UNEMPLOYMENT remains a major problem affecting the youth in the country.
University and college graduates who hold qualifications in diverse disciplines are not spared either as scores still struggle to make ends meet. Some are finding solace in the informal sector while others cross borders to regional and international markets, as they cannot be absorbed by local industries.
More than 10 000 students graduate annually from the country’s universities but it is unclear how many of them are absorbed by the industry.
The prevailing economic challenges call for innovative graduates to use skills they acquire in colleges and universities for profitability purposes.
Mr Farai Musendo (26), Nust Chemical Engineering graduate is one such person with an innovative mind having completed his Bachelor of Engineering Honours Degree in Chemical Engineering in 2016.
While a student, he invented a diesel plant from plastic waste which he exhibited at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF).
After completing his degree, Mr Musendo, came face to face with the reality of unemployment affecting scores of the country’s graduates. He then decided to form a renewable energy company Farai Pyro with his colleague Mr Allen Matsika in the same year.
The company focuses on setting up biogas plants, turning plastic into diesel and waxy residue (producing floor polish) using waste plastic. Mr Musendo said in setting up his company, he was driven by the desire to contribute positively to the development of the country. “We decided that it would be better to start our own company because we can’t all desert the country for greener pastures. We also want to be part of the solution in rebuilding the country,” said Mr Musendo.
“We have to turn our knowledge into products. And Farai Pyro is a young company that is majoring on building biogas plants. It can be a source of alternative energy, thereby reducing pressure on the national grid. We also want to produce pyrolysis from plastic waste.”
Last year Mr Musendo was awarded for outstanding research by the Research Council of Zimbabwe for his invention in turning plastic waste into diesel.
He said despite the recognition, his company has struggled to achieve its goals due to financial constraints and is only operating from a backyard shop stifling its growth.
Mr Musendo said for the company to achieve its desired vision, it needs $60 000. He said it is difficult for his company to get the loan as they do not have any assets to present before financial institutions. “Our biggest challenge at the moment is that we don’t have enough land. We need about $60 000 to expand the company because we believe we can have a share in the market. Our vision is to create our plant next to a dump site where we gather our raw materials. If our firm is set next to a dump site, we reduce transport costs and we’ll be able to process more waste without harming the environment,” said Mr Musendo.
He said through Farai Pyro, the country can address some of country’s environmental ills. Mr Musendo said there is also a chance that the company can employ other professionals if it operates at full scale. “We want our company to expand into a serious firm which employs accountants, technicians and various professionals. We would even employ some of the graduates that are struggling to get employment at the moment, but our biggest challenge is getting support from Government and the private sector.”
Mr Musendo said the company is not searching for handouts but support so that it can operate at full scale.
He said they had since engaged the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), which has however said it does not have funds to promote their business.
EMA national spokesperson Mr Steady Kangata confirmed that the environmental watchdog had no funds to support start ups. He, however, acknowledged that recycling of waste has become lucrative in the country and should be embraced.
“Recycling needs an entrepreneurial edge for individuals as well as the corporate community. It clearly translates the waste into a resource. It creates thrash into cash. It’s purely business and when we talk of a business model coming from waste management, recycling comes to the fore,” said Mr Kangata.
He said the whole value chain of recycling is littered with money and if exploited, could be profitable. Mr Kangata expressed concern over local authorities which have not come to full appreciation of the benefits of recycling waste.
“Local authorities are supposed to play a pivotal role but not all of them are doing so. I know of Victoria Falls which is doing quite well, Harare is also coming to play but it’s not there yet. At the moment, you can separate the waste but municipalities will just mix it when collecting and dump it at their dump sites,” he said.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Mr Sifelani Jabangwe said the private sector had not done enough to support young entrepreneurs and innovators in the country. He said to close that gap, CZI last month set up a sub-committee to assist young entrepreneurs and innovators.
“As CZI we realised that we were not creating space for those that are innovative. We’ve created a subcommittee on youth and manufacturing so that we can assist them. They can come through and we engage them and see how we can link them so that they know how they can nurture and grow their ideas,” said Mr Jabangwe.
He said the biggest challenge for most innovators is that they do not know the offices to approach to help them grow their projects. Government has committed towards supporting innovators in the country and it is in the process of setting up innovation hubs in six of the country’s State universities.
President Mnangagwa, opening an innovation hub at the Midlands State University (MSU) recently said the country’s institutions of higher learning should turn knowledge into products.
“Our institutions of higher learning should also churn out graduates who meet the needs of society as well as industry and commerce. Teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and innovation must be a central part of our education. We therefore need the appropriate inculcation of scientific and entrepreneurship ideas, premised on creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness to achieve our vision to be a middle income economy by 2030,” said President Mnangagwa.
Mr Musendo said the innovation hubs will only assist students who are at universities at the moment and urged the Government to create a fund to support young innovators.
“For us graduates, we don’t stand to benefit from the innovation hubs. We’re already in the industry and as new entrants, we lack funding. We hope the Government will create a fund for start up companies so that we can grow our ideas and contribute positively to the revival of the country’s economy. We can also earn a living for ourselves without seeking employment from other companies who may not share the same vision with us,” said Mr Musendo. – @nqotshili