Thursday, April 25, 2024

How far are we with ‘skills development?’

It has been eight years now since the ‘Skills Development’ part was added to the Ministry of Education by President Ian Khama. The intention to extend the name from the original MOE to ‘Ministry of Education and Skills Development’ was to further cement the need to equip students and subsequent graduates with skills, credentials, and networking capabilities. 

We were made to believe that this would serve as the foundation for the graduate’s future economic mobility and most importantly development. Over the past eight years, but most importantly over the past three or so decades, the Ministry of Education has helped thousands of Batswana students to graduate from primary school level gradually to university/college level. However the sad reality is that a sizeable number of these graduates are loitering on the streets of our town and cities. 

Available figures do show that, historically, from 1991 until 2010, Botswana’s 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. Currently, latest figures from the statistics agency show that Botswana’s unemployment rate is at over 18 percent, while poverty levels are estimated at 20.7 percent together with high income inequality. In order to keep up with its ‘shining example of Africa’ accolade and appear as forward looking, government has initiated various programmes that include establishment of the Education Hub and National Internship Programme. They are good initiatives, but are they working? We have heard of cases of the private sector now misusing the internship program through cheap labour. The question that lingers on one’s mind though is whether these institutions and programs are addressing the skills and talent shortages that our country is facing. We want to believe that they were created to enable young Batswana and even older ones to sharpen their skills, make them employable and marketable globally, thus creating a positive impact on the economy as a whole. 

In all the mix up, what is worrisome is the fact that our policy makers instead are much interested in providing short-term crisis interventions to the unemployed. Most of the core services provided to unemployed workersÔÇösuch as basic labour market information and job search assistance-seems to be neglected. There is no doubt that Botswana was at some point in pole position to reap the benefits of the relocation of the 2013 Diamond Trading Company (DTC) from London to Gaborone. At the same time, our country is well positioned or at least it should be well positioned to benefit from the intended Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional integration as well as an industrialised economy. 

What is in doubt however is whether the country’s human resource supply is adequate for the projects and industries that continue to crop up as a result of these economic developments. The local business people have expressed their disappointment on the country’s lack of adequate skilled manpower on a continuous basis. It is well known fact that to date our country still relies on imported skills from Zimbabwe and South Africa. But one does not need to be a prophet to say this….once the political and economic status of the former is resolved and with the latter experiencing its own skills shortages, they will leave us. This setup is not sustainable in both the medium to long term. Our main worry is that most jobs have been passed to foreigners as a result of the ‘mismatch’ in the local labour market. 

We are all aware that the government has over the past several years, spent sleepless nights in a bid to find a solution on how to create a mass of skilled workers, as the country continues to depend on migrant workers to fill the skills gaps in some professions. What is of great concern is the fact that the government continues to sponsor students at leading institutions such as the University of Botswana to study liberal arts programmes. The National Economic Diversification Drive Strategy (NEDDS) which is intended to enhance productive capacity of domestic firms is expected to have significant contribution in employment creation and broad-based economic growth. The question that comes to mind is whether our people have been prepared for such a development?

In the current competitive world, business leaders require a highly skilled and talented workforce to achieve their objectives. With concerns being expressed by employers and potential investors about the quality of Botswana trained recruits, government and policy makers should not dare forget there is an urgent need to ensure that a strong and stable human resource base is available in this country. Like the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) noted in their fiscal policy paper published a few years back, developing countries such as our may not be able to close major gaps in human capital levels within reasonable time on the strength of the domestic resources. This will have an impact on the attainment of key developmental goals at national level and in meeting key goals such as those of the MDGs. The truth of the matter is that the development of human capital in our country, a country whose unemployment rate threatens to go beyond 25 percent will result in the long term sustained growth that is required by any developing country. Just like elsewhere, effective human capital development strategies are key to the domestic economy as they can unleash growth potential, attain efficiency, productivity and competitiveness leading to sustainable growth.

As such, the #Bottomline is that increasing support for job training that builds human capital and leads to stable middle-class employment is a wise investment that should appeal to all of our policymakers across the ideological spectrum. 



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