-billion dollar industry because of deficiencies in artisanal skills.
“Most of the projects I work on, I am the only Ghanaian, most of the time they (clients) had to fly in labour because of the idea that we lack the skills.
“They tell you your people can’t lay things straight. Can you blame them? They have a certain standard. Our skilled labour does not think of the little innovations that make the difference.
She pointed to the oil and gas industry in Ghana and stated that because of lack of skills Philipinos were those getting the well paid jobs on the oil rigs.
“You write the policy and shape what is supposed to happen. If you look at countries such as South Africa and Kenya, their export market for indigenous craft ware is huge,” she explained.
In Kenya, woodcarving alone plays a very important role in the economy, contributing an estimated $10 million per year.
In South Africa, the craft sector is estimated to employ 1.2 million people and contributes a whopping 3.4 billion rands (about $260 million) to the economy annually.
Although the art and craft sector employs thousands of people in Ghana, mostly the youth, the art of sculpting, basket weaving, bead stringing, wood carvings, metal works and ceramics, among others, the handicraft sector has received very little support despite its potential to generate millions in revenue per year.
Statistics from the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) shows that non-traditional export earnings from the handicraft sector grew by 23 per cent in 2015; from $3.47 million in 2014 to $4.27 million, a far cry from what other economies earn from the sector.
The global handicraft sector has an industry value of about US$100 billion.
Those figures, Ms Swaniker said should be a wakeup call to the authorities to rethink education in Ghana.
Lack of skills is a global problem. The International Labour Organization (ILO) says training institutions continue to produce graduates whose skills do not match what the market wants. This mismatch makes it harder to tackle youth unemployment.
Ms Swaniker said the solution was a radical change in the educational system that placed emphasis on practical training or internship to fill the gap.
She recalled that back in her university days at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)where the university was not giving practical training, she found her doses of creativity in a carpentry shop run by her aunt.
She picked a lot of skills from a carpentry shop which had become valuable to her creative work today.
“We think carpenters are illiterates but most of the things I do today, I learnt from them.
She pointed to arts and craft sold to tourists, saying sales in the sector could not rise because the products remained the same and tourists who returned might not be interested in buying the same things again, adding that a little innovation was needed through extra training.
Ms Swaniker has a multiplicity of talents which is epitomised by her ability to transform metals into highly prized prestigious and aesthetic objects.
She has a way of turning the ugliest metals into a fine piece of art or decor. Combining wrought iron, wood, cane and glass and engraving them with a combination of abstract and figural motifs, she beautifully colours and pigments them into scenery that can only bring pleasure to the eye, and sophistication to a room.
Walking the Daily Graphic team through a highly organised environment where theory and practical are married in a training room, carpentry, computer laboratory and welding sections, she said the curriculum on technical and vocational education in Ghana hardly evolved.
“The curriculums we have in place since the 1960s have not evolved. If you look at countries such Malaysia, Singapore, Germany and Japan; their economies are built on Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET).
“They understand what skills-based education means. Meanwhile, we gained independence the same time as Malaysia and Singapore.
“The perception that if you come from a certain background then TVET is reserved for people who can’t make the cut in grammar school is wrong.
“I have always loved using my hands. I was in KNUST and the only opportunity for people who come from homes like mine is to go to university to do arts. Where was the technical school at that level for people with courses for children like me?
“If you look at our technical and vocational schools, it is for people from low income families, people who did not make it to the university. I always tell my mom that if I had known I would not have gone to the university, and that I should have just gone to a technical school. I learnt almost everything I know today in a carpentry shop,” she said.
Passionate about providing hands-on experience to students and young people interested in her field, she started the Design and Technology Institute in 2014.
“Because of the deficiencies, I see the big picture and I realise that this is an opportunity to fill the huge gap. I realise that to get things done, we have to take the initiative. I want to be a leader in this sector because I know how it has benefitted me,” she said.
She said the school offered eight to 12 weeks training with a vision to develop and promote it as a world-class hub to practice research, learning and engagement.
Miss Tinito Coffie, a product of the institute who is applying her skills at Accents & Art Limited told the Daily Graphic that although the environment was male dominated, she had a lot to stand on her own in some few years to come.
To lift standards and create opportunity for her peers in the informal sector as well as those coming out of the universities, vocational and technical schools, Ms Swaniker said it was time for the government to engage professionals in the system.
“The problem is with government policy. I have been doing this for 17 years and won local and international awards. We have been here for many years but no policy maker has been here to see what we are doing and listen to us.
“If we are that visible, just come and see us and listen to us. There is a huge gap between the private sector and government engagement, “the multiple award-winner said.