Youth unemployment is not only experienced in Africa, but also across the world. Young graduates, who perform brilliantly in their college or university courses, embark on job hunting without success which is a very frustrating experience.
After completing higher education they expected to be immediately employed, but have end up being jobless or if they happen to secure a job they accept a low pay job even if they are overqualified. What is the problem?
The Business Wiz recently interviewed one of the employers, who also is senior consultant and international business trainer Sosthenes Sambua on what employers look for when interviewing job applicants and this is what he said.
“When a job applicant has been shortlisted and called for interview panelists have already read his or her CV and have seen that s/he has a bachelor or masters degree in a certain profession or trade. They also know that s/he passed the courses very well, especially those related to the job she/he has applied for.”
Sambua said “as an employer what I look for is beyond academic qualifications (hard skills). I want an employee who is an asset (adds value) to my company or organisation and s/he stands out of all applicants as the one suitable for the post.”
He pointed out that having just a bachelor or MA degree was not sufficient. “Academic qualifications must be accompanied by requisite practical experience. So, an interviewee must demonstrate that s/he possesses soft beyond hard skills. Soft skills include critical/analytical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, conflict resolution and communications skills.”
On problem-solving he said he wanted to see an applicant who was skilled in looking for the root causes of problems.
“We live in a world which has many problems. It is so with a company or organisation. A person who is skilled in problem-solving stands a chance of securing a job compared to one who is not. It is so even with teamwork and conflict resolution.”
Expounding on communication skills he said they were divided into oral and written skills. “That is why interviews are oral and panelists assess the job applicant’s ability to express himself or herself freely in the language s/he has been asked to use and how s/he uses the words to convey the intended message. It is so even with written skills: how one can present an office issue analytically.”
He explained that a person who had practical experience “at least knows what s/he is required to do in the circumstances. If s/he has made some mistakes and has been corrected s/he already knows how to rectify them.”
When asked where a student who had been studying could get practical experience from after studies because s/he had not been employed before he replied that to have practical experience was not limited to employment.
“It includes field/practical placement or volunteer work during or after studies and both field/practical placement and volunteer work adds requisite practical experience and references,” explained Sambua.
He said students were not told by their lecturers what they needed to know and do after college or university education.
“If I were a lecturer I could be telling my students what type of skills they need most to secure a job. If a job applicant tells me what s/he has been doing and where or what s/he has volunteered to do and for how long for me this translates into the ability to take initiatives. This is an added advantage to the job applicant compared to the applicant who has practically done or volunteered nothing. If the applicant shows that s/he has done or has been doing nothing the impression I get is that even if s/he is employed s/he won’t take initiatives because s/he lacks this type of skill.”
He said acquiring practical skills didn’t require getting a paid job. “You don’t have to be paid to acquire practical skills/experience. You can also do voluntary work,” he stressed.
Youth unemployment is not only a problem facing graduates, but also employees whose contracts have been terminated on economic and restructuring grounds or those who have been dismissed from work.
There are also employees who belong to “the working poor” category. These are the employees who even if they earn a decent salary if you divide it among the number of dependents they have in the real sense they end up earning less than $1.90 (about 4,400/-) a day and about 132,000/- a month. This cannot reduce income poverty.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in Africa almost one thirds of jobholders live in extreme poverty which does not bode well for their welfare.
ILO says young people who lose a job or fail to secure one “are particularly vulnerable to scarring of which their future labour market outcomes are worse than those of their peers even when macroeconomic conditions improve again.”
Such young people, suggests ILO, “may accept a job for which they are overqualified, which risks trapping them in an employment trajectory that involves informality and low pay.” It suffice to say that in the workplace soft skills compliment hard skills.
In today’s world employees who demonstrate a combination of soft skills and hard skills (obtained through formal education and capacity building training programmes) have a greater chance of securing employment than those who have none or have only one type.