UG project offers soft skills to boost decent employment for Africa’s youth

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University Of Ghana
University Of Ghana
Spining

Many young people face challenges in their attempt to access their first job when exiting the education system, particularly the universities.

Facilitating their adaptation in a new labour market where soft skills have become essential criteria for employment has become increasingly daunting.

“Soft competences” are strongly valued and considered as fundamental personal skills, enabling people to adapt, react and cope in different situations, concerning their job position.

These qualifications are fundamental to build a knowledge-based society, in line with a dynamic labour market.

Jerome Hammond, a graduate of the University of Ghana (UG), now working at an IT Consultancy firm, reckons such competences, which came in handy in his final year at the University before entering working life, is a game changer.

He avers that such skills investment in the country’s educational curriculum is essential for young graduates as it facilitates access to employment and activates human capital towards increasing levels of skills attainment, innovation, and dynamism.

Jerome says through the acquisition and use of knowledge, competences and qualifications acquired through the project; his personal development has been enhanced, paving the way for his eventual employment.

Ms Mabel Narh, another graduate from the University of Cape Coast, says “the soft skills training I acquired through the UG project has enhanced my ability to participate in the job market. Although I am currently looking for permanent employment, some interviews I have attended went successfully and during one of them, I was singled out for praise, even though I couldn’t land that job.”

She told the Ghana News Agency in an interview that the soft skills, particularly effective communication skills and other competencies, had helped a great deal and that she would capitalize on the acquisition of such skills to enhance her employment prospects.

Jerome, Mabel, and other beneficiaries shared their rather fascinating experiences at stakeholder workshop organised by the Department of Economics, School of Social Sciences of the University of Ghana, to disseminate findings of a project on “Soft Skills for the Youth in Sub Saharan Africa: The Ghanaian Context”.

Background

Ghana has in recent times experienced relatively significant growth, but the growth has not reflected in employment particularly quality employment or decent jobs for the youth as youth employment remains a major challenge as in most African countries.

Some of the main reasons for the employment problem include inadequate access to quality education and training for the job market, inadequate employment opportunities, early entry into the labour market, the negative effects of urbanization and modernization and the  erosion of traditional social support systems among others.

To address these challenges, the Government of Ghana with support from development partners has introduced various programmes and interventions to provide temporary employment to the unemployed youth, with the objective of improving their skills and employability and facilitating transition to permanent employment.

Although it is difficult to find empirical works, evaluating youth employment programmes, a study undertaken on youth unemployment programmes in Africa found that employers often complained about the mismatch between the programmes, their ineffectiveness in dealing with the issues and the inability of the youth to convert their experiences gained into job placements.

The study suggested that the programmes and interventions lack of soft skills packages and was probably one of the most important reasons for their ineffectiveness as empirical evidence further suggests that soft skills are effective in enhancing the employability of the youth.

The Ghana Soft Skills Project

The project, “Boosting Decent Employment for Africa’s Youth”, spearheaded by the Department of Economics, University of Ghana with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), INCLUDE, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) aims to improve the employability of young graduates through the provision of training in soft skills.

The research project also seeks to identify the most effective strategy for strengthening youth employment in Ghana.

Professor Ebo Turkson, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Ghana, giving an overview of the project, said as part of the experimental design, graduates from two public universities were randomly selected for Randomized Control Trial (RCT) that assessed the effectiveness of two intervention options on employability – training only on soft skills and a training on soft skills complemented with reminders.

Three sites (Universities) were proposed for the study – the University of Ghana (UG), the University of Cape Coast (UCC) and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

The main intervention was training on some soft skills identified to be critical to enhancing employability of young graduates like Hammond and Mabel who had undergone the training.

The intention was to rely not only on training but the sending of reminders, to test the cost effectiveness of relying on voice notes in ensuring that the training on soft skills remained critical in enhancing the employability of the youth in Ghana. An important aspect of the study focused on the mainstreaming of gender issues in the training of soft skills.

The training was designed in a way such that there were eight (8) groups of a maximum of thirty (30) trainees with each group expected to be trained on each soft skill module, including Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Skills, Time Management, Networking, Workplace Ethics, Negotiation with advantage, Communication at the workplace, Problem Solving and Decision-Making Skills, for a period of two hours over three days.

