Namibia’s SEP programme to stimulate entrepreneurship

By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Namibia, like other developing countries, is grappling with the mounting army of university graduates that are failing to enter the job market, due to the mismatch between their training and job skills.

Each year, thousands of young people graduate with degrees and diplomas from the universities and training colleges, the majority are battling to find decent work, while the lucky few will be underemployed.

The Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation said it has more than 64 911 job seekers on its database. And the situation is compounded by employers that are reluctant to employ fresh university graduates because they lack the right skills.

Now that the academic qualifications no longer guarantee a ‘dream job’ for many young graduates, the government through the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation has moved to address the problem by launching entrepreneurship programme.

The ministry hosted the first-ever Student Entrepreneurship Programme (SEP) Conference in Windhoek on 18-19 April.

The SEP programme that was launched at the conference is aimed at cultivating an entrepreneurial mind-set among tertiary students and helping them to acquire the skills for building their dream business.

More than 200 participants attended the gathering that provided them with an opportunity to communicate challenges, share new developments and address policy-related matters with a diverse group of local and international entrepreneurial experts.

Higher Education Minister Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi told the conference that the Student Entrepreneurship Programme is an initiative of her ministry that is linked to President Hage Geingob’s Harambee Prosperity Plan.

SEP seeks to identify, develop and nurture student leaders at tertiary institutions to cultivate a strong culture among students  and establish networking opportunities for students with existing and successful entrepreneurs and the formal business sector and develop small incubation centres or entrepreneurial ecosystems at various tertiary institutions to help cultivate and mentor upcoming entrepreneurial minds.

And the objectives of the SEP programme will be achieved by establishing partnerships with the local industry and countries with advanced levels of entrepreneurship and signing MoUs in areas of co-operation, training and entrepreneurial development; and introducing regional and national annual entrepreneurial awards to motivate prospective entrepreneurs.

“Universities and other institutions of higher education across the country are ideally placed to expose students to environments which foster entrepreneurial mindsets,” she said.

“Indeed, the President’s Harambee Prosperity Plan aims to ensure that every Namibian citizen is in a position to contribute to the country’s prosperity and that as a country we are facilitating the capacity of every Namibian citizen to contribute to our development.”

The National Planning Commission of Namibia has in the past observed that the local economic and employment growth is hindered by among other factors, the existence of mismatches between supply and demand of skilled workers. Namibia’s Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook Model also indicates that the vocational education training and higher education systems are currently not adequately geared to meet current and future labour market demands for skills due to, among other reasons, unpreparedness of trainees and students as they are often not exposed to work based learning, said the education minister.

“The tertiary education sector requires substantial investments at all levels to bring education up to standard for required economic growth, and this is where MHETI places the importance of the SEP in addressing the mismatch of graduates’ qualifications and industry demands.

“The SEP therefore seeks to adopt a ‘matching skills’ approach during the life of students at higher education institutions and VTCs, providing the right entrepreneurial skills required to generate necessary economic dynamism to create new jobs.

“The SEP further seeks to promote knowledge constellations and entrepreneurial ecosystems in which companies and industry adopt innovative strategies and interact with educational institutions to enhance the production of graduates who are not only relevant to industry, but also capable of creating new jobs.

“In this context, an entrepreneurial ecosystem is a cluster of interconnected individuals, entities and governance bodies in a given geographical area that collectively support entrepreneurial activity,” Minister Kandji-Murangi said.

Creating jobs, not just skills

Speaking at the conference, Namibia’s First Lady Monica Geingos urged tertiary institutions and the corporate sector to foster an entrepreneurial culture and spirit for graduates to be able to start their own business and employ others.

Geingos pointed out that a culture of entrepreneurship among the youth is important “as there is a dire need for job creation amongst the group and government cannot accommodate everybody”.

“We need to prepare our students not only to be employable but also to start their own business.

This needs to be taught early on, from primary school level.

We also need to look at other career options such as artisans where graduates can start their own businesses with the skills they’ve acquired,” she said.

A product of the University of Namibia, Geingos shared many anecdotes relating to entrepreneurship funding from her experiences as the former managing director of a successful private equity fund, adding that she gained practical experience the hard way “as no textbooks can prepare entrepreneurs for some of the challenges they will face”.

Dr Andrew Niikondo, the University of Science and Technology Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Research, noted that the issue is not about skills mismatch but rather poor career guides from an early age as well as poor performance in Grade 12.

Some students were finding it hard to find jobs because their ventured into over-crowded field of studies because they couldn’t meet the requirements for fields that were in demand such as engineering and science.

Niikondo also pointed out lack of innovation and creativity among graduates as the main contributing factors.

“Our graduates are encouraged enough to start their own business.

The issue is not that the market for graduates is not there, but the problem is that every graduate is aiming for a white collar job and nobody is thinking of starting a business and employ others in future.

“The government will never accommodate everybody, neither does the private sector. Therefore students should be encouraged to start their own business and services,” Niikondo said.

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