Society has a perception that after one completes their high school and tertiary education, they should be able to find white-collar jobs, earn an income and live their lives. However, life is not as linear as envisaged, and with the ever-increasing population, how will these people find employment and make ends meet if the current deficit of jobs persists? What will be the survival way out for people who do not make it academically? It is in such instances that promoting acquisition and development of different skills can be appreciated and the need to think about how skills development and enhancement can be done in such a way that personal and economic rewards are maximized.
Advancing lifestyle skills
Growing up, my mother made it a habit to take us to the village during school holidays in order to understand the way of life and lifestyle of her people. I learned that by default, everyone in my village is a farmer vested with skills in growing different crops and rearing livestock. Not so long ago, I visited the same village and found that most of my age mates had quit school with most of them having no interest to return.
However, a number of organizations have mushroomed that focus on urging these now married people with huge families to return to school and later seek for jobs but is this best help they need? Why can’t the focus be on enhancing the already available skills?
Other than only promoting back to school, advancing the farming skills of these people would greatly increase their productivity and their income. Skills development should not only focus on advancing what they already know but also provide better alternatives. For example, teaching rural farmers on the use of early maturity maize which grows faster, teaching them irrigation techniques and providing equipment where necessary, and teaching them how to deal with various diseases that affect their crops and livestock will help them live better lives. Since enhancing skills will boost productivity, there is also a need to provide market linkages so that their products will translate into better incomes for the benefit of both individuals and the country. Other skills can be taught to young women so that they can earn something and the financial freedom created could reduce early marriages.
Reforming education curriculum
The current education curriculum from primary to secondary school is one that does not result in pupils graduating with trade but produces children whose major skill is speaking good English. It is no wonder that it is difficult for school leavers to start their own businesses using the skills they acquired in school and it is even worse for school dropouts. When I was in primary school, home economics was a compulsory subject where we learned tailoring, baking, and cooking skills and some of my friends who dropped out of school managed to use these skills to start their own businesses. It is actually worrying that most subjects that are made compulsory in schools do not include trade subjects. Worse still, trade schools in Zambia are slowly turning into business schools and this results in having a number of theoretically educated business people with nothing to show on the ground. The education curriculum needs to be reformed in such a way that all pupils must learn at least one trade which they can use. Skills such as tailoring, baking, carpentry, metalwork, farming should be taught starting from primary school. Where possible, the school calendar can be divided into two parts. The first part focuses on teaching theory whilst the other focuses on teaching and testing practical skills. We cannot continue relying on the products of other countries when we can develop the skills in the young people who can later on increase productivity by using their learned skills.
Rethinking empowerment schemes
Among the unsung heroes that we have are those referred to as bush mechanics found in different parts of the country that have over the years managed to fix many car problems despite not having formal mechanics training. These, like others, use simple tools to deal with various challenges faced by many and do this at a low cost when compared to formal companies. The work of these often self-taught skilled individuals can be enhanced through effective empowerment.
But most empowerment schemes by both the public and private sector often require someone to write a formal business proposal with well-articulated financials but one wonders how an uneducated person will be able to do this.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in failure to access empowerment by these people who clearly need the empowerment to buy equipment and advance their business. To rethink the way the empowerment is administered, why can’t those who seek to empower the people go on talent identification and conduct a needs assessment of the people they can empower?
There are people who have learned skills in various trades without undergoing formal training but learn by doing and are using them to earn a living. These include tailors, carpenters, bush mechanics, welders, and craftsmen among others.
The major challenge faced by most of these is lack of essential equipment to advance their work, mostly on account of cost.
The holistic empowerment of these people could involve providing communal equipment in strategic areas. The people charged with empowerment responsibility should not always wait for formal application but could visit these people, assess their needs and challenges and empower them so that they too can empower others through job creation and increased productivity. Empowerment is not always about money but could involve other means hence the need to rethink current empowerment criteria.
While it is not possible to provide employment for everyone, ensuring that many people have skills will enable them to create their own employment, advance productivity, and generally provide benefit for themselves and the country