Youth unemployment is a major problem in Uganda, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. By creating partnerships between young people, the private sector and the government, A Working Future in Uganda hopes to create a better match between the skills of young people and the demands on the labour market.
In eastern Uganda there are only two female mechanics. One of them is 22 years old and works at a local petrol station. She dreams of taking her driver's license so that she can not only repair cars but also drive them and one day she would like to open her own auto repair shop.
A few years ago she was at home with her two children, supporting herself by selling food and vegetables at the market. But her passion for cars prompted her to apply to a vocational training program run by local partners to the child rights organization Plan International. The curriculum had been designed together with local workshops to make sure that the training was up to date and that there was a demand for the students’ skills. She got work experience through an internship and was also paired with a potential employer.
According to Elin Wallberg at Plan Sweden this approach could be very successful done on a large scale.
“This car mechanic has been able to choose her profession based on her interests and strengths, regardless of gender, and there is a demand for her skills. It’s a common problem that you don’t look to what the youth is interested in and what skills are in demand when you plan trainings. Her employer is satisfied with her work and is now willing to hire more women and young people.”
This kind of market-driven vocational trainings in cooperation with local businesses is one of the components of A Working Future in Uganda, a new Plan project supported by Sida and consulting company Accenture, aimed at tackling youth unemployment in eastern Uganda.
Youth unemployment is a huge problem globally and not least in Uganda, with one of the highest unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 70 percent of young people are not formally employed for wages. Many of them make a living through farming, selling vegetables and other foodstuff. High youth unemployment means that young people are trapped in poverty and according to a study from ILO six million unemployed youth worldwide have given up on ever getting a job. It also entails societal challenges such as increased violence and conflicts.
“Young people are a resource and represent change and innovation. With meaningful employment they can contribute to society. Instead you have a large group of young people who don’t see a future for themselves and their families which means huge frustration. We have seen uprisings in the Arab spring, in London and in Greece. Young girls and boys, who have given up on their future, can easily choose to engage in criminal activities, violence and guerrillas,” said Elin Wallberg.
The underlying causes of youth unemployment are well known. Many young people lack the training and skills that are in demand on the labour market. Often the education system doesn’t reflect the demands of the job market. Young people are also discriminated against – by companies that consider it too risky to hire young people or by banks that are reluctant to give them access to the financing and bank services needed to start their own business. Young people also have weak links to the private sector and might not find out when a job is available.
At the same time employers in Uganda often complain about skills shortages that constrain their production and ability to expand. Many mobile operators, for example, need local sales agents but don’t think that young people have the skills that they are looking for.
A Working Future in Uganda will, among other things, increase young people’s access to financial services through Village Savings and Loans Associations, provide support on business development, facilitate training and internships, establish partnerships where skilled workers are matched with employers and create multi-sector platforms that encourage partnerships between different actors on the labour market. The focus on entrepreneurship is important.
“If you’re just focusing on formal employment at large employers you’re not reaching the majority of the people,” said Elin Wallberg.
The project will also develop a model for how the private sector, the government, civil society and young people can work together. The model will be developed on village level with the potential to be scaled up on a national level in Uganda and also other countries in Southern and Eastern Africa.
“The private sector is rarely an integrated part of development projects and that is one of the reasons these projects don’t have the intended effects on youth unemployment. Planning and evaluation of for example vocational training, micro credits and support to young entrepreneurs should be done together with both the private sector and the youth,” said Elin Wallberg.