Youth empowerment has been at the forefront of the efforts of both the government and the private sector in Uganda. In 2014, the government responded to the high rates of youth unemployment and poverty with a holistic intervention called the Youth Livelihood Program (YLP).
One of the main objectives of the program was to support the development of marketable skills that create opportunities for self–employment among the poor and unemployed youth. The government’s key areas of investment included traditional vocations like Masonry, carpentry, metal fabrication, hairdressing, tailoring, leather works. Alongside this, was the promotion of non-traditional skills areas such as Information Communications Technology (ICT), agro-processing among others.
In January 2021, an impact evaluation team of the Youth Livelihood Project in its YLP Implementation Progress Report revealed that YLP had contributed 4 per cent to job creation in Uganda. This was achieved through the creation of over 200,000 direct jobs and 500,000 indirect jobs through multiplier effects at household and community levels.
With these efforts in place, the pandemic that has rocked the country in the past year and a half has put in place a lot of setbacks.
According to the 2020 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in Uganda, the closure of business is already affecting millions of Ugandans who depend on them for employment. With the informal economy employing 84.9 per cent of the population, 90 per cent of whom are youth (10-30 years) according to the National Labour Force Survey of 2017, a crucial segment of the population is out of work.
While youth employment has taken a regression, so has youth education. In 2021, United Nations Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that since March 2020, 15 million Ugandan learners have been disrupted by the pandemic. The report further predicts that if this goes unchecked, it will have a profound impact on their future.
Since 2020, the Innovation Village has had a mega drive towards youth empowerment through various programs that have been put in place to skill the youth.
Under its venture Tukole, youths that have undergone vocational training in various trades are prepared for a market that is digitally inclined. Tukole supplements vocational education with soft skills and other practical skills like financial management and digital skills to help blue-collar workers have a competitive edge in the market.
Another arm of skilling at The Innovation Village is Upskill, an academy that is training young people in in-demand skills that are appropriate to today’s labor market. It does this through info sessions on digital marketing, data analysis, basic business development, entrepreneurship, accounting and finance. Its eight weeks course leaves young people ready for not only the job marketplace but also ready to eke a living as freelancers in the fields of their choice.
Take for instance Allen Nanyonjo, despite having a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology (IT), there was no courage to get back into coding. The Science Technology Engineering & Maths (STEM) Educator with E- squared Young Engineers revived her passion at the Code Queen bootcamp run by Upskill and Educating The Children.
“I really enjoyed the hackathon portion of the program, where I was coupled with a group of ladies from diverse science backgrounds and professions,” Nanyonga shares gleefully. She further highlighted that she was particularly ‘appreciative of the Sisterhood Fridays because the conversations aligned well with her interests and passion in STEM Education and opened her mind to fresh ideas.”
Now, her desire is to become ‘a well-known STEM ambassador for girls’ in addition to building a career as a professional software developer. She is currently using her newfound skills to build a website for her company, the Stem Hub, an NGO that she hopes will inspire other young girls to learn software development.
In February, The Innovation Village’s Tech and Data department in partnership with the CODEIT Institute of Technology, put together a six months program providing education and training in the field of technology to those who may be least likely to afford opportunities at the highest levels of technology. In charge of this programme is the Tech Community manager, Solomon Opio.
Opio said “Our courses are chosen based on trending technologies and the most marketable skills. From our survey, Python is ranked among the top programming languages that developers like and would like to use. Right now, Cloud and Blockchain are seen to have a big impact on the future of Technology. This is why we found it imperative to teach these.”
He added, “To achieve the mandate of having thousands of developers linked to jobs, we believe that one of the ways is to partner with reputable institutions in skilling developers. So far through the department’s Developer Communities such as the Google Developer Groups, we have been able to link learners to mentors and make available learning materials prepared by Google experts.”
These and more are some of the efforts that are happening in the ecosystem towards skilling the youth. With all hands-on board in a collaborative ecosystem, not even a sustained pandemic will stop the youth from functioning to their maximum potential, Opio emphasized.
As we continue to commemorated the World Youth Skills Day this Month under the theme “Reimagining skills post-pandemic, the experiences of Nanyonjo and Nassiwa indicate that there will be a need to reinvent not just the skills youths take on but how we deliver them. Whichever way the government and private sector choose, there ought to be a practically skilled youth workforce to help Uganda attain its long-term vision 2040 agenda of sustainable growth and development.