The lessons were designed to be very practical with issues on gender mainstreaming carefully incorporated, in line with the objectives of the project.

Overall, this study sought to understand whether soft skills represent a binding constraint on employability of the graduate students. 

Project Expectations

Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, a former Vice Chancellor of the UG, said, “the interesting aspects about the project and the fact that it forces Africans to move from their comfort zones when thinking about the challenges the continent faces with unemployment and job creation was remarkable.”

He said an argument that continued to fester was the question of whether universities in Africa produced graduates that were ready and well-equipped for the job market.

Prof Aryeetey said how employable a young person could become transcended what they were taught at the university but also required, even more significantly, the soft skills they acquired outside of the university.

Therefore, the project would provide the much-needed evidence-based support for the implementation of gender sensitive soft skills training programmes aimed at addressing issues related to youth employment while identifying soft skills relevant to employers based on employment type and sector of the economy.

Also, “it will identify the soft skills required to enhance the employability of young men and women in Ghana. This should be useful to students and parents in guiding children’s learning.”

Most importantly, the project would provide the much-needed evidence on workable means for the inculcation of soft skills in academic curricula, the most effective classroom settings for the transmission and development of soft skills, project-based learning, mainstreaming attachments, and internships with an emphasis on the development of soft skills.

Key findings/results

The result of the project showed that soft skills are critical in enhancing wage employment and not self-employment.

The results also shows that the impact of the training, when complemented with reminders, is generally insignificant. That further suggests that the reliance on reminders as one of the best ways of inculcating soft skills can not be ascertained.

However, the project found a positive effect for the interaction between training with reminders and the female dummy for both employability and wage employment.

That suggests that Mabel’s optimism in landing a job might well manifest as other females who received the training as well as reminders and are more likely to be employed or be in wage employment relative to men.

Prof. Robert Darko Osei, Dean, School of Graduate Studies, University of Ghana, presenting the key findings said in as much as the training variable was found to be significant in explaining employability and wage employment (in some specifications), their findings were comparable with studies that had generally found soft skills to enhance employability.

He said their findings did not show that soft skills had an impact on self employment and some possible explanations existed, including the possibility that the effect on self-employment may be observed much later and that most graduates may prefer wage employment.

 We find a positive effect for the interaction between training with reminders and the female dummy for employability and wage employment.” Prof. Osei revealed.

UG – VC lauds project  

Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana, in an address delivered on her behalf by the Dean, School of Social Sciences, Prof. George Owusu, applauded the project and said developing soft skills was a key element for improving the effectiveness of ongoing efforts to address the youth employment challenge in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent.

However, she said the evidence that could guide policy discussions and interventions was lacking and that the project shed light on the type of soft skills required by Ghanaian employers and the best way of providing those skills to young people.

The Vice Chancellor said in many countries, including Ghana, several government policies had been initiated in the past decades with the aim of creating jobs and improving the quality of jobs.

Many of those policies, she explained, were quite ambitious but limited by way of implementation, and others had been implemented but their effect on job creation had to be questioned.

Also, prevailing structural conditions persisted and seemed to make the goal of job creation for all nearly impossible.

These structural factors include school-to-work transition failures; supply-driven educational and training programmes (skills mismatch); inadequate enabling macro-policies that promote employment; limited support for self-employment and limited investments and support in potential employment sectors, particularly agriculture; international trade regimes.

Prospects

It is anticipated that the project would fit into the overarching goals of Ghana’s National Employment Policy as it provides evidence-based policy recommendations for the achievement of a key national objective, which is, the creation of decent jobs to meet the demand for employment of the teeming unemployed graduates in the country.

Also, it is hoped that the project would provide a basis for setting appropriate targets for future interventions to improve the employability of young men and women and inform strategic decisions on the design and implementation of future livelihood improvement interventions for young men and women in Ghana and other African countries.

Skills have become the new gold as the workforce has gone beyond searching for traditional skills but have taken a step further searching for people who possess soft skills.

In that regard, it is important for countries to undergo educational curriculum reform to better equip youth for the global economy, including shifting from knowledge-based to competency-based curricula while focusing on cultivating technical and transferable skills. That will guarantee Mabel, and the many other unemployed graduates the opportunity to find permanent jobs and/or start their own.

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