By Nick Twinamatsiko
In the article, "Addressing Unemployment: Is Uganda on the Right Path?", in the July 9, 2019 edition of New Vision, Prof. Baryamureeba asserted that “when a country wants to address unemployment, it focuses on wealth creation.”
However, he subsequently observed that “many educated Ugandans are unemployed because they lack requisite skills in their respective disciplines,” and argued that the focus should be on skill development. So, which is the real remedy to unemployment: skills development, or wealth creation? I would go with skills development since wealth creation is impossible when the population is unskilled. Skills create both employment and economic growth.
Countries such as Germany, which have thorough skills development programmes, have very low levels of unemployment. And it is has been widely acknowledged that education and training are the growing points of an economy. When you get the education and training right, it leads to both employment and economic growth.
Employers, especially those in the private sector, do not hire for the sake of getting people off the streets. They hire with a view of expanding production or enhancing efficiency, so as to increase profits.
For employees to match these objectives of employers, they have to be sufficiently skilled. If they are not adequately skilled, they will increase the costs of production or lower the efficiency of operations, reducing the profits of the employer, or causing him losses, or even putting him out of business. If the shortage of skills cuts across entire sectors or the entire economy, so will the problems of inefficiency and hampered growth.
In a 2015 interview with The Contractor Magazine, the managing director of Vambecco Construction Company revealed that the firm had been forced to import plumbers, even from such distant countries as Philippines, because the locally available ones were not adequately skilled. Think about the cost of importation of such labour. And yet, the fact that firms find it meaningful to take the measure indicates that it’s cheaper to do so than to use local artisans.
Inadequately skilled employees can be very expensive to keep! And the firms ultimately transfer the costs to clients. And if the clients cannot afford the prices, they withdraw from consumption. When construction becomes expensive, problems such as the housing deficit are perpetuated, since few people are able to afford the costs. And of course, when there are few clients, the firms and the sector do not register as much growth as they should.
The primary problem is, therefore, a skills problem, or, rather, an education and training problem. We should try to find out why our construction firms may find it necessary to import artisans, the fact that our institutions churn out thousands of such artisans each year notwithstanding.
There have been several attempts to reform Technical and Vocational Educational and Training (TVET), but most of these attempts have effectively remained at the levels of policy formulation and legislation. Implementation has been crippled by inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
In a sad irony, the very people charged with the task of raising the skills levels of Ugandans have only managed to show that their own skills are extremely low. A consultant from the UK that was engaged by the Ministry of Education to study Ugandan TVET observed, in his 2017 report, that officials of Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB), of which Prof. Baryamureeba is the chairman, think their assessments are competence-based although, in fact, they are not. Even before the consultant was engaged, I had noted that the assessments were not competence-based and brought it to the attention of UBTEB officials, but they hadn’t listened.
In the book, Agency Gone Awry, I show the huge difference between competence-based examinations and those set by UBTEB. UNEB was replaced with UBTEB in order to realize the vision of competence-based assessment, but the only difference between UBTEB papers and the papers UNEB used to set is that the latter had fewer errors. If Prof. Baryamureeba is really concerned about the unemployment problem, it may be better than he actually discharges his duties, instead of writing articles in newspapers.
The writer is a construction consultant and author