Taming the Beast

 

Windhoek – Namibia’s government continues to devise policies and strategies aimed at finding solutions to the problem of unemployment in the country. The national economy has seen steady growth over the past two decades and now has one of the highest GDP per capita rates in countries south of the Sahara.

Nonetheless, unemployment remains one of the biggest challenges the government has been struggling to redress ‑ a situation that has resulted in poverty persisting among the majority of the population.

The official unemployment rate, as per the Labour Force Survey of 2012, stands at 27.4 percent.

And there is general feeling in the public sphere that unemployment, especially among the youth, has reached crisis proportions.

To combat the challenge, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare has launched a new strategy aimed at stimulating the creation of much-needed jobs and accelerating Namibia’s economic growth.

The Labour Ministry and various stakeholders recently met for a two-day National Employment Conference to discuss developmental issues pertaining to economic growth and employment creation in the country.

The conference, held under the theme “Towards Full and Sustainable Employment in Namibia”, coincided with the launch of the new job creation blueprint, the National Employment Policy, by President Hifikepunye Pohamba on October 24, 2013.

Speaking to The Southern Times ahead of the employment conference, the director of labour market services at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Albius Mwiya, explained the objectives of the new policy.

He said they wanted to actualise goals outlined in the fourth National Development Plan (NDP4), a five-year planning tool the government launched in 2012 and which runs up to 2017.

The new policy is not only regarded as implementation mechanism but also focuses more on monitoring and evaluation of the four key areas of employment creation as outlined in the NDP4.

These are tourism, agriculture, logistics and mining. “The new National Employment Policy’s main objective is to see how we can create employment in those sectors,” Mwiya said, adding that it is a guide to possible employment opportunities in the key economic clusters.

Mwiya said through the employment policy, the ministry had come up with priority areas linked to those outlined in NDP4 in addition to proposing programmes in order to create employment.

Since it is aligned to the NDP4, the policy will run up to 2017, so that in the end the ministry will be able to deduce how many job opportunities would be created, said Mwiya.

He said the policy includes an implementation plan highlighting the different stakeholders that would be involved in order to realise set goals.

The new policy replaces the outdated National Employment Policy of 1997 ‑ the first employment policy devised after Namibia’s attainment of Independence in March 1990. It differs from its predecessor in that the old policy did not concentrate on specific areas, as the government was trying to address unemployment in all sectors of economy, and that was unachievable due to lack of resources.

Mwiya said the focus in the old policy was an export-led approach “with the main emphasis being that we have to produce export raw materials as much as possible and export them to other countries without value addition”. In addition, the old policy was “stand-alone” as it was not linked to any national development strategy ‑ which made it difficult to implement because when it was drafted there was no implementation plan attached.

Mwiya noted that, “There was no clear picture on how those various sectors are going to create jobs for the people and it was not widely disseminated and few people knew about it. Those are some of the factors that led to the failure of the policy.”

In contrast, the government has inserted implementation strategies in the new five-year employment policy that will run concurrently with the NDP4 until 2017.

With the NDP4, the government decided to focus its energy and resources on areas with the greatest potential to influence the country’s development challenges.

The five-year plan concentrates on three main objectives, namely, faster and sustainable economic growth, creation of employment opportunities and enhanced income equality.

The linkage of the new policy to the NDP4 means economic growth “will come with job creation, unlike in the past whereby the country’s economy was growing but employment creation was not growing because the old employment policy was not linked to any of the development policies”.

“Since 1997, our employment rate grew by five percent but unemployment was also growing because there was no link. “This was due to the fact that people believed in the micro-economic notions that when (an) economy grows, it will culminate in employment creation, which in turn reduces poverty ‑ which is not the case because the three cannot happen automatically and it never happened not even in developed countries.”

The general populace only awoke to the reality of the beast of unemployment when it was revealed a few years ago that 51 percent of able bodied, adult citizens did not have jobs.

That is when the government started drafting policies and programmes to address the issue of joblessness, Mwiya said. He said the new policy recommends that the government invest in human resources development with particular focus on the youth and women.

The policy emphasises the need to train youths to take up jobs in different sectors of the economy, including public works even on temporary basis. This will in turn result in self-employment as young Namibians acquire skills that they can deploy on their own, with some financial backing.

“With that approach, we believe that by having skills development, as part of our new National Employment Policy, we can skill unskilled Namibia,” Mwiya explained.

He said most of the unemployed young people did not have any tertiary or vocational qualifications. As such, he said, there was need to review the education policy to ensure young people continue schooling until they are ready for the labour market.

There are many employment opportunities in Namibia, but due to shortage of skills in the labour market, the private sector is forced to import skills. The government too has had to import skills.

“There are lots of mismatches between what our people are being trained for and what the labour market is asking.

“Most of our young people are being trained on skills that (are not) necessary for the country and they end up doing work that they are not trained to do,” Mwiya concluded.

October 2013
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