On a chilly Wednesday on June 6 2016, Golden Peackock Hotel in Lilongwe was home to long, winding rows as youthful Malawians queued for jobs.
The Chinese-owned hotel wanted to recruit waiters, bartenders, cleaners, stewards, security guards, receptionists and room attendants with Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE).
However, some job-seekers stuck in the long jam had degrees, ready to be underemployed.
They personified the desperation of people with tertiary education on an increasingly lean, competitive job market where those with less education take less time to secure employment.
According to Global Unemployment Trends for the Youth, a 2017 study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), college graduates in Malawi take 16 months—almost double the global average—to get jobs after graduation.
“In Malawi, moving from secondary to tertiary education actually increased the transition time, while it reduced it dramatically in Togo,” reads the report.
Globally, while those with degrees, diplomas and other professional qualifications waited for 8.5 months, their counterparts with primary and secondary-level certificates needed almost 22.2 months and 14.3 months, respectively.
This means Malawians with tertiary qualifications are finding it exceedingly difficult to secure employment than their primary and secondary-level peers.
ILO and the National Statistical Office (NSO) estimate the unemployment rate for the youth, aged 15 to 25, was at 27.5 percent last year— 4.5 percent higher than those aged 15 to 35.
The country’s unemployment rate is almost half of the average for the developing world estimated at 53.9 percent last year.
But a closer look at these statistics paints a gloomy picture of youth unemployment—with almost 90.4 percent of Malawians aged between 15 and 34 informally employed.
Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) director Benedicto Kondowe blames the country’s education system for failing to equip tertiary graduates with the requisite skills to capitalise on the demand for tech-savvy employees.
It could be symptomatic of the disparity between what colleges offer and what employers expect, he says.
To the activist, the massive youth unemployment may as well be a sign that colleges in the country are training more prospective employees than the job market can be absorb.
He argues: “The problem is we have institutions of higher learning that are providing graduate training in these science-based programmes such as computer science without functional computer labs.
“The result is we have graduates who cannot perform at their level and are unwilling to take on lower level jobs because they feel those jobs undermine their qualifications.”
Kondowe called for a comprehensive review of public universities’ curriculums backed by adequate resources for trainees to acquire the necessary competencies.
He said: “We need to have a robust curriculum review that looks at which programmes are worthwhile and provides enough material and financial support for their delivery,” he says.
According to Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Christina Mtukumula, government has introduced several interventions to reduce youth unemployment, including the Jobs for Youth Programme.
“The policy aims at unleashing the potential for Malawians to move onto a development path that is more inclusive, pro-poor and job-rich, thereby strengthening the link between economic growth and job creation on one hand and poverty reduction on the other hand,” she said.
However, the government’s interventions are sometimes scuppered by political interference and economic under-performance.
Last month, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe announced austerity measures that include a freeze on employment and promotion of civil servants.
This cutbacks have severely reduced the youth’s chances to secure employment in the government, with some State-trained teachers and health workers enduring joblessness for years although public schools and hospitals are stressed by lack of skilled workers.
Stuck in the winding queue at Sogecoa Golden Peacock Hotel, some of the desparate jobseekers said government is not doing enough to fulfil its promise to create jobs for the youth.
“You can see from the people who are here that the situation is serious. There is no equality in how people are getting jobs in the country, those in government are only employing people based on tribe and where one is coming from,” said one of them. n