Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Case for Ghana’s Innovative Youth: Long-term Policies are Needed

Author: Solomon Elorm Allavi

Ghana is facing a youth employment problem like many other countries in West Africa. It has, however, decided to take measures to find gainful employment for this demographic and to channel their innovative appetite into an engine of growth for the country. Solomon describes the Ghanian youth experience, and a future economic prosperity rooted in entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives.

Ever woke up with a kick at 5:30am? Not with a set alarm clock of course, but jolted out of slumber with the reminder of a pending job interview? With hurried trepidation like a goat in heat, you jump into a quick shower in less than two minutes, put on your suit, slide into your shoes and off to pick up the troski (privately owned public transport in Ghana). A sweaty troski mate hurriedly demands for your fare, which, unfortunately, you don’t have -- you’ve forgotten to take your wallet. You quickly enter an apologetic mode and plead with the mate to pay up another time. Well, as if by design, you get caught up in a heavy early Monday morning traffic on the Ring Road en route to Osu for your interview on Oxford Street. You eventually get to the office for the interview. You are interviewed for about 40 minutes and told you’ve been selected. The caveat, however, is that the vacancy is currently not yet opened until about 12 months time! This is just one of the numerous challenges associated with being a young graduate in Ghana. Jobs are simply on the decline.

The main Kaneshie market in Ghana features a troski station.
The troski is the privately owned public transport system, on which many Ghanians rely daily.

The above scenario typically portrays the difficulties young graduates face in getting employment in Ghana. It is universally acknowledged, however, that the way to address such unemployment challenges is through entrepreneurship and job creation initiatives from the public and private sectors. The unemployment situation in Ghana stands at 12.9 percent and is one of the highest in the world, according to the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) and Trading Economics. This figure is even debatable because the agencies responsible for producing data on unemployment in Ghana, such as the Ghana Statistical Service (through the Ghana Living Standards Survey-GLSS), are yet to comprehensively undertake a baseline survey on Ghana’s unemployment level. Even the Minister of Employment in Ghana does not know the employment figures of the country, thus the 12.9 percent unemployment estimate being bundled about could be higher than the real number.

It is important for young people in Ghana to acquire essential skills for the job market.  Skills development, especially for the informal sector, is an issue of huge importance. The informal sector employs roughly 90 percent of the economically active population in many of these countries. This problem concerns all the national economies in sub-Sahara Africa.

At the Kumasi Center in Ghana, young Ghanians are trained with
technical skills which they may use to enter the workforce.
Our universities are inundated with courses that simply teach grammar. We need a well-developed long-term agenda on science, technology and mathematics. The issue of skills development needs to be tackled at two levels. Firstly, it is necessary to find vocational activities or jobs for the many uneducated, undereducated and even qualified young people who find it extremely hard to enter the work force. Secondly, it is necessary to develop technical and vocational skills for young people, as well as for the economic and professional stakeholders in this sector, which can help them develop their own small-scale opportunities and, more generally, progress from our current subsistence economy to a value added one.

Ghana has been in the limelight for some of its good economic policies: its improved business climate; the achievement of most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); and its favourable and stable political environment. Crowning all of this is the country’s growing culture of entrepreneurship among its youth. Even without deliberate interventions by the government to support young people by way of addressing unemployment, Ghanaian youth, especially college graduates, are taking on laudable initiatives to create startup companies in the tech, general service, manufacturing, and agribusiness sectors. An enabling environment is critical for private sector growth in Ghana. There is need for advocacy within the public and private sectors for investment in infrastructure and services, providing improved broadband coverage in urban centers would be necessary to successful business development.

It should be noted that overall commercial investment in innovation youth tech startups is lacking. While support is present from donors and international organizations, private sector investment at the venture, incubation and growth stages could lead to more robust, sustainable innovation in this sector. The youth are the bedrock of Ghana’s economy, thus proactive support for youth-led innovation and enterprises can lead to economic and social transformation of our entire country.

Solomon Elorm Allavi is a passionate Ghanaian with interest in ICT applications in agriculture, youth development and research. He has an academic background in computer science and statistics. He is the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN) Ambassador in Ghana and a leading member of the Youth Advisory Group (YAG). He is also the founder and chief operations manager of Syecomp Ghana Ltd, a startup IT company focused on geographic information systems (GIS) survey and mapping applications in Ghana.

Your comments and feedback are much appreciated. To engage in further discussion with the editors and contributors of the blog on this topic and other related topics, follow us on twitter @SEADiaspora and/or leave a comment below. Solomon can be reached on twitter @Elorms or via e-mail at sallavi@syecomp.com