11 February 2013

Rwanda: Nation's Silent Unemployment Problem

Kigali — On a bright morning, the compound of the newly opened national library of Rwanda was unusually crowded.

Ablong queue of smartly dressed young males and females clutching brown envelopes made quite a scene to passersby with some even wondering what kind of books the library could be having to attract such a morning rush.

However, these young people were not at the library to read or check out the facility's books, I believe many would have preferred any other task but reading.

It was the Rwanda job day and these youths had travelled from all over Rwanda's thirty districts to be here and they all had one hope of finding a job, any job that would get them busy, at least according to Giramata Sonia, an accounting graduate who had travelled from Gisenyi town on the border with DRC.

Job day, organized by Jobs in Rwanda, a website that recruits online was meant to bring employers and job seekers and for those with the right CVs or proper luck, find their dream job, and 'meet their future' as the day's theme stated.

It's now widely agreed that if someone is actively looking for work to do but is unable to find any, then they are unemployed.

That's the definition upon which authorities in Rwanda base to say the country's unemployment rate is at 1%, a dream statistic for most economies.

Unfortunately, in Africa where data collection let alone management is still wanting, it's difficult to determine for sure how many Rwandans are 'actively' job hunting to compile an accurate figure of those unemployed.

On that morning, job seekers had registered before coming and organizers had to stop registering when the number became overwhelming at around 1200pm.

These ranged from young graduates who had graduated a year ago to those who have been on the streets for more than two years or even those who were not satisfied with their current jobs and wanted better.

There's something common among all young job seekers anywhere in the world. That look of anxiety and eagerness to please, a result of probably disbelief that even with their good marks littered on the transcripts, employers still over look them.

Looking at the crowd that day, it wa not clear if Rwanda's quoted unemployment rate of 1% was sto;; i[-to-date.

Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda's Minister of Youth and ICT is an honest man, a rare trait among politicians.

"I believe, personally, that it is far more than 1%," he told The EABW shortly after addressing participants on Job day.

At 1%, unemployment doesn't sound such a big problem for Rwanda compared to underemployment which is placed at 43% of the active labor force.

"We have a situation where there's a mismatch between the supply and demand of labor force," observed Grace Nyinawumuntu, the public relations manager at Job in Rwanda.

The job seekers available for picking seem to be lacking in something that the employers are looking for.

That day's theme screamed, 'Meet your future' but most didn't manage to, with some cursing that it was a waste of their time and money.

Many thought they would turn up, spot an employer, submit their CVs and go home with an appointment but sadly, most ended up receiving tips on how to write CVs to be assured of success in future.

Much as these young people were frustrated at their apparent lack of luck, somehow, somewhere, many carry are to blame for their situation.

At a desk for NFT, another recruiting agency, a young job seeker appeared to submit his CV, handwritten in blue ink on a ruled paper; he wanted that piece of paper to get him a good job.

It was rejected and he was told to type his CV and submit in soft copy as it's supposed to be hosted on line for viewing by employers.

"The CV more than anything else should be perfect because it's your ticket to the job, it's what the employer sees before picking interest in the its owner, the CV defines the job seeker," emphasized Julia Wanza, the Business manager at NFT which recruits for major employers such as Tullow Oil, KCB, Brarilwa, Tigo, Serena hotels and many others.

Wanza explains that they help their job seekers to sharpen their CV writing skills and this helps in improving their chances of earning an interview.

The need to impress on the job seekers' side should be an ongoing requirement even after obtaining those glamorous result slips from University.

The confidence of a job seeker, their perceived knowledge of what they want is vital in helping them meet their future yet many look lost or intimidated when they come face to face with a potential employer.

Another job seeker, a smartly dressed fellow approached the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) desk, with enough confidence but unfortunately for him, asked the wrong question, the single question that killed the whole impression he might have made the potential employer seated behind the desk.

"So, I would like to know what kind of work you do at RDB," announced the job seeker to the amusement of the attendant, a young good looking lady.

Unknown to him, the young and cool lady at the desk was not just any junior official sent to represent RDB, one of the leading and best government agencies in Rwanda; it was Yvette Umutoni herself, the Division manager of the Human resource department at RDB.

She was disappointed by the question. Normally, she's the one supposed to ask job seekers such a question to find out how much of the company these potential employees know.

"It helps to be knowledgeable about the company you are seeking a job from, it impresses the employer as it portrays how much interest you have in them," explains Umutoni.

But she nonetheless answered the young man's question.

During his speech, which cut across as parental or from a big brother to his smaller siblings, the Youth Minister had emphasized the importance of job readiness and for job seekers to equip themselves with relevant skills for the job which gives them an edge over other seekers.

On average, the labor supply machine pours 125,000 on the market every year to scramble for just 104,000 job opportuni¬ties available from the demand side.

President Paul Kagame's efforts are aimed at his Government being able to create at least 200, 000 jobs per year to be able to balance the equation.

But even with such targets in place, experts warn that students should seek the right career guidance to be able to beat the job market dynamics.

For instance, NFT's Wanza says while many Rwandan students are rushing to do a course in accounting and finance, they are leaving other marketable courses such as Marketing and Human resource, causing a skills' gap.

"Most often employers ask us to find them marketing officers or Human resource managers but there are no candidates in those areas a situation which forces people with just the relevant skills that would require investing in training to get the job done," observes Wanza.

Her concern is valid and it's even echoed by RDB's Umutoni who emphasizes that Human resource is not just about pay roll management it's a whole lot more including dealing with the welfare of the labor force, the backbone of the company's success.

Wanza's concern is further supported by the trend at which the current fourth year students at the School of Finance and Banking (SFB) which is the main supplier of Finance and banking professionals have chosen their areas of specialization.

Apparently, everyone wants to work in a bank or to be an accountant.

Students specializing in Finance are over 100, those in accounting are over 40, and Marketing has below 30 same as Human resource who are barely 20 students.

So when TIGO calls on NFT looking for a hundred marketing executives, many of the applicants will be Finance specialists who would require specialized training to be in shape.

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