Somali graduates are proud, inquisitive and, in many cases, innovative. They are certainly ambitious and should be confident about their future in a country blessed with so much natural resources and potential.
Yet, at the best of times, there is a tragic disconnect between the jobs available and the skills they acquired at university. There is also an economic challenge which requires better security as a prerequisite for job creation through long term national and foreign direct investment.
Knowing this, as bright as they are, one would expect Somali students to understand their reality and adapt to the requirements of the labour market or create opportunities themselves. At the end of the day, the world owes nobody a living; everybody must strive to do their best with what they have and is available to them in their societies.
High unemployment and limited opportunities in all sectors is a crippling fact in Somalia, a country where over 70% of the population is under 30. The private sector is just not growing fast enough to absorb the number of young people entering the labour market annually and the public sector has no capacity to expand due to severe financial constraints.
Those lucky enough to be employed are either under-employed, in insecure employment or suffering exploitation through working with family firms which do not even pay them at all in most cases. Getting a job, keeping it and making it pay are hard in Somalia but most people, including graduates, try very hard.
However, there are some graduates who are aimlessly lounging in hotels and cafes waiting for the right opportunity to fall into their laps as professionals. Most of these have been waiting for years and will continue in this way because of their unrealistic expectations and misunderstanding of how labour markets work.
Labour markets are demand driven and the professional degrees Somali graduates favour such as accounting, finance, banking and law are not in demand at this stage given the weak general regulatory environment and small formal economy in the country.
Perhaps after the financial and economic reforms under the IMF Staff Monitored Program are fully accomplished and Somalia attains debt cancellation and the much needed access to concessionary financing for its development and the economy starts to grow and diversify then maybe more professional opportunities will arise in the near term.
For the mid to long term, investment, job creation and innovation is required to raise enough domestic revenue to grow the economy. However, for now, many graduates are sitting in coffee shops across the country with degrees which, aside from their personal academic fulfilment, sadly have little labour market value.
The simple fact is that to simply survive and find or create opportunities today, Somali graduates must convert their skills into those that will secure or create employment. Yet, what are these? Graduates must do personal skills assessment and opportunity mapping and find a way to turn their reality into their advantage. What does the market demand? What jobs and opportunities are available? Where does Somalia’s economic competitive advantage lie? If considered carefully, fishing, livestock, agriculture and technology stand out as present and future opportunities.
Overreliance on government and office jobs is irresponsible and short sighted in any situation. In mapping opportunities, Somali graduates must work closely with educational providers and government very early on as students to demand work experience.
The private sector must also devise a long-term growth plan to invest in Human capital for their own profitability and sustainability. This is no longer about Corporate Social Responsibility as it is survival. Education without work experience is a challenge for employers, students, graduates and policy makers everywhere and, especially, in a place like Somalia where extracurricular activities do not exist and security remains a challenge.
To overcome some of the above challenges a new partnership between schools, students, employers and policy makers to make education a worthwhile investment that benefits Somalis and Somalia is needed. Schools and policymakers must devise policies to fill the soft skills gap in the general education sector including foreign languages, communication, personal awareness and digital literacy while also creating more opportunities for students and graduates to gain work experience even if it is in the form of unpaid internships.
A national but locally administered mentoring program whereby experienced professionals, practitioners and academics work with students and graduates to help them realize their ambitions will also go a long way in strengthening the skills sets of Somali students, graduates and professionals. The International organizations which are among the most prominent in the country, have the most qualified staff and, often, pay the best salaries, must also be encouraged to participate.
Achieving the internationally agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 means more than just producing endless reports and organizing meetings which the main beneficiaries cannot access or even understand at times.
It also means thinking above and beyond limited organizational remits to build partnerships to mobilize expertise, financing and political support to deliver development for the most vulnerable who are ironically the real drivers of development in Somalia.
Naturally, to achieve this, all development actors and influencers need to work more purposefully towards practically realizing the empowering development agenda that all committed to in 2015 at the UN Head Quarters in New York.
Large scale government led volunteering programs like in the past would be useful for skilling up students and graduates, but security does not permit it at present in Somalia. In time, and as security improves, re-instating these programs would be very useful for Somali students and national development.
However, for now, it is important for the federal government to assess how it can use economic incentives to further stimulate and support the private sector in skilling up students while also opening new institutes to train its future specialist staff. A good starting point is with tax breaks and more inclusive procurement rules but for this to effectively work the economy would first need to start growing.
With regards to the international partners operating in Somalia, there should be a mandatory requirement that all assistance should provide capacity building opportunities for Somalis at all levels.This should be re-enforced by immigration policy which should not allow a position to be filled by foreign staff where a qualified Somali professional can be recruited or trained.
Where qualified staff are not available, they must be trained and mentored to take this position within a year. This is basic international practice and is effectively even employed neighbouring states like Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Why not Somalia? The National Development plan that all partners have committed to supporting in Somalia rightly highlights the importance of resilience and economic development and there is no better way to action this than with sustainable skilled employment for the Somali people, most particularly, the young. `
Sadly, having discussed internships, job creation and greater opportunities for Somali students and professionals with colleagues in international organizations, private sector representatives and even some in the Federal Government, I was informed that some of the ideas in this article were not possible due to security challenges. While insecurity and lack of trust is an issue, it must be recognized that the insecurity we fear is caused by lack of opportunities, social exclusion and poverty.
There is no evidence anywhere that employment created or accelerated radicalisation and insecurity. Internships, skills training and job creation will reverse insecurity by building confidence and resilience in the Somali people and society.
Somalia is graduating more and more young people from universities. Almost everybody who is not a graduate is working hard to graduate by attending a university course. Morning, afternoon and evening, universities are open and graduates are flooding out in an unprecedented numbers on an annual basis.
The quality of these universities should not be the sole focus of stakeholders but the value additions that will support both schools, students, employers and government to grow the economy and create decent worthwhile jobs for a better future.
It is true Somali students cannot start at the top like some want but they can’t also be left at the bottom of the professional ladders or aimlessly on the streets because of lack of policy options.
Development needs solutions and solutions need creativity and solid commitments beyond paper documents and reports on the part of all stakeholders.
By Liban Obsiye