By Mohammed Ali
Fred Armah did everything right: he went to school, earned good grades and went to a university at one of Ghana’s top schools. But he still doesn’t know what the future holds for him. The 28-year-old graduate, now at the mercy of fate, helps his mother at the bakery in order to make ends meet.
“This is the fourth year after my graduation, and I still don’t have a job. And one way or the other I still depend on my mother,” he said. “It’s not that the course I read is not marketable (but) because the system is not working for me. I need change (in the system). I don’t want my siblings to go through what I’m going through now.”
Armah is among the 4,700 plus students who graduated from the University of Cape Coast in 2009. He has a bachelor in business management and has spent two years holding temporary jobs, one at a banking institution and the other with the 2010 population and housing census. He said even though he now helps his mother in her business, he still craves for a regular job so he can help his mother take care of his two siblings in senior high school.
Unemployment has become a major issue in many countries, and Ghana is also grappling with its effects. Graduates from several universities all over the country have to struggle to secure very few jobs in the country. Many university students believed that they would get decent jobs and fat salaries working for successful companies, but they are gradually becoming aware of the fact that graduating from a university with a good degree does not guarantee a job success in the labour market. These unemployed youths are anxious, depressed and unhappy.
In a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), it was predicted that unemployed persons globally could rise to 208 million by 2015 depending on macro and micro-economic factors. That would be a hike from the current 200 million unemployed people across the world. In Ghana, about 250,000 youths join the labour force every year, out of which 70,000 are graduates from various tertiary institutions. Out of this figure, only about 5,000 are lucky enough to be employed, according to figures from the Ghana Graduate Business Support Scheme.
Dan Nombre, a geography and resource development graduate from the university of Ghana said: “I help my father on the farm, so I get some one or two things from there even though it’s not my area of study.” He blames the problem on the dwindling private sector.
He said: “I think for the past decades government has not done much to create employment and (there are) not enough avenues to accommodate graduates in the private sector. If there was a booming atmosphere in the private sector, (that could) help in absorbing some of the unemployed graduates.”
Desmond Bress-Biney is the acting president of the Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana, an unemployed tertiary graduates’ union which claims to fight for the rights of the unemployed graduates. “Graduate unemployment is a huge problem facing this country,” he said.
Bress-Biney explained that the two main worrying issues that should be addressed to mitigate the overwhelming effect on the issue are Ghana’s educational system and government policies.
“Unlike other countries like UK or France where aside one’s course of study they have the world of work centers (career counselling centres), which train students to fit into what they want to become, here it is not so.”
Universities should take it upon themselves to institute measures that will give students experience of the world of work, he added.
Bress-Biney said that government intervention has not been the best with regards to job creation and youth unemployment.
“We speak a lot of grammar doing very little about the whole issue,” he said. “The best way to augment government’s effort is to come up with policies that will guide young entrepreneurs. And when I say so, I mean policies that will soften the tax aspect for young entrepreneurs. Government must nurture efforts of young entrepreneurs in establishing businesses in the right direction. Anything that will help grow the economy should be encouraged.”
Some graduates believe they can start their own business, but the process of registering a business as a young entrepreneur at the attorney general’s department leaves much to be desired. Armah said he believes that it will be difficult for the government to create employment for all graduates.
“(But) they should help us establish our own businesses by helping us with capital. Many of us have business ideas but to start from, in terms of capital is the problem,” he said. “I have friends that have business plans lying down but how to put the business plan into action is the problem.”
In fact government is trying to do just that through a new private public partnership under which graduates will learn to eventually become employers. The Graduate Business Support Scheme (GEBSS) has provided training, exposure, mentoring and support programs to youth by taking them through the whole process of starting a business, generating a business idea, making the ideas viable, translating the idea into a business plan and approaching financial institutions for lending. Since January 2012, the GEBSS has trained over 3000 graduates.
Enam Gbekor, national coordinator of the scheme, says unemployed graduates need to change their mindset.
“The way we are cultured or trained in our tertiary institutions is the reason why young graduates come out and are looking for paid jobs…. someone to employ them and pay them a salary.” She said graduates have to understand there are limited jobs in the labour market.
“You have to start thinking about starting your own business as a means of earning some income instead of coming out with the expectation that because you hold a certificate of a sort you can hold a job.”
Gbekor explained the scheme is in partnership with the Management, Development and Productivity Institute which is a training institute of the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations and is supported by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Export Industry Agricultural Development Fund.
Gbekor explained that currently they are hoping to secure funds for 30 trainees to develop businesses. “We are waiting to hear back from the banks as to who has been selected.”
But despite the efforts of the GEBSS, graduates like Armah still are unaware of its existence. And despite the fact that the project is over a year old, the scheme has yet to launch any graduate into a viable business venture, leaving many degree holders in Ghana still desperate for work.