Jobs: Can Uganda secure the future for its youth?


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When Mukisa joined the 62nd Makerere University graduating class in January 2012, he had already made up his mind to walk a very different path from those who graduated from the same Kampala university 30 years ago. Back then, jobs were waiting for graduates, who joined formal employment that afforded them a decent living. Today, only 20% of new entrants onto the Ugandan labor market find formal jobs, leaving the rest to self-employment and other informal activities. So Mukisa started a business in plant nurseries to tap into the demand for gardening materials for the booming construction industry in the city. He has gradually acquired the technical and entrepreneur skills for his business, but wishes for better access to capital and land, and less harassment by local authorities, to expand his business.

According to the World Bank’s Second Uganda Economic Update, Jobs: Key to Prosperity, Mukisa’s plight is just a tip of the iceberg for Uganda’s challenge of creating jobs. First, even as growth created many jobs, many educated youth are increasingly finding it difficult to find jobs that match their training. Second, the majority of the labor force works in low productivity sectors that cannot drive economic transformation to prosperity, partly because the bulk of labor force is unskilled. Third, with about 500,000 workers joining the labor market every year, the future job prospects are even graver than it is today.

Mukisa is one of more than  two million workers in the informal sector who may be counted out of poverty, but produce too little to move into prosperity. Another 11 million workers (73%) find themselves working in agriculture, many of them unproductively. This was underscored by the Prime Minister of Uganda, Hon. Amama Mbabazi, as he launched the economic update on August 13, 2013.

“In 2010, value added per worker in Uganda’s agriculture was US$200, in contrast to Brazil’s US$4183 per worker per year,” he said. “Yet the lack of access to modern technologies, high cost of inputs and transport, and land rights insecurity, leave most jobs in agriculture in the subsistence sector.”

For future jobs to be more rewarding, the labor force has to work in activities producing increasingly higher value. Raising productivity on the farm is the first point of action given the bulk of the labor force will continue to work in agriculture for years to come. This is one of the five pillars for creating ‘good jobs” highlighted by the Update. However, labor eventually has to move off the farm, calling for attention to the growth of non-agricultural firms, formal or informal, and mainly in urban areas. Some quick gains can be made in promoting the development of clusters and full value chains for strategic sectors, in particular light manufacturing, exportable products, building and construction, and the oil industry; industrial zoning to improve business environment for many firms , particularly where clusters are already forming; and linking large and small (mainly informal) manufacturers to raise productivity of smaller firms while lowering input costs for the large firms, as is being currently done for scrap metal.

For more information, please visit The World Bank in Uganda

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Mary Muduuli
September 22, 2013

Thanks Rachel for these "critical and right-on points, I couldn't agree more with all you say. I have also enjoyed reading your recent Economic Update, great initiative and I am so proud of you and colleagues at the Country Office for this interesting product.
I am very much encouraged by what I heard the youth say on one recent TV program. They made the point that it is worthless to sit around and expect Government to "hand" them jobs but that they themselves should show some responsibility: take studies more seriously; set goals, take advantage of opportunities, network with those who have good ideas and aim at achieving something in life; respect gainful labor (including farming), build good work habits/ethics; and stop living beyond ones means. They also pointed out the role of parents and family members in guiding the youth towards gainful employment.
However, the responsibility to unleash the potential and create opportunities for employment still lie with the Government, through: the human development policies; other economic policies for the growth and transformation of the economy; the socio-economic environment within which the private sector can prosper and play a bigger role in job creation and innovation; and of course good governance.
My hope is that when the extractive industry is up and running, Uganda will be smarter than countries which developed these sectors before us and that priority will continue to be on investing the proceeds on the ground: More importantly targeting: skills development, especially among the youth; diversification of the economy into different sectors where the country has "competitive" advantage, besides the supporting sectors like transport, energy, water and communications (Government's current commitment to these is very encouraging)so as to structurally transform this economy and create more opportunities for employment; and making the rural economy productive and attractive to the youth. The informal sector in Uganda and the region is huge and could benefit from better information, organization and facilitation to improve productivity and quality of outputs. Let's join hands as development practitioners, we certainly have a tough job to do because the "time bomb" of the jobless cannot be ignored.

Alex Waliggo
August 28, 2014

Dear Rachel,
Thanks for the reply.
I think that Uganda can secure a future for its youth if the current leadership can dedicate resources to massive development of infrastructure which can trigger massive foreign investment that can increase productivity and in return the demand for Labour will also sky rocket in that way making the youth have hope that they can also have some money to start there own life and in that way reducing the dependency ratio in Uganda.