Thursday, April 25, 2024

How far with ‘Skills Development’ Mr President?

It has been six years now since the ‘Skills Development’ appendage 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 commitment to equipping students and subsequent graduates with skills, credentials, and networking capabilities.

All these, we were made to believe, could have served as the foundation for the graduate’s future economic mobility and development. The Ministry of Education has over the years 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 marching on the streets of our towns and cities. Available figures show that 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. Latest figures from the statistics agency show that Botswana’s unemployment rate is at 17.6 percent, while poverty levels are estimated at 20.7 percent together with high income inequality.

One is tempted to say, in order to keep up with its ‘shining example’ accolade and appear as a forward looking Government, various initiatives that include the establishment of Education Hub, National Internship Programme with private enterprises have been put in place. They are good initiatives, but are they effectively 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 shortage that our country is facing. We want to believe that they were created to make these 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 for unemployed workers. The core services most often provided to unemployed workersÔÇösuch as basic labour market information and job search assistance–seems to be neglected.

There is no doubt that Botswana is at pole position to reap the benefits of the relocation of the Diamond Trading Company (DTC) from London to Gaborone. At the same time, our country is well positioned, or at least it should be, 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 for every long time now.

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 this is not sustainable in both the medium to long term. It is quite evident that with new mining projects coming on stream, the expansion of coal and gas at Morupule and Mmamabula power stations and underground mining developments, new skills will be required. Our main worry is that such jobs could be or 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. It is quiet a shame and equally disappointing for institutions such as UB which seems to be hell-bent on pursuing their profit motive without taking the prevailing job market into consideration. This so because figures would show that most unemployed graduates are from these particular discipline which clearly reflect the labour mismatch and lack of human capital development. 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. Our policy makers particularly at the Human Resource Development Advisory Council (HRDAC) should be reminded that the best employees increase productivity, save time and money for their organisation and ultimately grow the business. With concerns being expressed by employers and potential investors about the quality of Botswana trained recruits, the government and policy makers should not dare forget the urgent need to ensure a strong and stable human resource base for the sector.

Like the Botswana Institute for Development Policy analysis noted in their fiscal policy paper published earlier this year, because of major gaps in human capital levels, developing countries such as ours may be unable to close these gaps within reasonable time on the strength of the domestic resources. This will have an impact on the attainment of key developmental goals at the national level and in meeting key goals such as those of the MDGs. The Bottomline though remains that the development of human capital in our country, a country whose unemployment rate threatens to go beyond 20 percent, will result in the long term sustained growth that is required by any developing country.

As such 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.

Just like elsewhere, effective human capital development strategies are key to the domestic economy as they can unleash the growth potential and attain efficiency, productivity and competitiveness, leading to sustainable growth.

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