It is a recurrent subject of national statistics, political party manifestos, and donor-support projects. Gaining universal notoriety, YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT has become an almost permanent economic canker that governments, the world over, continue to wage war against with nearly no meaningful success.
In Ghana, the incidence and growth rate in youth unemployment is even more worrisome especially in the wake of a seeming freeze in public sector employment and the general economic challenges we face as a nation. According to Prof Kwesi Yankah, President of the Central University College, the number of unemployed graduates (just a subset of the youth) in Ghana is likely to rise from the current 200,000 to 271, 000 by the end of 2015.
Ghana, like many other developing countries, is not immune to challenges associated with youth unemployment.
Several studies have, for instance, proven the direct relationship between youth unemployment and crime rate.
The clear gap between population growth on one hand and industrial growth on the other hand is the factual issue to be targeted if the problem of youth unemployment in Ghana is to be addressed.
The case of Ghana has been the attempt by past and present governments to address Youth Unemployment through several interventions most of which collapsed operationally or yielded below average results. Mention can be made of the National Youth Employment Program (NYEP), later turned Ghana Youth Employment & Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) and now Youth Entrepreneurial Agency (YEA) among other youth skills/employment development initiatives.
Similarly other broader employment institutions/projects such as the Microfinance and Small-scale Loans Centre (MASLOC), the National Board for Small-Scale Industries (NBSSI), the Local Enterprises and Skills Development Programme (LESDEP), the Integrated Community Centres for Employable Skills (ICCES), the Rural Enterprises Programme (REP), Skills Development Fund (SDF), to mention but a few, are examples of previous attempts at addressing unemployment – that never did.
More baffling is the question of what has become of the above programmes and the justification, if any, for the continuous introduction of new ones with functions that appear to be duplication or overlapping with existing ones.
Enter the Youth Enterprise Support (YES) – a Ten Million Ghana Cedi (GH?10,000,000.00) fund of the government.
The question on the mind of pessimists is that ?is this another fund to be administered without a positive end result??
The Vision of YES as captured from its website is to ??Provide an opportunity for the creation of jobs for and by the youth of Ghana?. It is hoped that it will help respond positively to the unemployment challenges posed to the Ghanaian youth by unearthing hidden talents and growing new and existing small businesses that will lead to the economic transformation of Ghana.
The numerous benefits from a successful YES cannot be underestimated, either in the lens of employment creation or other indirect means. It will undeniably be a major attempt in the much yearned-for industrialised Ghana among several other benefits. While we await the realisation of these benefits, it is clear to all that the problems that led to the failure of earlier interventions are still present aside fresh challenges that the YES itself comes with.
The ever-present demon of political interference will not go away. Is YES insulated from this danger? Not as much as some documentations from its own quarters seem to point out that the Project is being handled much as a fulfilment of a political campaign than a solution to an identified economic problem. The temptation of using the initiative as a political tool especially in election years is more real than ever.
Is YES poised to play by the rules without compromising on processes in an environment of increasing power from political party card holders whose request cannot be denied? Convincing answers to these questions, among others, are a sure step to success.
It is important the Fund managers make a deliberate attempt at gaining the trust of Ghanaians, if the project is to succeed. Assurance of a fair selection process must be ultimate. The quality, sanctity and independence of the selection board must be upheld and maintained at all cost. One of the issues of concern here is the systems in place to monitor the ?repayments? whether directly or indirectly to prevent abuse?
These are issues that administrators and beneficiaries might be very clear about. It is however in the larger interest of the Fund and its sustainability that the entire country gets to know all this. Systems of tracking, monitoring and evaluation that exist, as acknowledged by YES, must not only be heard to exist but be seen.
Again it is my considered view that an average support of Thirty Thousand Ghana Cedis (GH? 30,000.00) per beneficiary -in a fund that by policy is unable to provide more than Fifty Thousand Ghana Cedis (GH? 50, 000.00) to any single beneficiary- is highly insufficient for doing business in a generally unsupportive business environment like we have in Ghana. I will quickly admit that the fund is not intended to be a total solution to financing challenges of entrepreneurs. Could it (the limit on amount given to beneficiaries) be an issue of the size of the fund? Alternatively the number of beneficiaries can be reduced for a more impactful take-off.
The very delicate nature of the scheme makes the YES collaboration with the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) in such areas as Technology transfer, best practices, direct job placement, mentorship and coaching highly laudable. Such Public-Private Sector collaborations are necessary for the success of projects as these.
The implementation of YES comes at a time when several employment creation initiatives are in the media mostly for wrong reasons of corruption, mismanagement of funds, among other challenges that have rendered most, if not all, unsustainable. The Chief Executive Officer of YES appears very much aware of this image when she stated at a recent media briefing that ?To many watchers and analysts, this (the launching of YES) was a time when youth initiatives were in the media for all the wrong reasons?(emphasis mine). Perhaps the ?positiveness? of the name of the scheme, YES, might be a guiding tool that will set it apart as a fresh and winning agenda in solving our youth unemployment problem.
During the intervening period of the launch and the ?end? of the scheme however, echoes from the past of other failed interventions will cause many concerned Ghanaians to remain in a state of pessimism about the success of this fund. It is the hope, however, of many watchers, current and prospective beneficiaries that the YES would operate differently for a positive result.
In the watchful eyes of many, the YES vision is an apt one. The system and fuel to push and police it to the desired end is what all look up to. Therein lies the challenge of the Fund Managers to prove the pessimists wrong.
Optimistically, I await a successful YES.
BY GUSTAV KORLI ADJASE-KODJO
Gustav Korli Adjase-Kodjo is a Freelance Writer with Specialty in SME Development.
Phone: +233 541 750 297.