This weekend, thousands of young, energetic and enthusiastic Batswana entered the job market, an event ironically celebrated with graduation parties and fanfare deep into the night.
Very soon, many graduates - to their horror - will find that there is simply no demand in the market for the courses they have spent years studying.
Last Wednesday, the nation learnt that 87,000 graduates are jobless, a figure that swells every year as public and private tertiary institutions pump more graduates into the streets. The impact of this scenario is also felt on future generations, as the joblessness amongst graduates means the revolving tertiary sponsorship fund system has ground to a halt, as previous sponsorships go unpaid. There is evidence that some strategic thinking is underway within the public education sector, such as the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP).
Strategic thinking is also clearly at work in the sponsorship quota system, where government has introduced sponsorship limits to certain courses as a way of addressing skills mismatch. For far too long, tertiary institutions, particularly the public-funded ones, have also been producing non-market ready graduates, who have struggled to gain formal employment and contribute to national economic activity. On paper, the strategic thinking is in full swing. However, the situation on the ground clearly demonstrates that not enough momentum has been gathered for significant progress to be seen.
At Limkokwing University, 900 mostly government-sponsored graduates threw their caps in the air, with a sizeable number of these being media graduates destined to struggle in an industry facing tough existential questions. At the University of Botswana, more than 2,000 graduated, a good number of them from over-supplied sectors such as Bachelor of Business Administration, marketing, BBA Management, BA Humanities and others. There are by no means fast and easy answers to these challenges.
In fact, there are some schools of thought against the sponsorship quota, experts who believe government is essentially using its sponsorship power to sideline academics and force-march all learners towards vocational and technical training. Meanwhile, the World Bank last week proposed that government focus on a competency-based curriculum, which addresses critical soft-skills in learners such as reliability, perseverance, self-management, literacy skills, problem-solving and many others.Admittedly, these solutions cater for future learners, but do little about existing jobless graduates such as the thousands who suffered from government’s ill-advised flirtation with producing ICT graduates in years past. Greater momentum on these initiatives, however, will mean fewer graduates hit the streets unemployable, helping focus to be kept on those already unemployed and boosting the private sector’s ability to create jobs for them. Rather than repeatedly striking ever harder at the problem with a blunt axe, use strategic rethinking to sharpen the axe hence achieve more.
“It’s clear that the existing labour market cannot provide jobs for all, and this is compounded by the fact that many of those applying are inappropriately qualified.”
– ETSSP foreword