Huge inroads will be made into graduate unemployment if universities begin to trace their students into the world of work to understand whether the skills they have acquired are relevant to their jobs, Prof. Clement K. Dzidonu, president of the Accra Institute of Technology, has said.
He proposed that a mandatory annual “trace-your-graduates” study be carried out by each tertiary institution in collaboration with government and industry to collect information on the match — or mismatch — between graduate jobs and skills.
This will serve as a basis for active involvement and engagement of the nation’s universities and polytechnics in finding a way around graduate unemployment in the medium- and long-term, he said.
“We need to know the extent to which the graduates we are producing are good fits into the professions that we train them for,” Prof. Dzidonu said while speaking at the sixth graduation ceremony of the technology-focused university in Accra.
“Are our engineering graduates going on to be employed as engineers, our computing graduates embarking on careers in the IT field and industry, our accounting/finance graduates getting jobs in the accounting profession, or doctors and pharmacists pursuing careers in the fields that we prepared them for?” he asked as he elaborated on his proposal.
Ghanaian graduates face difficult employment odds when they leave school, as there are only 40,000 new places to be filled in the formal sector each year compared to 66,500 graduates being churned out annually.
This shortage of jobs is due to various reasons including the lack of diversification in the economy — but also the structural mismatch between skills most graduates possess and the requirements of employers.
Prof. Dzidonu said universities throughout the world are, more than ever, working with industry to seek their input into structuring programmes to meet their skill demands.
University-industry dialogue and consultation should go beyond occasional government- or industry- sponsored stakeholder workshops to involve an active partnership and ongoing engagement with industry and commerce on graduate job-creation and placement issues, he said.
Such university-industry partnerships can lead to specific industries or sectors recommending and sponsoring tailor-made programmes to produce graduates that specifically meet the needs of employers.
“Industry can serve as a first point of call for new programmes that a particular university may want to introduce. Listening to industry stakeholders can also provide an indication of academic programmes that need to be scrapped, revised or completely overhauled so as to remain relevant and avoid producing unemployable graduates,” he added, stressing also that higher education institutions have a major role to play in addressing graduate employment challenges in the country.
The country must also address the oversupply of graduates in certain fields and undersupply in other fields, the experienced academic said.
“We need to strike the right balance as a nation by regularly carrying out a national human resource gap analysis study, will assist us in graduate output requirement planning to serve as a basis for government to set quotas for graduate output in fields and professions.
“We cannot, as a nation, continue producing types of graduates that the economy doesn’t need and yet fail to produce enough of those the economy is waiting for,” he said.
Many employers hold the belief getting a degree is not enough, but that prospective job-seekers must have in addition what they call key employable skills, attitudes and orientation.
According to Prof. Dzidonu, it is therefore important that universities take on the responsibility to produce industry-compliant job-seekers with employable skills and competencies.
He also touched on entrepreneurship among graduates, calling for universities to be given the additional mandate of producing “job-creators, not just job-seekers”.
He said some public and private universities can transform themselves into entrepreneurial universities and undertake activities beyond just teaching and doing research.
The benefits will be immense, he emphasised, explaining that “a simple estimate shows that assuming on the national level we maintain the graduate output at 50,000 a year for the next 10 years, a cumulative total of 500,000 graduates will be recorded. If just 5 percent of the annual graduate output of 50,000 — giving just 2,500 graduates — move on to become graduate entrepreneurs and if each of these on an annual basis creates 10 jobs, a cumulative total of 475,000 jobs will be created by these graduate entrepreneurs in 10 years.
“If on the other hand the additional annual jobs created by these graduate entrepreneurs is increased to 12 each per year, the total jobs that will be created in 10 years will stand at 525,000, surpassing the total output of graduates of 500,000 in the same period.”