Why the youth unemployment crisis in Ghana is a global challenge
In a bid to escape the awkward silences at a friend's birthday dinner, a plethora of topics was consistently juggled in the span of two hours. However, the one topic that sparked the most excitement for me was Uber's penetration in the African market. This meant I wouldn't be quoted an out-of-range price by taxi drivers once they hear my “non-Ghanaian” accent or wouldn't have to bargain with multiple taxi drivers before gauging the actual estimated cost of a trip. In July 2017, I had arrived in Ghana hopping from one venue to the next. My goal was to connect with as many people as possible and yet had somehow forgotten all about Uber’s expansion. Only two days in, my physical cash was quickly depleting from transportation costs alone. There's a Warren Buffett rule I have always abided by; "rule #1: Don’t lose money and rule #2: Never forget rule #1." It didn’t take long for Uber to come to mind.
Now let's divert slightly. According to the segmented labor market theory, there exists a primary labor market (high-skilled), and a secondary labor market (low-skilled). Most well-educated young adults from Ghana who find it difficult to secure a career obtain a visa from a family member or friend and migrate abroad to find employment. According to Quartz, Ghanaian citizens are the world’s leading applicants for US green cards with around 7% of Ghana’s 27 million populations applying to win the US visa lottery in 2015. Since a college degree from most African countries does not hold much weight in most countries abroad, young Africans work in the secondary labor market in industries such as retail and fast food restaurants. All the while, they balance these long working hours while paying to attend late-night classes for the purposes of securing job placement in an industry of interest.
Uber is an ephemeral solution for many young adults who are striving to migrate as a result of the high unemployment rate. However, it also comes with challenges. In Lagos-Nigeria, for example, Uber drivers went on strike in April 2017 after fares were slashed by 40%. Drivers responded by asking passengers to take the trip offline so that it would appear as if the ride was canceled and Uber will not be collecting any commission from the cash payment the driver would receive. (Source: Quartz) Based on observations as such, the youth unemployment crisis has commonly been attributed to bad attitude and a lack of professional etiquette by most. In fact, Kusi Consulting - a Ghanaian consulting and service providing company, assisting businesses to gain a competitive advantage in their respective industry - recently shared a very solid infographic which confirmed and highlighted the two aforementioned attributions.
However, I also do believe the additional challenges contributing to the youth unemployment crisis in Ghana are even direr. Two of these challenges can be categorized as;
Lack of Preparation for Employment:
Students in many colleges and universities throughout Ghana are being primed solely for scholarly development. The lack of focus on students’ development of technical skills and real-world experience means that many students graduate ill-prepared to meet the demands of the labor market. This is similar to the educational system in the United States where a student may excel academically yet find it difficult to secure a job post-graduation due to the lack of sufficient career development opportunities available to him/her throughout his/her undergraduate career. While this reality confronts a host of young adults in Ghana, those from low-income families are impacted most, as they do not have the same opportunity to procure additional education and training abroad like their wealthier counterparts. So long as schools continue to lack a focus on career development, students will continue to struggle to make themselves marketable and employable.
Obsolescence of Native Workers in the Job Market:
In Ghana, there has been a recent influx of foreigners who invest in the abundance of resources ranging from infrastructure development, retail services, and agricultural production. Unfortunately, Ghanaians are unable to take part in their endeavors because of their limited knowledge and skill sets in comparison to their foreign counterparts. Foreign investors have compensated for this by bringing thousands of their own laborers and businessmen; this group represents a new face of globalization in Africa. While foreigners are able to benefit from these emerging industries, young adults in Ghana still remain disadvantaged, with the unemployment rate at double for the 25-44 age demographic and triple for those aged 45-65. Another reason for the high unemployment rate amongst young adults is the evolution of technology in Ghana. Many Ghanaians are now being replaced by equipment that performs quicker, better, and of utmost importance to stakeholders, at less cost. Unless one has a specialized skill in great demand, making a decent living proves extremely challenging.
Unfortunately, only a select few are openly discussing ways and processes to adequately address the rationale above. On every trip I partake in, I serve as an entrepreneurial tourist. This puts me in a position to connect with citizens and subconsciously do a ton of market research about the innovations currently occurring in the city or country. On this trip to Ghana, my conversation with Uber drivers was the better part of my entire experience. In one particular conversation with an Uber driver (let’s assume his name is Peter), a summary of our conversation went as follows;
Peter was born and raised in Kumasi-Ghana, where he graduated honors three years ago with a concentration in Oil & Energy. Since graduation, he has lost count of the number of interviews he has been to. Thrilled to pacify my curiosity, Peter shared that the jobs exist, however; nepotism plays an integral role in deciding who would be employed after attaining a degree. As he said and I paraphrase, “there are last names in the Ghanaian system that will just never disappear. If you are born into a family with such name, you will encounter no or minimal financial challenges. However, if you aren't in that position, it’s going to be very difficult to climb up the ladder of prosperity.” Frustrated after two years of searching, Peter enrolled in a Ghanaian University (name undisclosed) training program where he paid thousands of dollars for a certificate to garner skill sets ranging from fire safety, swimming, and teaching. Yet, still nothing. When Uber came into the picture, he then gave all hope in potentially securing employment and settled to be a driver. Through Uber, Peter makes on average 500 - 700 Ghana Cedis a month (~$110 - $160). After spending 150 Ghana Cedis (~$30) on rent, he scrapes to barely sustain himself.
