We cannot solve the scandal of rampant graduate unemployment without radically transforming higher education and realigning the entire socio-economic ecosystem. Otherwise, we shall continue to live with the paradox of millions of jobless graduates amidst millions of undone jobs.
Rampant graduate unemployment is one of the biggest contradictions confronting humanity today. It is a contradiction because everywhere in the world, especially in Africa, there are still too many important and urgent jobs waiting to be done. There are too many problems all around us waiting to be solved; too many services yet to be provided; too many products yet to be made; too many discoveries, inventions and innovations impatiently waiting to be made. All these translate into billions of potential jobs waiting to be actualized. So, why should we be stuck with millions of jobless educated youth? Why are Chinese young people flocking to Africa as the land of opportunity while African youth are running away from Africa at whatever cost? What do the Chinese see that we do not, and why?
WHAT ARE THE CHINESE SEEING THAT WE DO NOT SEE? Watch and Reflect on the video below
Why do people study the “right” courses but still end up jobless for years? Why do employers continue to complain of scarcity of skilled labour in fields where we have floating graduates? Why do people graduate in fields with high potential for job creation but still fail to create the jobs anyway? Why do people have a lot of technical knowledge but lack the aptitude to recognize and seize opportunities in their environment? We need to understand the forces behind the youth unemployment crisis and how the new era (Fourth Industrial Revolution) presents enormous opportunities for youth to build impactful and prosperous careers, particularly in Africa.
First of all, it is important to note that the causes of the graduate unemployment crisis are both internal defects within the schooling system, as well as external misalignment in the entire socio-economic ecosystem. But for purposes of this post, we shall focus on the factors internal to the schooling system. These are easier to deal with, especially at personal and institutional level. Yet, action at these two levels can go a long way in making a big difference. This is the circle of immediate influence I want to concentrate on.
ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE-BASED AND SYSTEMATIC CAREER GUIDANCE
The video below highlights some top 10 business opportunities that will dominate Africa over the next couple of years. For a strategically-wired student, these insights form a strong basis for career planning. It gives a clue which knowledge and skills to look out for.
The trouble with the schooling system is that it makes young people to study like drunken men and women, staggering in the dark, with no clarity where they are headed. Education is supposed to be life’s most critical investment. This is so because education shapes how we think, what we think, how we live, how we interpret and relate with our environment, and how we work. In real life, no serious person invests in a business if they are not clear about the prospects for profit. However, when it comes to education, both the students and their sponsors choose to invest in courses, not based on a clear understanding of the options and prospects in the market place. Usually, the little that students, their sponsors, and educators know about the market prospects of chosen courses is based on outdated popular assumptions and perceptions – which are dangerously out of tune with the current and future reality. Moreover, the effect of this is made worse by the inappropriate approaches to teaching and learning.
Why and how does this happen? Let us stay with the business analogy to understand the problem well. In serious business, you cannot venture into producing a product without conducting enough research around it. In situations where you need financial support, a feasibility study is required before accessing funds from a financial institution or venture capitalists. Yet, when it comes to choosing what to study (educational investment), we ignore this critical investment principle.
This anomaly is unintentionally created and sustained by the higher education system itself. As a systemic problem, universities and other tertiary institutions are more interested in enrolling students, teaching the subject content, and graduating those who pass. They are less concerned with what you do with your qualification or what happens to you thereafter. If they were, they would have in place a rigorous process to ensure that you enroll for the most suitable course and that you develop a clear plan how to translate the learning into a profitable career or enterprise. On the contrary, when school opens, classes jump straight into the subject matter of courses – literary, they begin from the unknown and make students get lost in the jungle of the mysterious. So you graduate in the jungle and left abandoned there.
Imagine, if before choosing the higher education course, every student first goes through a preliminary process (pre-university or pre-tertiary course) that helps them to work out the equivalent of a feasibility study and business plan for their course of choice. In other words, ample time needs to be invested in the preliminary processes leading to the ultimate choice.
Imagine, if before delving into any course, a student is helped to systematically reflect on such questions as Who am I? What can I become? What is the environment like? What are the current and future opportunities in the environment? What potentials do I have and how can they be nurtured to make me a critical solution provider in this environment? What combination of knowledge and skills do I need to develop my potentials into strategic career positioning? Ideally, students could spend the first semester practically exploring the structure of the entire economy, locally and globally – sector by sector. After that, they can make informed, evidence-based choices.
Additionally, even when a student has chosen the specific course, the teaching of that course should begin by exploring the opportunities in the market place and trends within the relevant industry. This entails analyzing the structure of the industry, inter-linkages between industries, value chains of products and services in the industry. The purpose is to enable individual students map out areas of opportunity around which they can build their careers or enterprise ambitions. It is the basis for locating opportunities/gaps to capitalize on.
With this approach for example, a student chooses to study Bachelor of Information Technology because they personally see opportunities to build a successful career or business. Not simply because it is a popular course. In the process, the student would have figured out how to innovatively apply the IT skills in a unique mix that blends agriculture, tourism, food processing, geography, statistics, and accounting to build a personal career. In the process, this student will realize that he needs to learn some elements in each of these discipline areas. This will in turn shape the student’s learning needs beyond what any one course can provide. If the higher education system used this approach, we would be having a culture of interdisciplinary curricula as opposed to single discipline curricula or courses. Graduates from such a disposition will be peak performers, solution-oriented and job creators in any environment.
All along, we have been going to school to study certain professions with the hope that the certificate will attract a relevant job. But in the new era people should be going to school to learn how to use knowledge and skills to create solutions. Any education that does not take this approach is a breeding ground for joblessness despite colorful qualifications. By the end of the first semester, a student should be able to precisely answer the question, what solutions do you want to create? If one can identify the solution they want to create, then they have already identified their personal employment opportunity. So, they will not be studying to look for anonymous jobs; they will be studying to learn how to seize that opportunity. This is the essence of strategic career positioning. It is a call to stop studying in the dark; but be guided by a clear sense of trends and emerging opportunities or problems to be fixed.
There are too many opportunities out there. One can build a prosperous and impactful career in any field they strategically choose to focus on. Moving forward, successful careers will be built on detailed and precise projections derived from good understanding of trends. Institutions of higher learning have a big part to play in solving the youth unemployment problem by duly addressing the issues raised in this post.
Soon www.careerlabs.net will be launching serialized online courses on Becoming a Productive Graduate®. These are 12 hands-on short courses developed out of Ambrose Kibuuka Mukiibi’s groundbreaking book, After University, What Next? and his other two books: Supercharging Youth Employability and Demystifying Capital. They are Career Strategy and Advisory courses intricately designed to bridge the critical gap discussed above. We are committed to empowering Africa’s young generation so they can make informed and optimal career choices as they transition from one stage of life to the next. Ultimately, our vision is to see young people duly prepared and supported to live optimally productive lives both as career professionals and astute entrepreneurs in the 21st century work environment. These short courses are particularly beneficial to those transitioning from secondary school into higher education, finalists and continuing students in institutions of higher education, as well as recent graduates and mid-career professionals.