Enemy Number 1: Youth unemployment

Gone are the days when inflation used to be labeled the “number one enemy”. Unemployment is now not only the “number one enemy,” but an aggressive terrorist, anxious to blow up our macroeconomic tower.

Unemployed youths.
Unemployed youths.

Unemployment, according to its broad definition, refers to the population age fifteen years and above, who during the seven day reference period did not work and had no job or business to go back to, but who were available for work (ZIMSTAT, 2006). A lower unemployment rate is regarded as one of the key macroeconomic fundamentals.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Services, in 2009, estimated that structural unemployment was 85 percent. Youths aged 15–24 years accounted for 62.1 percent in 1994, 65 percent in 1999, 67.5 percent in 2002 and 59.6 percent in 2004 (Kanyenze, 2009).The graph below shows the unemployment rate between 1998 and 2004 (when the last official figure was recorded).

Every year Zimbabwe is creating thousands of potential employees through its universities, colleges, vocational and training centers. We had a surplus of bonded nurses in 2011 and the Government is currently looking at exporting some of the nurses abroad.

What really is the government doing to create adequate jobs for the young people entering the job market every year? Young people who have spent 18 years of their lifetime going to school in the hope of finding a good job to improve their livelihoods, are now selling recharge cards and newspapers at road intersections in town.

Many are seen hanging around all day, where some will end up abusing drugs or forming crime gangs. Due to persistent unemployment, some youths have suffered melancholy and distress and ended up committing suicide. Young female graduates have been left particularly vulnerable and desperate – and some have resorted to prostitution.

The current youth empowerment programmes are just not enough to do the trick. Some youths may not be entrepreneurial enough to succeed in business – all they need is a job, to practice what they have learnt at college – as accountants, economists, nurses, engineers and the like. We cannot all be entrepreneurs, at the end of the day, some are just meant to be professionals.

Employers have been arguing that the current labour laws favor jobless growth, whereby labour is replaced by capital. According to employers; the labour laws are inflexible, as they make it difficult for them to fire employees. Hiring is even more difficult. According to the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries’ 2011 Manufacturing Sector Survey, wages and salaries on average constitute 25% of total expenses, and even as high as 60% for some companies. This scenario is not good for job creation prospects.

Government, as a policy maker, has a responsibility to come up with a job creation policy. The Millennium Development Goal 8 on global partnerships makes reference to the need to develop and implement strategies that give young people everywhere a real chance to find decent and productive work.

The policy should be crafted in consultation with the youths, to ensure that their views are taken on board. Addressing a business gathering recently, US President, Barack Obama, said “Ask yourself what you can do to help create a job, and your country will help you every way it can to help you succeed.” Our government should have that kind of attitude.

Youths are tired of the government’s failure to solve their real issues. For suicides they get counseling, for crimes they are punished by the law, for prostitution they are given condoms. Government should make it a matter of policy that every company should employ at least one college or university graduate in every department, for at least one year; earning a minimum wage.

Doing so will ensure that virtually all unemployed graduates get swallowed in the private and public sectors. To complement such a policy, there would be a need to scrap attachment from degree programmes, since the objectives of attachment can still be achieved during formal employment.

The social contract, which has been gathering dust, should be now reactivated. The current environment is much more conducive to work, compared to the environment under which it was signed. Inflation is no longer running away, and we no longer have price distortions, as market forces are now operating at full throttle.

Government should also put in place safeguards that protect local companies that have been unfairly forced to close or downsize and retrench employees due to competition from imports. In granting that protection, they will have to ensure that it is compatible with the country’s commitments to regional and international organizations such as SADC, COMESA and WTO.

Most importantly, protection should be only granted to companies that have a concrete plan to create jobs and be able to adequately and competitively service the local market.

Government should also say no to hiring from outside the country. Many foreign companies are bringing in employees from outside the country to do jobs that can done by local people. We have many people who are currently unemployed but are qualified to work with same level of competence as foreigners. [email protected]

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