Coincidentally (or not), three additional Uber drivers echoed Peter's story. As a result, I invited them to Anansi Digital's First Annual Social Gathering. None of them showed up. This is when it all made sense. Every minute for the unemployed young adult counts as it determines whether she has enough money to sustain herself tomorrow. Secondly, a number of unemployed college graduates who have been out of school for at least a year have gone on to explore countless training programs without receiving job placement. Thirdly, they are just fed up.
During a 2015 service trip to Ghana to hold a youth diaspora initiative for orphans and neglected youth (picture above), I witnessed many hardworking young adults squander their talents at virtually no fault of their own. No matter how much they strived to change their situation, they inevitably succumbed to the forces of their environment — the single most damning factor is the lack of employment opportunities. Lack of clear choices, educational opportunities, and role models also have long-lasting negative effects on their careers and overall quality of life. Frustrated by this reality, my impeccable team and I outlined ways to tackle the over 40% youth unemployment rate in Ghana. Backed by resources from the Clinton Foundation and New York University, our mission was (and still is) to launch a talent accelerator that equips recent college graduates with the skills and experience needed to secure employment in leading companies across Ghana. However, there was a slight hesitation then. Unlike most talent accelerators, we had no interest in launching a program that may disappoint our fellows in the long run.
This hesitation is what sparked the idea of organizing a social gathering where recent college graduates could cultivate genuine relationships with human resource professionals across Ghana. In turn, it also afforded us the opportunity to conduct a very solid market research amongst our target demographic and has better equipped us with palpable insights for our go-to-market strategy. With limited time to plan, we successfully attracted over 60 recent college graduates and human resource professionals (at peak) to connect and to learn about the importance of digital marketing for African businesses. Barbara Mettle-Olympio of B Branding Solutions has strategically categorized the importance of digital marketing for African Businesses into three points; (1) Low barrier to entry - Traditional marketing activities can be expensive. Digital marketing is scalable and can be utilized to reach target audience, (2) 67% mobile penetration - Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to add more than 100 million unique subscribers to surpass a half billion mark by 2020, according to a report by the GSM Association, and (3) Reach larger audience - Traditional marketing activities can be limited to a particular geographic area. With digital marketing, you can reach an international audience.
Our reputable speakers included Rita Kusi (CEO at Kusi Consulting & 360 Ghana), Barbara Mettle-Olympio (Founder/Director of Client Services at B Branding Solutions), Nana Boatemaa Amoah (Marketer/Blogger at nanaboatemaa.com), Jeffrey Opoku (Founder/CEO at Sidekick Social Media), Simon W. Alangde (Managing Partner/Co-Founder at Wineloya), and Prince Adu-Appiah (Founder & CEO of 1Billion Africa). Aligning their respective presentations with our mission, their insights included the positive effects viral content can have on African businesses, the importance of cultivating an employable skill set outside class lectures, and the outstanding impact interning, volunteering, and/or networking has on potential job placement. From conversations had with our participants, it was also evident another critical challenge most new graduates face is an inability to express their skills and experience on their CV or resumes. We will cultivate partnerships to address this moving forward.
Since the social gathering, we have received a number of requests to organize a similar experience that explores a different theme. Such recommendation and feedback is not taken lightly however, we were even more thrilled to be informed about these following outcomes;
A social entrepreneur in the recycling space secured an outstanding project opportunity at an elementary school
One of our speakers extended an internship opportunity to the developers under the Tech2Orphans initiative. Tech2Orphans is a subset of 1Billion Africa that gives orphans 21st Century ICT and Coding Skills. This should be in operation by October this year (2017)
A number of recent college graduates have directly inquired about ways to expand their skill sets in online marketing. A recommendation from one of the participants resulted in our newly formed Digital Services Awareness Facebook group. All are welcome
A number of the participants have gone on to create LinkedIn accounts and are eager to cultivate a strong personal and professional brand
Our closing performer - who used Facebook Live as her digital marketing strategy - has secured another opportunity to perform at the opening of an even bigger social gathering!
Margaret Mead once shared, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” We - at Anansi Digital - may have no interest in changing Ghana or its economic landscape. Yet we understand the unemployment crisis amongst Ghanaian youth is a global challenge, it’s our challenge. The African continent boasts 1.2 billion people of which 200 million are aged between 15 and 24. This makes Africa the continent with the youngest population in the world. Whether it be the mining industry, the agricultural sector, or the fashion industry, our African youth will play an integral role in its development. And whether we choose to see the indirect link or not, their success is our success too. Henceforth, just like a drop of water in the vastness of the ocean, we are confident our little contribution to the employment ecosystem will spark the human capital present to expand their skill sets and channel their inner potential to catapult the economic growth of our great nation, Ghana and ultimately, our continent Mama Africa.
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Jeph Acheampong writes as a millennial voice on a wide range of topics including business, entrepreneurship, and philosophy. Jeph serves as founder of Anansi Digital and Head of Marketing at Esusu, which tackle the African youth unemployment and financial inclusion respectively. He is also extremely passionate about social entrepreneurship and its role in the development of the African continent.