The Sunday Times Economic Analysis                 By the Economist  

Employing the unemployable: Jobs for the graduates
The election promise of employing the large number of unemployed graduates has become a milestone round the neck of the coalition government. Rash election promises to gain votes end up being a financial burden, especially when coupled with a host of other promises and diminishing government revenues.

The government is attempting to absorb these graduates, who have failed to find employment in the private sector, in an already over staffed public sector. The objective of pruning down the size of the public sector is once again being jettisoned. In an economy reputed to have the highest persons employed in the public services per population, the move appears to be imprudent.

Nevertheless, political imperatives dictate that it must be done. The way it is to be done is not yet worked out and there appears to be disagreement between the constituent elements in the government as to how this is to be done.

The employment of university graduates is a many faceted complex problem that cannot be resolved easily owing to financial constraints and absorptive capacities on the one hand, and the inadequate skills and varied and unrealistic aspirations of the graduates, on the other.

In this context we wish to be positive and helpful rather than critical. What we wish to suggest is how this employment of graduates could be least damaging or even bring some benefits to the country.

One approach in employment of graduates is to upgrade the recruitment qualifications to the public services. This has hardly been done in many public services. Unlike in the colonial past when the SSC or its equivalent, the GCE ordinary level, was adequate, this is hardly so in the modern situation. The poor quality of staff in many public services is the consequence. This proposal would have to necessarily go in tandem with the raising of salaries. For instance, we would have a more intelligent police service if recruitment to it were of graduates. This applies to many other services in the public sector.

The agricultural extension service could profit by training those with a suitable background in agriculture and extension, and teacher training for graduates could improve the teaching profession qualitatively. The Central Bank has in fact for many decades done this in practice.

Though recruitment for non-staff grades required lower qualifications than a degree, in practice most recruits to clerical grades were graduates. The higher salaries in the Central Bank and the prospects for advancement lured many good graduates unto such employment. It may be pertinent to mention that some of them went on to obtain postgraduate qualifications and Ph.D.s and became high officials in the Central Bank and in commercial banks.

The most important aspect of graduate employment is the need to provide the recruited graduates with suitable training. Irrespective of what subjects these graduates have studied, it should be possible to train them in the required skills both through training programmes and on the job training.

These would essentially be of short duration. The programme of graduate employment should estimate the needed skills, determine the required training, organise training facilities and deploy the graduates in the most suitable fields of activity. Such an approach would not merely provide job opportunities to the graduates but contribute to the economy through their work adding to the goods and services produced by the country.

Conversely, if the graduates are recruited to positions that do not require them and are employed merely to give them an income, then the economy will lose rather than gain. Employing graduates productively is the key issue.

There are also several dimensions of the problem from the graduate's perspective. The graduates should be humble enough to recognise that they have deficiencies that have to be corrected through training to enable them to work efficiently and effectively. They must be willing to undergo training rather than rest on their laurels, merely because they have already obtained a degree.

An orientation programme designed to develop the correct attitudes would be most useful. Attempts to recruit graduates for employment in the private sector failed owing to unsatisfactory attitudes of graduates. They felt that certain jobs were below their dignity, that undergoing training was superfluous as they were graduates and that they did not get adequate respect and recognition of being university graduates from their colleagues. These attitudes are not satisfactory even for public sector employment, especially if their recruitment is for a broader range of employment.

We hope the new programme of graduate employment will not merely "provide jobs for the boys", but that their employment would increase production and productivity of the economy and improve the quality of public services in which they are employed. Then it would not be a severe strain on the economy for years to come. A lesson that must be learned for the long run is that university education too must be planned so that the emphasis is on those areas where employment opportunities are available.

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