6 February 2013

Liberia: Over 50,000 Jobs Needed Annually - Labour Chief Speaks Employment Challenges

Labour Minister Varbah Gayflor says the provision of employment opportunities in the country remains a major challenge for both government and the private sector, noting that at least 50,000 seekers were entering the job market annually.

Gayflor noted that Liberia has not developed to the level where the economy easily absorb the rising number of citizens looking for jobs annually, adding that the demand for jobs in today's Liberia was far higher than the past, a challenge she said must be collectively addressed with government in the front role.

The Minister said every year hundreds, if not thousands, of new and young graduates flood the job market seeking employment, and that most of them were educated in areas not actually providing mass employments. Thousands of others, the Labour Chief noted, were not trained or qualified to get available jobs, though they were hunting for one.

"I must admit--I am not saying, this is not even an argument, this is not a justification--we are under obligation to ensure that Liberians get jobs, and we are under obligation to ensure that that happens in this country," Gayflor told journalists last week when she officially released employment statistics for 2012.

According to the statistics new jobs created in 2012 (short and long term employments) summed up to at least 46,000.

The Minister said government exceeded her target of 20,000 jobs promised by the President when 22,981 new jobs were created in the private sector while government's own funded projects created 23,700 short-term jobs.

Labor Minister: "23,700 short-term [lasting at most six months] jobs were provided through the Government of Liberia special projects, amounting to about 50.8% of all jobs created in 2012."

Breaking down the figure, Minister Gayflor stated that 6,940 short-term jobs were created under the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), while 15,000 short-term jobs were created under the Youth Empowerment Services and Community Work Project (YES-CWP) carried out by the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE).

An additional 1,760 short-term jobs were created under the CEP-II under the auspices of lace Gayflor noted, before giving statistics of new jobs provided by the private sector last year alone.

Of the 22,981 jobs recorded from the private sector, 9,378 (40%) came from major concession companies including ArcelorMittal (2,345), Firestone Liberia (1,400), Golden Veroluem (2456), China Union (654), Sime Darby (581), CICO (500), among others.

"Most of the jobs created in the private sector," the Minister furthered, "were through the contribution of small and medium size businesses."

The Minister explained that a large percent (40) of the jobs was created in the Agricultural sector followed by the wholesale and retail sector (25%) while most of those acquiring jobs in 2012 were male (74.9) basically residing in urban areas.

Minister Gayflor indicated that most of the jobs provided through government-sponsored projects were shorter and not sustainable and falls in the vulnerable employment category--jobs lasting for few days or months with no security or means to save in banks.

Gayflor stated that though the President announced a 20,000 job provision (not saying long or short term), the demand for employment was very huge, stressing, "If we are going to have a statistics of 50,000 new labor entrants each year, we are challenged."

The Minister was under serious attack for not working to ensure that jobs were provided as promised, with many pushing the Ministry to provide statistics of the number of jobs provided.

"This is not a justification that somebody did well or they didn't do well. We are here to say this is the fact and we are under obligation to do so and we hope that more empowerment can be created," Gayflor continued. "We are not defending ourselves, but the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor is to provide information for the labor environment and this will help to also create jobs and improve the economy."

Gayflor stated that the challenge in providing jobs for the population was not unique to Liberia. "Around the world the youth are just getting on the jobs, and hunting for jobs....This is not something unique to us, and how we can transform our own situation is what we should concentrate on."

The Minister noted that her entity, along with others ikn government, along with the private sector will work harder this year to ensure that Liberian get more jobs, indicating that 20,000 should not be the target.

"I tell you what, 20,000 is even below; statistics have revealed to us that the new entrants are about 50,000; so, it doesn't even take away whether [20,000 was promised]," the Minister went on. "We need to do more and we are under obligation to do more. This is something that was said, it wasn't of a defined meaning that I will gave you permanent contract. But even if you say 20,000, it is below what has been projected as the new entrants to the labor market."

Gayflor wondered: "So if we give 20,000, what happens to the 30,000; we are still under obligation to do that. The responsibility are enormous, we need to do more and we have to work together to get there."

Gayflor noted that a National Employment Action Plan has been crafted and will take effect this year with the Ministry working with partners to achieve it, while "Government by herself has set aside US$15milion this year for youth employment."

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Monday (Jan 28) delivered the first Annual Address of her second term, but received sharp reactions when she suggested that her government has fulfilled campaign and inaugural promise of creating 20,000 jobs annually.

Critics said the President was unrealistic in making such announcement when she is personally aware that her administration had failed to create the promised 20,000 jobs during the first year of her second term in office.

"Reports submitted to me [from the Ministry of Labor] suggest that we have met our target commitment on job creation, but overwhelmingly in short-term positions," the President stated to the annoyance of her audience at the Capitol and in radio land.

Minister Gayflor stressed the need for training as most of those seeking jobs were not trained in particular areas where there are available jobs and warned that "...as long as available manpower is not trained to work in the sector where there are sufficient job opening, for example the agricultural sector, the question of job will continue to be a volatile political issue.

In her Monday's address, President Sirleaf said: "If our objectives for jobs are to be fully achieved, we must move more rapidly on the renovation and expansion of the Monrovia Vocational Training Center and other technical and vocational training centers around the country. We must also resolve those issues that delay housing construction and investment operations which are the main sources of job creation.

Additionally, we must improve our job reporting system so that we can get it right."

Minister Gayflor Thursday asserted that "Future policy measures must take into consideration the job creation requirements of the Liberia economy [because] this will help reduce the disequilibrium between the supply and demand for new jobs in the Liberian economy."

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