IF universities remain mills of qualifications to get jobs, instead of capacitation to grow jobs, unemployment will remain a stubborn hurdle for Zimbabwean youths.
An estimated 10,000 university students graduating from Zimbabwe’s 13 universities every year are up against an austere patch in the job market.
Universities have become the conventional route to employment, given Zimbabwe’s high literacy rate, but for many graduates, the hard road does not end in the formal sector.
ZimStat defines a potential workforce of 7.8 million people out of a population of 13.4 million Zimbabweans.
A vast majority, 94.5 percent, of the 6.3 million Zimbabweans defined as employed work in the informal sector.
“The largest number (4.16m) is made up of smallholder farmers in communal agriculture, followed by 615,000 in trade and commerce. Some 210,000 are said to have informal jobs in manufacturing, 70,000 in mining, 118,000 in education and 92,000 in transport,” according to The Economist’s Intelligence Unit.
While the informal economy is growing, with a lot of upbeat developments to its credit, universities are staying wide of the trajectory as tertiary curricula are primarily targeting a shrinking formal sector.
As a result, thousands of university graduates trained in the humanities, sciences and commerce to find their footing in the formal sector, land with the right rules in the wrong court.
If the situation was already bad enough, the Supreme Court decision on the case of Nyamande & Ors v. Zuva Petroleum (2015) made it unbearable for workers and unemployed graduates nursing financial headaches on urban fringes.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and four other judges upheld employers’ entitlement at common law to terminate employment on three months’ notice, triggering a jobs haemorrhage that left thousands retrenched.
The decision which occasioned job cuts might, however, have been more the eruption of a time-bomb than a sudden trigger.
There has not been much headway in expanding the job market over the years despite the increase in the graduate population.
Students are being trained to look for jobs instead of being trained to create jobs. This makes higher education work in regress as far as employment creation is concerned.
The jobs haemorrhage of 2015 signals the overdue need for Zimbabwe to take entrepreneurship to scale. Universities, as the highway most Zimbabweans are taking to the job market, saddle this mandate in the main.
As companies struggle to hold their own, thousands of graduates being produced yearly must be equipped to survive and thrive on their own.
In 2013, the government introduced the Graduate Entrepreneurial and Employment Promotion Programme (GEEPP) to promote entrepreneurship among university graduates.
The initiative was framed around key policies such as land reform and indigenisation and economic empowerment to get the youths up and hustling in the interest of their development and the growth of the economy.
The government needs to partner universities to commit unsparingly to the need to create enabling conditions for the young and energetic to fill the gap left by the struggling corporate giants.
Funeral dirges for a situation which can be helped are beside the point. Economies such as South Korea, Japan and US have grown immensely by maintaining an enabling setting for start-ups.
Although most of them were incepted by disruptive young visionaries well after our Independence in 1980, some of the companies born out of that environment now generate enough revenue to cover our annual budget.
Technology is one sector where the immense success of young start-ups has generated vocabulary bordering on fantasy. The feasibility of such a miracle in Zimbabwe is a recurrent mantra in these columns.
A report in the The World in 2016 edition of The Economist relates how technological companies are recording success of mythical proportions across the world. “Aileen Lee, a venture capitalist, coined the term “unicorn” to describe a private technology company valued at over $1 billion, an occurrence that used to be as unusual as spotting a mythical creature.”
“No longer. In mid-October there were 141 unicorns worth a combined $504 billion globally, up from eight unicorns worth $21 billion in 2010. Tech unicorns include headline-grabbing firms such as Uber (a taxi-hailing company valued at $51 billion), room-renting Airbnb ($25.5 billion) and Snapchat, a messaging firm ($16 billion),” writes The Economist’s technology editor Alexandra Suich.
“Investors have poured money into tech, sometimes indiscriminately, hoping to profit from the next big thing. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a sentiment so common in Silicon Valley that it has its own acronym,” he says.
The success of Zimbabwe-grown companies, particularly Econet Wireless, shows that this is not a distinctively American possibility. However, wherever start-ups have grown exponentially and fed into the national economies, the support of established companies and government ministries is in evidence.
Zimbabwe is, by and large, missing in action as the gold rush of technological start-ups escalates across the world. Universities must plant disruptive seeds in their students. The government and business must water them in the interest of Zimbabwe, chiefly its massive youth demographic.
The fact that Zimbabwe is behind in terms of many technologies and services which could well take the country by a storm is a good thing for young aspirants. Instead of catching fire kindle elsewhere, young Zimbabweans must be masters of the tech revolution.
The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development is on point with its escalating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) crusade.
It should be a logical progression if Zimbabwe’s regionally undisputed literacy rate grows to technological proficiency. Only then can literacy translate to economic rewards.
“Everyone is now talking about STEM. Everyone now is talking about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as the necessary foundation for all education especially higher and tertiary education. No STEM, no education,” Higher Education Minister Prof Jonathan Moyo said.
However, the credible crusade by the ministry need not be advanced at the expense of culture industries which can branch out of the arts and humanities. Again, government, business, academic and arts institutions need to partner for maximum rewards out of this underutilised sector.
Culture industries include the literary arts, research, publishing and the print media, audiovisual outlets, new media, traditional cultural expressions, visual arts, cultural sites and design.
Earlier this year, the writer lamented that Zimbabwe’s knowledge economy was a starved golden goose left alone to die, referring to disclosures by major writers on how fruitless their occupation had become.
With strategic investment, however, the knowledge economy can take its place among other pillar sectors of the economy. While this may sound more of a sentimental score than a business insight, figures from around the globe attest to that.
An African Business cover story headed African Creative Industries: The Sleeping Giant,” by Mike van Graan, bemoans Africa’s failure to make the most of the creative economy, though the sector has posted an upbeat performance globally, with a show of immunity to recession.
“To give an idea of the magnitude of the creative economy and its overall economic impact, a recent study forecast that the global entertainment and media industry alone injected around $2,2 trillion in the world economy in 2012,” van Graan points out.
While the growth trajectory has remained upbeat at an annual rate of 8,7 percent, grossing $592 billion in 2008 at a time when other sectors were down with a debilitating financial, developing countries contributed less than 1 percent to the success story.
The countries which are making it big in creative and tech revolutions have no special advantages of history. Those who are missing in action do face any insurmountable hurdles.
These are primarily virtual sectors where a disruptive orientation and creativity are key. Universities and colleges are strategic incubation centres as they can equip students with the foundational “software,” that is the knowledge needed to ably navigate these sectors.
Zimbabwean higher education needs rewiring. In this age of global possibilities, fortune is no longer for the privileged but for the daring. In other countries, graduates are thinking of creating jobs, instead of looking for jobs. Such a revolution is long overdue in Zimbabwe.