Botswana graduates: Unemployed or unemployable?

29 Mar 2015

On Friday, the government of Botswana revealed that employment prospects for the fields of Accounting, Law, Media and Humanities were not improving. Assistant Minister of Presidential affairs and Public Administration, Philip Makgalemele listed Agriculture, Economics, Marketing, Tourism and Engineering as some of the disciplines that are also over-subscribed.

Makgalemele told parliament that government, through the Department of Public Service Management (DPSM) has since 2008 created a database for unemployed graduates in the country. Records of the DPSM database show that the listed disciplines recorded a large number of graduates as compared to other fields.

“Since 2008 to date, a total of 21, 284 graduates were registered of which 6, 612 (30.29 percent) were absorbed by the public service and the parastatal sector,” he said.

At the same time, Makgalemele admitted that unemployment in general, including graduate unemployment remains a pressing challenge that the country has to contend with. Available figures show that from 1991 until 2010 Botswana unemployment rate averaged 18.10 percent, reaching an all-time high of 23.80 percent in December of 2006 and a record low of 13.90 percent in December of 1991.

The latest figures from Statistics Botswana show that the country’s unemployment rate is at 20.0 percent, while poverty levels are estimated at over 20 percent, together with high income inequality. To address these challenges, said Makgalemele, government has initiated a number of schemes and programs like the Young Farmers Fund, Youth Development Fund and the National Economic Diversification Drive Strategy (NEDDS), which are intended to enhance productive capacity of domestic firms.

“These are expected to have significant contribution in employment creation and broad-based economic growth,” said Makgalemele.

“As a way of exposing the youth, not necessarily graduates, to the world of work, the government of Botswana recently reintroduced the Botswana National Service Programme/New Tirelo Sechaba. So far 12 000 young people have been enrolled in the program.”

Government has also started implementing an Entrepreneurial Mentorship Program through the Botswana Innovation Hub which is geared towards grooming young people to become entrepreneurs.

Unemployable or unskilled graduates?

While the major problem over the years has been high rates of unemployment, it has since emerged that Botswana is also faced with a daunting challenge of limited skilled workers. Over the past few years, government, the private sector and other stakeholders have been spending sleepless nights trying to find ways of amassing a pool of skilled workers who can match the demands of industry. At the moment, the country depends on migrant workers to fill the skills gaps in some professions.

Local business people have also complained that the country does not have adequate skilled manpower. Skilled workers are imported from southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and some as far as Kenya, Nigeria and other economic powerhouses of Africa. Observers say as new mining projects come on stream, the expansion of coal and gas at Morupule and Mmamabula power stations and underground mining develops, new skills will be required.

This leaves the local labour market facing a huge challenge of growing levels of a mismatch between labour supply and demand. With thousands of students graduating from both local and international Universities and Colleges every academic year, the continued lack of skilled workers therefore raises the question whether Botswana’s graduates are unemployed because there is a shortage of jobs or because they are unemployable.

The 2013 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) indicated that the greatest challenges that Botswana faces are shortage of specific or technical skills (79 percent), lack of appropriate work experience (77 percent) and lack of required qualifications (71 percent). However, the trend is not unique to Botswana as businesses around the world are also reporting a skills shortage epidemic that is weighing down on growth prospects.

South Africa faces the same challenges to a large extent: when it comes to shortage of specific or technical skills, South Africa stands at 83 percent, lack of appropriate work experience at 66 percent and lack of required qualifications at 63 percent. Both South Africa and Botswana’s percentage in terms of the mentioned challenges are higher than the recorded global average. Other significant factors that are worth noting are shortage of employability skills, poor motivation or attitude among applicants as well as lack of recruitment expertise. The IBR shows that almost four in ten (39 percent) businesses around the world are struggling to recruit the right people, with a lack of technical skills cited as the primary problem (64 percent). The concern is that a lack of talent will dampen business productivity, ultimately threatening future growth and profitability.