By Faith Nassozi Kyateka
July 11 is World Population Day. This year’s theme was “Invest in young people for a bright future.” Uganda has over 78% of its population as young people below the age of 30, making it the country with the highest percentage of young people in the world.
According to The State of Uganda Population Report 2010, about 56% of our population is below 18 years old. This statistic justifies the World Development Report which emphasises that young people are Africa’s assets and there has never been a time better than now to invest in them.
Despite being the majority of the population, young people are challenged with access to social services such as health, education, housing and employment.
Amidst all these challenges the rate and impact of unemployment among young people continues to pose a huge threat to our economic growth which therefore hinders the optimal contribution of this diverse group to the country’s development.
Young people who have graduated from the University face a number of challenges related to finding jobs because of lack of skills as well as very limited exposure to internships and mentoring opportunities while still at the university. Internships usually provide students with an opportunity to gain working experience and insight regarding how organizations operate.
The majority of graduating students who participle in internships have a much better chance at landing full-time positions upon graduation and at times the internship turns into a permanent position. At Wagner College Located in New York in the US, for example, each student is involved in field work directly related to their courses.
Community work and exchange visits are a requirement for all students and they are awarded marks for their participation is such activities. University education focused on training students to be practically ready to confront the challenges of their generation and generations after them is the hall mark of learning and should be embraced by all society.
Other programmes that have provided internship opportunities for young people include the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The programme has offered 500 young people from Africa an opportunity for leadership training and internship within the USA.
The programme is an initiative of the US President Barack Obama’s and aims at empowering young African leaders through leadership training, internship and professional mentoring opportunities in the US.
As a current beneficiary of the programme, I have had the opportunity to learn about practical issues related to leadership, economic development and community health from renowned professors, consultants, leaders of civil society organisations and young people like me who come from different parts of Africa.
Through my interaction with other fellows in this programme I have learnt about strategies that I can replicate or deploy to increase the reach and impact of my organisation work. As part of the Washington Fellowship the 500 individuals attending this programme have had an opportunity to visit organisations like Google, CNN, Clinton Foundation and Generation Citizen.
This interaction has enabled them gain skills in media relations, fundraising, monitoring programmes as well as advocacy.
Today, I imagine that if all young people in Uganda are provided with a platform conducive for their growth through practically relevant training and mentorship programme then we shall have young people who are living to their full potential. Young people can be more productive and can meaningfully contribute to the country’s development when given the right opportunities.
Internships and mentoring must be a prerequisite at all levels for those both at the University and those who have completed school.
The Government needs to put into place a well structured and monitored internship system for youth at all levels to motivate them and provide real work experience, as well as investment in relevant school-to-work transition and continued learning for those already within the job market.
The writer is currently a Young African Leaders Initiative Fellow in the US and works with Marie Stopes Uganda
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