Minister of Higher Education Dr. Itah Kandjii Murangi is quoted in the media to have said something to the effect that ‘wrong career choices being a significant contributor to unemployment’.
Not to be outdone by his successor at the Ministry of Education, Dr. David Namwandi, Chairman of the International University of Management Governing Council and Former Minister of Education in a rebuttal to the assertion that wrong career choices result in unemployment is quoted to have said that ‘expanding Namibia’s job market could create more jobs that could absorb unemployed youth graduates’.
Well, they are both right. But when the two factors of wrong career choice and limited job market are viewed in isolation they are both wrong.
The National Human Resources Plan 2010-2025 ‘provides an overview of the current and future human resources needs in the country with the view of guiding the private and public sector alike into industries with high growth and employment potential to meet the current and emerging developmental challenges’. The plan makes use of a tool called Namibia’s Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook Model (NODSOM) to guide students, employees and employers to develop human resources and eliminate skills gaps.
Priority areas of study that have been identified using this model include health professionals (nurses and doctors), financial practitioners (actuaries and accountants) teaching professionals (mathematics and science teachers) etc. At the lower end of the demand curve are occupations such as, government officials (administrative support staff), sales and services elementary occupations (marketing), drivers and mobile equipment operators etc.
These are the realities that university students have to take into consideration when making career choices as advised by Dr. Murangi.
World renowned eye-specialist Dr. Helena Ndume is fond of narrating her experience as a youth determined to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer. Nahas Angula, then Director of Nyango Education and Center in Zambia persuaded her to rather pursue a meaningful career in medicine due to the demand for Namibian medical doctors once Namibia gained independence. She heeded the call of her elder to serve her country in a critical area of the economy and put her self-interest aside.
This is the type of thinking that would serve school leavers well when choosing their areas of study and future careers. The utopian approach of doing what you love is ill advised and the economic realities are that the cost of living has risen over the past couple of years. Rent, education, food prices and basic necessities have become unaffordable to those who made career choices based on what their friends were pursuing or what seemed ideal like being a singer or a rapper. The highest paying occupations are those that are in demand and settling for any less than your potential will have dire consequences once the four year grace period of university studies while transitioning into real adulthood is over and one requires to pay for their own mistakes independent of parents who pay dearly for their off-springs idealistic world view.
Some might argue that it is not all about money but the reality is that it is and occupations at the lower end of the demand curve just do not pay well and offer little opportunity for further career advancement let alone sufficient pay to afford making a mid career adjustment to journalism or photography.
Supply and demand as a measure of determining the market value of a degree is undermined by the ‘Harambee’ budget cuts. Teachers and nurses have been identified as crucial for the current and future occupational needs of the country.
The demand is there and the supply is there however we have teachers who are unemployed because they cannot be absorbed by the education ministry as well as nurses who were trained by Namibian institutions in line with the national human resources needs who are sitting at home without a job because the budget cuts have severely hampered the ability of the ministry of health to recruit these trained professionals.
Harambee is Kiswahili for lets pull together in one direction. It is ironic how Namibia’s vision 2030, and five year National Development Plans were shelved and the Harambee Prosperity Plan adopted to accelerate development. How one accelerates development with fewer resources can only be answered by the architects of this ingenious undertaking (the A-TEAM).
It now seems the country and its various institutions, ministries and agencies are all pulling in different directions, the antithesis of Harambee.
Market expansion does reduce unemployment. However, in the face of a contracting economy market forces and political dynamics should be harnessed to limit the damage to the employment prospects of graduates and new entrants into the job market.
The Namibia Qualifications Authority (1996) and the National Council for Higher Education (2003) are two statutory bodies governed by councils whose membership and mandates clearly overlap. For example, both institutions are tasked with “accrediting persons, institutions and organizations providing education and courses of instruction or training of meeting certain requirements as set out (NQA)” and “accredit with the concurrence of the NQA, programs of higher education provided at higher education institutions (NHCE)”.This is not only one example.
There are plenty. The NQA has 36 council members and the NHCE has 19. The councils are constituted of permanent secretaries of finance, the national planning commission etc, nominated members of councils of UNAM and NUST, industry experts such as members of the council for health professionals and Engineering Council of Namibia. With all these experts entrusted with ensuring a high standard of education we still have qualified medical professionals who are deemed not qualified enough to work as medical professionals.
It is absurd that the Namibia Students Funds (NSFAF) would fund students to study medicine at institutions accredited by the NQA just to return and be told that they are not qualified enough.
The NQA has members of the Council for Health and Social Services on its council who are there to give oversight and guidance to the accreditation of institutions of higher learning that NSFAF is funding students to study.
It is more absurd that the students who are deemed not suitably qualified are not afforded the opportunity by the council to polish their skills in those areas of their field where they are deemed to be lacking.
They are simply failed and sent home when there is a need for their knowledge and expertise in the country.
It points to a need to consolidate and harmonize the mandates of the NQA and NHCE as well as responsibility and accountability of those council members tasked to lead these institutions. They should be actively engaged with all stakeholders in developing a dynamic policy framework for narrowing the disjuncture between higher education service delivery and the realities of the Namibian and international job market.
In light of the above Dr. Murangi and Dr. Namwandi are both correct in their submissions regarding how best to address unemployment in Namibia. However, political dynamics tend to undermine the future of university graduates.
There is intrinsic value in a degree where one can hold their head up high and thump their chest that they are a university graduate. However graduates should apply their minds carefully when choosing which tertiary studies to pursue alas they are confronted with the bitter realities of life like Dr. Joseph Diescho; that it is not enough to be well educated in a field with a PHD that has little market value.
Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.