I had an interesting chat with my barber at the local hair salon shop in my neighborhood. The shop is in an outfitted garage which was converted into a salon. I like it because it’s not crowded and it’s very cheap. With only 5,000 shillings I get a decent hair cut.
The salon has a tiny TV and most of the time it’s playing local music videos. Occasionally it’s a political talk show. The barber rarely wears a mask but whenever he sees me he puts it on because I always insist. I carry my own sanitiser because he usually doesn’t have any. I think he got the message because this time around he showed me a brand new bottle full with sanitiser. He gleaned a bright smile as he sanitized my favorite chair while beckoning me to take a seat.
I settled into the chair. I like this particular chair because it’s comfortable. Many times I snooze off for a minute or two before a local chicken crowing in the backyard wakes me up.
This particular time the TV was tuned in to a local TV station which was broadcasting the graduation ceremony of Kyambogo University. The function was presided over by the President himself. At some point they began to read the list of all the graduates. I must say it was a long list. They proceeded course by course and they would read the names in alphabetical order. It was such a long list.
I turned to my barber and asked a sarcastic question; “I wonder where all these people are going to find jobs?” We both burst out in laughter. A friend of his who usually hangs out around the salon retorted that they would find them there. I later learnt that these two guys were actually graduates who had since failed to find jobs for a couple of years. So they had settled to run this small shop as a way of surviving.
This incident provoked me to reflect on the current state of unemployment in our nation. Many of our young fellows are either unemployed or underemployed. The country has so many universities which are now pumping out graduates at an alarming rate. Universities create new versions of the same courses every other day. It has become a money making scheme.
The challenge is the economy is not creating “graduate” jobs at a fast enough pace. A typical graduate would expect some kind of office job yet these jobs are in short supply. As a result many people can’t find jobs and when they do the entry pay is usually meager. The situation seems dire but there is a huge opportunity which we are not exploiting.
In our cottage manufacturing business we develop products through a market led process. The market decides what products we should make and sell. So we start by researching what people actually need or what problems they have. Then we come up with potential products which we develop and then test in the market. If the response is positive we then scale up. This reduces the risk of product failure because you are making something people actually need.
Now I highly doubt whether many of the courses offered at campus go through a similar process. Because if they did we would have graduate courses in professional carpentry, electrical wiring, hair dressing, fashion design, catering, plumbing, vehicle mechanics, and the like. Instead the situation is that my mechanic barely stepped in school and yet I pay him millions while the graduate walks the streets looking for an office job. My plumber has a certificate from a vocational school and he showed me pictures of the house he is building while the graduate sips tea at his parent’s home. My electrician is making millions installing solar panels while the graduate laments for lack of jobs.
If the universities actually did some research like they purport to teach they would realise that what the market needs are skills and not just paper degrees. Degrees have their place but in a small economy like ours we really need skilled people. A skilled person can make something. This is tremendous power. The ability to create something of value separates the rich from the poor. A skilled person can solve a problem. And there is no shortage of problems in our country. What we lack are people who are willing to step up and solve some problems instead of looking for jobs. A skilled person fulfills a need while the graduate formats her CV. The needs are endless. People need food, clean homes, good clothes, etc. If the universities really cared about their graduates they would actually prepare them to solve problems and meet other people’s needs. Instead they churn out endless theories with no practical bearing in the real world.
The university takes some fault here but the graduate bears the biggest responsibility for their predicament none the less. Yes, the university didn’t prepare you for the tough job market. But you can’t just sit at home watching TV forever. It’s time to wake up and confront the situation before you. What problem can you solve? What need can you fulfill? What skill can you embrace? Who can pay you for doing something? How can you exert yourself? How can you move forward everyday? Whom can you help? Whom can you teach? How can you work for free? How can you be more resourceful and proactive? What can you make? The world was created by people who asked and attempted to answer these questions. The guy who invented electricity didn’t have a fancy degree and yet he invented something which has created the modern world.
The opportunities to make a difference are immense if we only looked hard enough. And don’t forget that there might be a shortage of jobs but there will never be a shortage of work.