Gently-eating her meal while she fiddles with her smart phone, Neo Kelesitse frowns angrily as she recites the number of places she visited looking for a job.
“I have been to every office in Commerce Park. Imagine going from employer to employer. It is hard,” she says. Kelesitse’s grumble is just one of those affecting the thousands of unemployed young people. Five months ago, the 24-year-old graduated from NIIT College with a degree in Software Engineering and with modest life goals. She wants to develop into the country’s leading software engineer, but with a skewed economy, finding a job in the Information and Technology sector is like looking for a needle in a haystack. She says she had thought she would find a job the first day she walked out of school.
Of the 17.8 percent unemployed people, around 35 percent or some 250 000 are young people. This, according to scholars, is a result of ill-conceived and populist policies of President Ian Khama’s “socialist” government. Graduates’ presence at Wimpy and other outdoor cafes is testimony to government’s failure to create jobs. Others say it is a result of a mismatch between supply of graduates and demand by the labour market. “There is no future here. Everything looks dark,” declares Mothusi Kheto as he idly stirs his black coffee. Twelve months ago, Kheto, a graduate of Archaeology and English, had hoped to join Botswana National Museum as an Assistant Curator. He may have to wait longer as indebted elderly people are not willing to leave jobs. The economy as measured by real GDP expanded by 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012, but is forecast to remain below the projected figure of 4 percent as a result of sluggish growth. This is likely to push the number of joblessness higher when compared to the same period four years ago.
Turning young people into farmers
The increasing number of unemployed youth is a national crisis as it is a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) scandal. More than 250 000 young people between the age of 15 and 29 are unemployed according to the latest statistics from Statistics Botswana. Unemployment among the youth has staggered following the 2008 US-induced economic crisis and is feared to increase beyond the 35 percent mark if the labour market does not improve. There are many Kelesitses and Khetos loitering in cafes and bars facing a bleak and impenetrable future. Across the country, more than 18 000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed in what scholars have dubbed the new lost generation. A University of Botswana macroeconomist faults government’s indecisiveness in matching skills requirement to the available jobs in the market. “There is no demand for white collar jobs. They are saturated,” argues Gaotlhobogwe Motlaleng.
Government has been struggling with how to increase youth employment given the reluctance of the private sector to hire. Khama recently launched the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) aimed at providing for expanded internship and training opportunities in the private and public sector. While opposition politicians objected to the initiative, government spokesperson, Dr. Jeff Ramsay said YES is expected to attract hundreds of unemployed young people and build upon the existing internship programme and the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) and Young Farmers Fund.
The Fund was established in 2008 and government has already injected over P200 million into the project, which is expected to improve the country’s food security and entice young people into the less attractive agriculture sector. Over 600 projects valued at about P300 million have been funded by the scheme, which is believed to have created jobs for over 4 000 young people.
However, other countries facing similar unemployment challenges are coming up with sustainable initiatives to reduce youth unemployment. Italy for example, although it is a developed economy, is giving modest tax breaks to companies that hire people into the workforce for the first time.
The Internship programme
When it was established in 2009, the National Internship Programme was viewed as a good gesture to take youth off the streets. It was set up by government as a way of helping graduates acquire hands-on experience in various professions in different organisations across Botswana. With an enrolment of 2 610, the internship programme is drawing accolades as it attracts criticism. “Government internship is a great programme for those in schools,” adds Kelesitse. “It should give you a feel of how the world of work is like out there. For us it is of no use, we are already out there, we need work,” she says, now with unusually deep concentration and a sense of seriousness. “Companies are exploiting people.” After completing two years of internship, graduates are released back to the street to join the unemployed. Kelesitse has already suffered the humiliation by employers who do not want to accept her application letter. “They say there is no use as they will lose the letters.” She is yet to enlist in the internship after she has completed some paper work. Kelesitse will be joining the 1876 in the public sector or the 568 in parastatal organisations.
But Motlaleng and Kheto remain pessimistic. For Motlaleng, CEDA Young Farmers Fund and YES cast a cloud of uncertainty unless beneficiaries are equipped with the much-needed industrial skills. His main gripe is that the tertiary education system offers identical courses which compromises economic diversification.
Kheto agrees. “Unemployment in Botswana,” he notes with chilling composure, “can only be solved by up-skilling artisans.” He has long been convinced that his English and Archaeology courses are only good for his literature and help him appreciate history and anthropology. “But I knew they were not good for the economy,” he says, now with a defeated voice. “Qualified teachers are roaming the streets. I have long anticipated this.”
Many graduates with teaching degrees are struggling to find jobs. Others keep on changing part time teaching jobs without hope for permanent jobs. Social Scientists are struggling too as over 6 000 graduates fill the streets every year. “Others have now returned to rural areas,” remembers Kelesitse. For Tshepo Setlhare, 23, a Financial Engineering degree holder, accepting that he is not working was always going to be difficult. “If it continues I might end up frustrated. The longer you wait, the more lazy and frustrated you become,” he says. Setlhare finds the internship pogramme useful. However he expresses concern over companies that are taking advantage of graduates through it. “They remain interns for a long time even after their period of internship has passed,” he says, adding that the programme does not guarantee permanent employment.
Another plight shared by the graduate is that some companies are still stuck with employees who have been working for over decades. This, he says, slows progression because the world is moving too fast and developing, therefore requires fresh minds. Nevertheless, he also points out that older employees see degree holders as a threat, which sometimes leads to refusal to employ them.
Botswana Core Welfare Indicators Poverty Survey of 2009/2010 released in December 2011 is the latest poverty and unemployment record. It indicates that of the total unemployment rate of 17.8 percent, 35 percent are young people.
A total of 1520,200 youth was recorded by the 2010 Poverty Survey, of which the ages of 20-24 had the highest unemployment rate of 18 651. Generally, 126, 349 youth were unemployed while 584,251 were employed and 710,600 economically employed. Botswana’s population is relatively made up of young people with approximately 57 percent under 25 years and 20 percent in the 15 to 24 years age-range. A labour economist who did not want to be identified said Kheto and Kelesitse are structurally unemployed as a result of mismatch between demand in the labour market and their skills.
Much like Motlaleng, the economist expressed fear that structural unemployment lasts longer unless government deliberately creates employment for the 2000 unemployed IT graduates.
But there is glimmer of hope.
While others are beginning to think hard on who will be their future employers, some have found an opportunity in the current labour chaos. “Everything has a good side,” musses Terrence Ngoni, a University of Stellenbosh trained IT graduate currently developing a job and CV website.
“The challenge is pushing us to think of new ways of surviving. I intend to help others find jobs that match their qualifications,” he says, adding that his website: www.jobmatch.bw will connect job seekers and employers.