A Case For Youth Skills Development

Today, 15th July, 2015 is the first World Youth Skills Day. The idea was presented to the United Nations General Assembly by President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka in December 2014. The purpose is to raise awareness on the importance of developing the skills of young people to enhance their employability.

Across the world, young people make up 25% of the working population. 400 million of them do not have decent job opportunities. More than a third of the world’s unemployed are young people.

The underlying reason for the proposal is a belief that the acquisition of skills by youth would improve their ability to make informed life and work choices and also empower them to gain access to the labour market.

The third committee of the United Nations General Assembly, the committee that accepted this idea, is clearly not alone in its concern for young people. The international community has long before this expressed its appreciation for the importance of a clear and well informed attention on young people and the impact that their potential, if tapped, has on the human community.

This is seen in their endorsement of several declarations concerning youths, the adoption of the World Program of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and beyond,the participation of youth delegates in each country’s official delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, the celebration of International Youth Day each year to mention a few.

The data that various institutions including the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Population Fund present on youth is a clear justification for the attention they receive in international development of frameworks. According to a report released by the UN Population Fund, the global population of young people (aged 10-24) has reach 1.8 billion. 89% of this population reside in less developed countries. This has potential for changing the world either for the better or for the worse.

In spite of all the attention that has been given young people, statistics show that although the youth represent 25% of the total working age population, they make up 40% of the unemployed (ILO). Although the Millennium Development Goals Report shows that about 74 million young people were looking for work in 2015, about a third of all young people do not have decent jobs.

Ghana is no exemption. According to the World Bank, 8.7% of the Ghanaian youth population is unemployed. In the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA), Ghana named high levels of unemployment among the youth as the 2nd issue in the focal area that addressesnational human development, productivity and employment.

The need for more attention in this regard was even more evident to me one Monday morning. Soon after I had come to work, I heard a lot of noise outside and when I went to find out what was happening, I saw a large mob of young people carrying clubs, sticks, and placardsin their hands and chanting songs as they run on the major streets of the ministries. It was the young settlers of the Sodom and Gomorrah slum site of Accra. Their abode had been demolished and being settlers from other distant parts of the country, they had nowhere else to go to in the city.

As I observed the rigor of their protest, I realised that it was not just an issue of a demolition of a slum site. Sodom and Gomorrah, in all of its deplorable state was a true testimony of the intensity of the desire of these young settlers to have a better life. That they would not chose idleness and waste in their villages, but will travel all the miles to live in a state as deplorable as they were was for me, a true indication of their desire for a better life.The inability to equip them with employable and or entrepreneurial skills was and has been a prime party to their demise and its repercussions on society.This group clearly constitutes the faction of young people whoare not in education, not employed and not being trained.

Their colleagues from comparatively higher earning homes who have had the advantage of being educated are not very different. Assuming they are able to pass through their basic and secondary education and finish their university education as well, what would their chances be? For just the University of Ghana, about 4000 students pass out each year as graduates. But the statistics of unemployment show that their chances of landing jobs are nothing grand. Though they may have been educated, the bridge between what they spent four years of their lives learning and what is currently happening in the job market is often non-existent. Some find no context at all for all they have been studying.

There is no clear connection between the grade “A” they got in the course they spent sleepless nights studying and what ought to be done on the ground. Although their education ought to have provided them with core work skills and the underpinning knowledge and professional competencies that will facilitate theirtransition into the world of work, they soon find themselves locked up as employable unemployed people upon finishing school and national service.

It is true. An increase in youth population, the failure of the economy to generate sufficient job outlets, the shrinking of the public sector, low investment rate and other players feature in the causes of unemployment. However, a more potent cause is the neglect of an effective way to develop the skills of the youth.

Partners to youth development like the government, the private sector, civil society, academia, international bodies, philanthropists the media and all other stakeholders should commit to providing avenues that aid the acquisition of skills that are relevant for the economic needs of Ghana and the World. An effective vocational training system should be developed to harness the potential of young people who have received basic education and have for many reasons been unable to pass on into higher education. National cross industry apprenticeship competitions should be staged to encourage excellence in the learning of skills. The skill sets handed down should be relevant to the current global and national needs.

For the youth that are able to enrol and graduate from higher institutions of learning, the extent to which their certificate is useful to the Ghanaian and international employer is the extent to which the skill set the certificate alludes to is relevant to the current needs of the job market. The curricula of learning should be reviewed continually to meet the evolved demands of the peoples of the world. The focus, I believe should be on learning and not on teaching. Assessments should be geared towards ensuring that the theories taught have found a direct relation to practical every day happenings.

The youth, most of all, bear the greatest responsibility. The initiatives that the government and other partners have commenced towards equipping them to acquire skills should be taken advantage of fully. The global online world of learning can also be taken full advantage of. Websites that focus on skill development and education(coursera.com, edX.com, coursmos.com, highbrow.com, skillshare.com, curious.com, Lynda.com) can take larger portions of their browsing time in place of the popular Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

Benjamin Disraeli hit the nail on the head when he said, “the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”.

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