Blog 1 in this series ended on the note:
‘Our bigger worry at the Effectiveness Lab is a generation of NEETs post-youth – we shall call this ‘second-generation NEETs’. What about them? Look out for the second blog series next week.’
This second blog in the series discusses second-generation NEETs, but from the Uganda lens. The ILO definition of youth is anyone in the age bracket: 15 – 24; while Uganda’s youth definition is any person in the age bracket: 18 – 30. Everything else considered, Uganda’s youth definition is politically influenced – someone aged 30 is not a youth! Nevertheless, for purposes of this blog we shall consider Uganda’s national youth definition; after all, it still encompasses ILO’s 15 – 24-year-olds.
Over the years, I have made it a point to spend at least a week or two every year, camped at my birthplace, Nakabugu in Luuka district Uganda. While this annual ritual is mostly about spending some quality time with my ageing mum as well as taking a quality break from the 24/7 pressure of the digital corporate world, I cannot help but observe and ponder over the enduring poverty and desperation of my fellow Ugandans at Nakabugu.
And yes, we have to worry about our youth and the fact that when idle, they can become a problem to any nation-state – sadly in Uganda, 3/4 of the youth are unemployed. The latter is a worrying statistic for any state and one that should not escape our attention. However, for a nation like Uganda and I suspect many others in Africa, there is a bigger and perhaps more dangerous situation than that of youth NEETs.
Millions of Ugandans maintain the NEETs status post-youth. Many Ugandan’s above 30 years of age are ‘not in education, employment or training.’ Economists may term this category the unemployed. In traditional African society, there was nothing like NEETs – at any one point in time, a Ugandan living in a proper agrarian society was forever in training as well as employment (Informal). An uncoordinated shift from agrarian to modern practices, a no longer relevant western education system, changing power dynamics in a fast globalising world – have all undermined an orthodox and viable African/Ugandan answer to NEETs, but without providing a sustainable alternative
The result of the above is a hopeless and desperate post-youth NEETs generation; we are not only breeding a nation of unproductive and desperate individuals but also, a generation of youth that has no adequate role models. Remember Africans, at least, us in Nakabugu, do also learn through ‘doing with our elders’. Sadly, the emerging generation of seniors, stack in a post-youth NEETs status, lack the skills, attitude, or technical capability to coach and mentor the youth.
Manifestations of the post-youth NEETs generation challenge:
We have two real life examples that I would like to share in this blog series; both, case studies from my village:
- Thousands of youth, girls and boys that completed their university education over five years ago are still unemployed. They spend most of their time trekking to people’s offices, their academic papers and extremely ‘lite’ weight CV’s in hand, looking for jobs. One can read the words ‘frustration and resignation’ on their faces. Some of these youth are my relatives, and using that little more leverage I have over them; I have advised many to consider going into self-employment. Many of these youth NEETs and I must add increasingly post-youth NEETs, express (unconsciously) their disappointed with me, whenever I talk to them about self-employment. All they want from me is a job; so, what gives me the courage to tell them to consider going into self-employment? Many simply don’t have the skills to get into employment due to their long term NEETs’ status. Clearly, one of the outcomes of long-term NEETs status is a supply challenge for the labour market.
- As a self-appointed development-critique and one that believes in ’small’ African philanthropy, I have in the last ten years supported pilot miniature development initiatives back home – meaning my village. These miniature interventions mostly go against mainstream development philosophy that I have myself practiced for years. I have referred to such development pilots as flipped-development. At the height of the micro-finance craze in Uganda, I helped my village start a savings and credit cooperative (SACCO); I gave my time pro-bono to support the SACCO’s development. The SACCO is run on private sector business principles – for example, the SACCO is amongst the very few in Uganda that pays an annual dividend to its shareholders. Even in its ‘smallness’ public policy visionaries could have used it as a model for Co-operative policy review in Uganda. Fast forward to my 2015 Christmas break, and I was shocked to discover that even with two generations of NEETs (youth and post-youth), the SACCO could not fill two positions in its accounts department. This may be due to a supply challenge as already shared earlier on in this blog, or even more worrying a demand challenge. Those in NEETs status, and especially the graduates, may consider such SACCO employment below their standard; while others may simply not possess the skills. Whether demand or supply driven, this example leads us to another conversation all together: could NEETs status in Uganda be on occasion a self-inflicted problem?
The underlying causes of the post-youth NEETs generation challenge:
- Flawed education policy agenda that has failed to address a botched supply side in regards to Uganda’s education system. How can a country continue to invest in an education system that continues to provide unskilled graduates?
- A colonial education system that trains us to seek but not create jobs. I would rather be dressed in suit and tie, working as a clerk in a factory, underemployed/paid, than wear overalls and head-gear, and run a personal small cottage industry manufacturing toothpicks for a guaranteed hotel and home market in Africa
- An education system and culture that prohibits us from taking risks – we are followers and rarely want to challenge the status quo. Because of the latter, we cannot imagine a situation where we wake up one day unemployed and trying to employ ourselves – many of us just do not think and reason that way; our brains have been programmed the opposite way. Recall how youth perceive me when I suggest self-employment to them
- A culture that copies from others, without asking why others do what they do; America can afford to train and employ thousands of lawyers; that is because America’s service as well as manufacturing industry size is enormous and shall demand such legal support. Come to Uganda and even with an apparently stable but still minuscule economy, majorly operating around Kampala the Capital city, how many lawyers can such an economy absorb? To put it another way, how many farmers, since the majority of Uganda’s workforce are farmers, require professional legal services and can pay for it? Why do Ugandans continue to try and get their children into orthodox arts courses like law, and even pay a premium for such education? Why don’t we consider educating our children in: nursing; creative arts; local African chicken farming; mechanical engineering; high-end carpentry etc.?
We know that you can come up with many more examples of Uganda’s flawed skilling-philosophy
What can be done about the post-youth NEETs generation challenge?
Many writers have written and made recommendations that address the youth NEETs problem; this particular blog addresses itself to the post-youth NEETs or the unemployed if you want to call them so. Are the post-youth NEETs a forgotten generation? Is it late to do anything to salvage them? Well, we at the Effectiveness Lab do recommend three foundational steps:
- In the long-term, fundamental changes should be made to Uganda’s education system – emphasis on STEM and entrepreneurialism should be taken more seriously
- In the medium-term, we need to stop the graduation of the youth NEETs to post-youth NEETs – and there are promising efforts by different nation-states in Africa. We need to learn from one another
- In the short-term, we need to retrain the post-youth NEETs and moreover in Agriculture Science and entrepreneurialism; the reality is that currently, Uganda is still an agrarian society, and that is where Uganda’s immediate potential for productivity lies. A program to re-orient the post-youth NEETs towards Uganda’s natural potential needs to be designed urgently. The sustainability of a such a program depends on the extent to which its designers acknowledge agrarian society education, employment, and training realities
My takeaway: The issue of jobs or the lack of, the resulting hopelessness for generations of Ugandans, is a result of many years of education policy ineffectiveness. What is not effective, shall always catch up with us!