EDITORIAL: Give youth an education that responds to current labour market needs

At least half of graduates produced by our universities lack employability skills, technical mastery and basic work-related capabilities with 52 per cent of them perceived to be incompetent, according to a recent study by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA).

While education is not the biggest bottleneck to youth employment, it is a major one. Experts consider lack of education and skills mismatches to be principal obstacles for young people in labour markets. Lack of proper training is among the major reasons why young people do not find jobs.

Skills mismatches point up a poor quality of education and the absence of linkages between education systems and employers as underlying problems.

Experts point out a general lack of targeted education and frequent major discrepancies between candidates’ profiles and the skills required for a job.

A shortage of technical and mechanical employees or electricians coexists with a surplus of workers in audits, sales and communication.

In manufacturing, in particular, many of the positions that go unfilled are at a level that does not require tertiary education and does not pay the salaries that university graduates expect. What are required, rather, are the technical skills to maintain equipment and supervise unskilled workers.

The current higher education system needs to become more diversified to meet the need for a variety of levels of skills and education.

At the tertiary level, young people are confronted with a university system that has traditionally focused on educating for public sector jobs with little regard for the needs of the private sector.

Often, a degree from a tertiary institution is an entry requirement for government employment, with little attention paid to a specific skill set.

Tertiary education tends to be significantly more expensive than in the social sciences, making expansion of such faculties a challenge for public education institutions. Private investor could fill this void, leaving the government with duties of quality control and oversight.

As a result, Rwandan universities do not educate for Rwandan needs.

Universities must educate with an eye to the needs of the Rwandan market, improving education in technical fields and agriculture, and improving quality.

This approach should include more and better guidance to students, to steer them towards employment in the private sector, away from enrolment in traditional public sector entrance subjects in the arts, humanities and social sciences.