You go to school in anticipation of getting a job after completion, but upon applying for a job, you are required to have work experience. The question is: What really matters in today’s world of work? Is it getting an education, work experience or both?
Many youth in Ghana, who tend to lack work experience have become victims of rejection by a number of businesses. The few companies that open job applications once in a while seem to have their own preferences of prospective candidates—they want older, more experienced workers and not young novices. To better understand how best to prepare oneself to penetrate the job market, a revisit of a key factor is critical—the formal education system.
The Ghana’s education system has been sluggish in catching up with the changes in the world economy and the labour market which is being largely driven by advances in information technology (IT). There is a deficit in Ghanaian schools regarding how students are being taught IT skills that are crucial for many present-day jobs.
Although technology permeates every aspect of our lives — from smartphones to digital televisions — many people struggle with technical skills and literacy in computer functions globally. Consequently, many youth who are new to work are not well grounded in either knowledge or practice to occupy available positions. Despite the large number of youth who are seeking jobs, a lot of companies have expressed difficulty in finding employees. A big challenge in Ghana is that a lot of youth have a negative perception about IT jobs, regardless of one’s programme of study. In other words, there is a general misconception that IT jobs are only meant for those who study IT. Schools—from elementary to senior high—need to train students with skills of high value, such as programming, using statistical software tools and not just the basic computer skills such as typing.
There are clear, notable skills gap in Ghana’s technology sector. Jobs that require the use of technological skills will only increase with time as long as complex problems demand to be solved; but many students are not finishing school with the skillsets that will enable them to get a current job or benefit from future opportunities in technology. The skill set employees are looking for now is largely influenced by Ghana’s position as a service-sector driven country. In the corporate sector, for example, these skills include self-confidence and effective communication when engaging with customers or clients—referred to as “employability” skills—from acceptable behaviour in the workplace to teamwork and problem-solving. The complaint by corporate entities is that the young people they discover – who are desperately looking for work- have low levels of skills. Therefore, there is the need for corporate bodies to work closely with schools to train students in these areas, as well as open their doors for regular internships.
Another concern, which dashes the hopes of many youth landing a job is attitude. Many young people have the wrong attitudes, behaviours or social skills to work. For instance, a person working as a receptionist, attending to guests in a shop might stop working to reply a text or call, suggesting that part of the problem may be a question of the kind of training received in school, or just a lack of discipline. The truth is that many youth in Ghana can be as smart as what if they are not well-mannered in their speech and conduct. They end up lowering their prospects of getting a job and keeping it.
The Ghanaian government faces a daunting task as it tries to satisfy the teeming youth with productive work. First, it has to tackle the skills gap. Part of the problem is that senior high schools and universities/technical institutions are too separated from the demands of enterprises. In contrast, advanced countries like Germany, which has the lowest rate of youth employment in the European Union (EU), have employers working closely with the government and unions to ensure that the education system, apprenticeships and vocational programmes teach business skills that corporations need.
There should be greater employer involvement in Ghana’s education system. To meet that target, the Ministry of Education should encourage employers to be actively involved in the universities and technical institutions. Apart from studying a comprehensive curriculum and writing examinations or project theses, students also need to develop the necessary skills and attitudes that employers want. Considering that, the career services of academic institutions should have a strong knowledge of the skills that employers are looking for, as well as the local needs of the labour market.
The classroom is not the only place to teach skills. In fact, learning should not end in the classroom. Ghana has a history of apprenticeship programmes that help young people gain the kind of work experience needed to start their careers. However, there should be a balance between the skills acquired in the services sector and that which is acquired in manufacturing to ensure that available apprenticeships are able to reflect on the needs of the Ghanaian labour market.
Another problem is how employers and prospective employees perceive non-academic certifications. University education is very important, and people (especially girls) should be encouraged to attain one, at least. However, focusing on university education alone shrouds the benefits of vocation learning. That is the alternative to university’s becoming a second choice option for many youth and one to be avoided if possible. For employers, the problem with Ghana’s vocational path is that the whole system of apprenticeships is filled with uncertainty about the quality of certifications. Reforming standards, could be a government policy to help restore trust and confidence in such programmes. These negative perceptions could change if there are widely recognised qualifications that would benefit both students and employers.
As the Ghanaian economy continues to expand, a number of young people will still have to be absorbed by certain sectors as a matter of necessity. Although higher economic indicators like per capita income is important, that alone would not solve Ghana’s youth unemployment challenge. Rather, identifying the needed skills within the economy should inform any educational reform.Going to school is important, but so is work experience where skills-on-the-job training is acquired.
Therefore, balancing the knowledge learned in school with the practical skills needed to work in one’s area of expertise is a sure way to enhance job opportunities for the Ghanaian youth.