Graduates geared for low-skill public service jobs – Study

Universities in Ghana have failed to grow the skills required for high productivity jobs in the private sector and have continued in the traditional mode of producing graduates tailored for public service, according to a World Bank study on employment opportunities in the country.

According to the new study, Expanding Job Opportunities in Ghana, released on 20 October in Washington DC, most tertiary-educated graduates are in the public sector and fewer than 10% are in the private sector.

In addition, although the labour market is characterised by high levels of labour participation and low levels of unemployment, most jobs require low-level cognitive skills.

Skills gap

According to the report, the problem in Ghana is not a lack of jobs per se, but the absence of skilled persons to develop or to take up high quality jobs.

According to Dr Kathleen Beegle, a World Bank programme leader for Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and the principal coordinator of the study, Ghana is in urgent need of high productivity jobs, not just to reduce graduate unemployment but to diversify its economy.

“More highly-skilled jobs are required to help Ghana develop into a modern middle-income economy,” said Beegle, who was a deputy director of the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs.

Unfortunately, while access to university and other forms of tertiary education has increased in Ghana, the quality of education remains a major problem, according to the study. The report points out that quality of university education in Ghana as elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa is under threat as rapid expansion has led to a strain on infrastructure and a drop in academic standards.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Institute for Statistics, too few graduates in Sub-Saharan Africa are gaining skills that would enable them to find work in the high productivity private sector.

According to Maddalena Honorati, an economist at the World Bank’s Social Protection Sector and a co-researcher in the study, most graduates from Ghanaian universities are not equipped with high-level innovation and entrepreneurial skills.

Graduate unemployment

“Subsequently, graduate unemployment rates are predominantly high in Ghana, a country whose labour force participation for 15- to 64-year-olds stands at 80%,” said Honorati.

Nevertheless, most of the jobs that have been created in Ghana in the past decade have been in the agricultural sector and in low-earning, low-productivity trade services. In this regard, compared to Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, graduate unemployment in Ghana is relatively high. Among the 25-29 age group, it stands at 41.6%, while in Nigeria it is 23%, in Kenya 15.7% and South Africa 5.6%.

‘Inactive’ vs ‘unemployed’

According to the report, out-of-work graduates in Ghana consider themselves ‘inactive’ rather than unemployed. A large number join a one-year mandatory employment programme for all tertiary graduates under the age of 40 and thereafter queue and wait for public service job openings instead of joining the private sector or becoming self-employed.

The World Bank researchers observed that possibly because of lack of high-level skills, most graduates in Ghana seem to have no appetite for the private sector or entrepreneurship.

“It is common for graduates in African countries to wait for public sector positions, effectively remaining inactive until a government post becomes available, said Jacob Kolster, African Development Bank’s director for North Africa.

According to Kolster, there were no quick solutions to tertiary education graduate unemployment in African countries, unless decisive steps were taken to improve quality of higher education, as well as kick-starting private sector growth across the board.

As in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, university education in Ghana is widely considered to be too theoretical and has, to large extent, under-emphasised innovation and entrepreneurship.

Quality and relevance

According to Professor Crispus Makau Kiamba, a former vice-chancellor and current member of the consultative advisory group of the World Bank-affiliated Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology, or PASET, the quality and relevance of higher education programmes are important determinants informing the relative employability of tertiary graduates.

“But in Ghana, like in so many other low- or lower-middle-income countries, high-productivity private companies face severe difficulties in recruiting workers with an appropriate mix of applicable skills and knowledge,” he told University World News in Nairobi.

The World Bank study said there is urgent need to redesign the national service scheme to enable it to provide high-level technical skills through formal and informal internship structures, entrepreneurial training, assistance to form cooperatives or trade associations and support in finance, tools and equipment.

According to a study, The Impact of Tertiary Education on Development: A rigorous review, commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development in 2014, technical skills in information technology, team-working and problem-solving could increase employability of university graduates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On the impact of tertiary education on development, the review singled out high quality education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as effective communication in English as having positive impact on macro-economic growth, graduate employment creation, individual incomes, broader capabilities and strengthening of institutions.

Technical education

“We found strong evidence of technical education impact on graduate employment creation and earnings of graduates in low and lower-middle-income countries,” said Moses Oketch, the principal researcher who is also a professor of international education and development at University College London or UCL Institute of Education in the UK.

According to Kiamba, there is a chronic shortage of qualified faculty with the capacity to mount high-quality technical programmes in the universities and in the national service scheme that could translate graduate readiness into reality.

Still, Ghana has limited capacity to meet the demand for higher education despite recent expansion in terms of enrolment rates.

But as the World Bank has pointed out, if Ghana wants to reduce its stock of graduate unemployment, universities and other tertiary institutions must be empowered to develop demand-driven programmes that will produce graduates with skills suitable for the private sector.