You have been working for two years on communication related to the “Support to Skilling Uganda" programme. Why does a training programme require a full-time communications officer?
Communication is essential to the success of this programme. First, we need it for accountability. We are funded by four donors; communication is one way to show them that the money is being used for the correct purpose. But more importantly, communication is critical to the success of the programme. As in many countries, vocational training in Uganda has a bad reputation.
People often think that only higher education or university education has value, because it leads to better-paying jobs. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Many university graduates are unable to find a job, despite their qualifications. If they do find a job, the position often does not match their qualifications at all. In the meantime, employers complain about the lack of appropriately skilled workers such as plumbers, chefs etc. As a consequence, people are coming from neighbouring countries to fill these openings. This shouldn’t be happening when Ugandans can be trained to do these jobs. Skilling Uganda addresses this problem by ensuring that training responds adequately to the needs of the labour market.
But for this to happen, young people must be interested in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). According to the Ministry of Education and Sports, there were 3,070 secondary schools by 2016 and 129 TVET institutions the same year. But even these few available TVET institutions remain underpopulated. In 2017, TVET institutions recorded a total enrolment of 45,000 students, whereas general secondary schools had 1.4 million students. This is due to the negative image of TVET among the population. We need to change perceptions in Ugandan society if we are to increase the number of students in TVET and achieve the objectives of the Skilling Uganda strategy. This is why communication initiatives are crucial.
How did you proceed?
The first thing we did was to develop a communication strategy for the programme. We then rolled out communication for development campaigns. The context of the three regions we target is not the same. We therefore made sure the campaigns were suited to the needs of each region. For instance, in the Karamoja region, we worked with the Karamojong in a participatory manner to develop, implement and even evaluate the communications campaign.
The results were outstanding: student enrolment in the two vocational training institutions the programme supports have more than doubled in the first year after the campaign. In the Albertine/Rwenzori region, we chose radio to reach out to the population because it is the primary source of information and entertainment in that part of the country. We identified a series of role models for young people and highlighted their achievements, professional lives and ambitions. The idea was to show people that technical or vocational training would enable them to achieve their full potential and progress in life.
According to a 2015 study by the ‘Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ 13,400 students graduate yearly from university. However, only around 2000 of them find a job. Meanwhile, employers complain about the lack of appropriately skilled workers."
Skilling Uganda is a major project. Can you tell us more about its objectives and the context in which it is set?
It is indeed a major programme: a 10-year plan, launched in 2012 by the Ugandan Government to combat youth unemployment through provision of training that matches the needs of the labour market. Enabel is one of the partners supporting the Government of Uganda in the implementation of this strategy through a 5-year programme called “Support to Skilling Uganda”. Our intervention is jointly funded by the Belgian Government, Irish Aid, the European Union and the German Development Cooperation.
The programme works on three different levels. The first is the policy level, where we are setting up a coordinated structure for skills development through the creation of a TVET council. The second level looks at financing skills development. In particular, we are piloting a fund for skills development to finance partnerships between training institutions and the labour market, aimed at equipping youth with the skills needed for employment and job creation. It works through competitive requests for proposals. The lessons learnt from this pilot are expected to guide the establishment of a national skills development fund. The third level is the grassroots level, where we support seven training institutions to help them modernise to become skills development centres of excellence in Uganda.
What about graduates who can't find a job?
The programme also includes an entrepreneurship component in the skills development trainings. The idea is that those who do not find employment are able to start their own businesses. In addition to the entrepreneurship skills that are integrated in the trainings, we give beneficiaries ‘startup kits’ containing the tools and equipment needed to start their business. For example, motorcycle mechanics receive all the necessary tools to open their small repair and maintenance workshop, chefs receive all the tools to equip their kitchens, and so on.
The programme also targets refugees living in settlements in Uganda...
Yes. As you may know, Uganda hosts 1.2 million refugees, mainly from South Sudan. The country hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa and the third largest in the world. Many of these refugees are children and women. A lot of them are the breadwinners for their families. Humanitarian aid – especially food – in the settlements is not sufficient. Skilling refugees and host communities allows them to become self-sufficient and to take care of their families.