In the pressure cooker world of parenthood, preparing children for life beyond the classroom has become an even more urgent social issue as the world gets more competitive.
For Ugandan mothers and fathers, the issue is complicated further by the grim reality of run-away unemployment levels, yet formal sector job opportunities are few and falling. So, as the final school bell tolls, uncertainty looms for those who have completed school.
Unlike days gone by, school-leaving certificates, diplomas and degrees no longer guarantee a pathway to salaried employment. Gone too are the days when success was measured by the seamless entry into a white-collar job.
In the brave new 21st-century world, children must confront the likelihood that their working life may not have anything to do with what they studied.
That uncertainty partly explains why many parents fret over the next generation’s limited options, despite the huge investment in their formal education. For some, that all too elusive success will be determined by what usually starts off as a ‘side gig’.
Ms Christine Joy Turamuhawe’s emerging success story brings this new normal of what is referred to as ‘hustling’ into sharp focus. Many school leavers are becoming ‘hustlers’.
For some, it is forced upon them, in her case, it is a passion being realised. As founder and owner of a cleaning service, Cjay Home Solutions, her experience tells the story of those graduates who are seeking and pursuing careers outside what they studied.
The 26-year-old attended the much-sought-after Mary Hill Girls’ School in Mbarara District for her first two years of secondary education (2011 – 2013), before completing her O-level at St Peter’s S.S. Naalya, Kampala in 2014. Ms Turamuhawe then attended London College, Nansana for her A-level, completing high school in 2016.
A year later, she enrolled at Makerere University Business School for a bachelor’s degree in international business. Several years have gone by since her 2016 senior six vacation.
At that time, the young lady discovered a personal interest in cleaning when she worked as a receptionist at Piano Stores Uganda.
“While there, I would help the cleaner at the office because she would always come late for work since she had children. That is how I got the passion for cleaning. I later started cleaning at church. We used to clean church equipment, chairs, the floor and I soon felt like I could do cleaning as a full-time job,” she remembers.
That thought, she reveals, took on real meaning one day when she “took a picture while cleaning a generator and posted it on Twitter [with a caption] saying ‘I offer cleaning services’. People encouraged me, of course, others trolled me but I did that to see their reactions”.
She was more than surprised that her inbox was soon receiving several messages from people asking how much she charges for laundry work, etc. Long story short, that interest led to the growth of a cleaning gig which took on a life of its own during her university years.
After university, she continued cleaning for cash. Her clientele grew and, in the meantime, what began as a personal passion, led to the registration of a company and the hiring of office space to locate the budding business.
Today, Cjay Home Solutions employs seven permanent staff. Depending on the size of a given assignment, temporary workers are called in every now and then. The money is good. Ms Turamuhawe is busy and any thoughts about a job in international business seem so far away for now.
Christine Joy Turamuhawe, the CEO of Cjay Home Solutions at work
As a student, Ms Turamuhawe had nursed a childhood dream of becoming a lawyer.
“Growing up, I wanted to join the employment world. In school, no one used to tell us that you can be a successful businesswoman, that you can be a successful cleaner, chef, farmer or driver. They only used to tell us that you can be a successful doctor, lawyer, a nurse, which was wrong,” she said.
Her experience with formal education describes what the old days were all about preparing students for a professional life inside a job silo.
“Teachers used to praise people who were good at sciences. They would tell them they can be anything they want; that they will be successful and each time I would fail mathematics, they would say, ‘you what are you going to be without mathematics,” the young entrepreneur avers.
But that life was not for her: “If I had become a lawyer, I would be a miserable one. I don’t regret where I am now.”
Ms Turamuhawe works hard even though her parents are financially stable because there are things she wanted in life which her parents did not provide. They might not have given her everything but their moral support counts for much more today.
“My parents are so supportive; they market me a lot. They recommend me to clean for their friends, and when they introduce me, they tell people what I do,” she says.
Real-life experiences increasingly show that children brought up without a combination of parental guidance and the freedom to look at all possibilities tend to struggle later on.
Ms Lillian Nakayima, a mother of four and a resident in Wakiso, identified financial literacy and the ability to communicate effectively as key after-school life skills.
“At a young age, I started by teaching my children how to be responsible, I would assign each one a simple house chore and when I came back in the evening, I would ask everyone if they had done their assignment to see which child accomplishes an assignment given to them and which child doesn’t,” Ms Nakayima said.
“Also as they grew, I gave them challenging things to solve so that they develop critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Parents should know that what they want their children to be in future is up to them. If you want lazy or hardworking children, then the ball is in your hands,” she adds.
Ms Nakayima’s approach resonates with people like Ms Barbra Mutagubya, the director at Sanyu Babies Home, and an expert in children’s affairs. She believes that the formative years between eight and 16 are critical.
“If you want your child to be hardworking after school in their careers, start early when they are still young so that you build them on that foundation,” she said.
She firmly believes in the African saying which affirms that a tree which grows crooked can never be straightened. This home truth applies to children too. It partly explains why many parents question where they went wrong if their children turn out to be a nuisance even when they have attended some of the best schools in the country.
“Now like during holiday time, some parents let their children watch television all day, every day, which is wrong. During holidays, take the children to the garden so that they can learn how to plant, and weed crops. That way, they will know how hard it is to get the food they eat,” she suggests.
Alternatively, “teach them how to cook, clean the house, wash utensils, among other house chores. It is not child abuse to teach your children work”.
Mr Simon Mugisha, a father of five, says: “Some mothers are to blame for the lazy children because they over-pamper them which is bad. Some children need a little spanking; that is when they can get in line. You find a three-year-old giving orders to their mother and she sees no problem with it.”
Mr Ali Male, a counselling psychologist at A-Z Professional Counselling Support Centre in Kampala, said helping children along the hard-knock way of life helps them choose right in future.
“Encourage the children to take aptitude tests. Help them assess their skills and interests, let them take part in extracurricular activities which will also help them identify their strengths, weaknesses, and passions,” he said.
With the high rate of unemployment in the country, these personal and professional viewpoints can be transformational and life-saving for Uganda’s young population.
A study conducted by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in 2022 found that Uganda’s total working population aged between 15 to 64 years is 23.5 million, out of which 11.3 million constitute the labour force. Of that number, 88 per cent end up in the informal sector, meaning getting an office job after school today is extremely hard.
Other official data show that self-employed workers in 2019 stood at 60 per cent of the total labour force.
Ms Betty Amongi, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, told a national labour conference in early 2023 that for Uganda to close the huge unemployment gap, at least 648,000 jobs must be created every year.
Unfortunately, a 2022 National Planning Authority (NPA) report on Uganda’s education reforms states that in Uganda, like most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the recent history of positive economic growth has not resulted in increased employment opportunities.
The report adds that while Uganda achieved an average growth rate of 6.8% between 1991 and 2016, this has not translated into an equivalent growth in employment opportunities.
Over the same period, the average employment growth rate has stagnated at around 2.7%. The report observed that every one per cent increase in GDP growth potentially generates only 400 new jobs which is far below the international standard of 10,000 jobs created per corresponding one per cent rise in GDP growth.
The NPA statistics show that about 700,000 youth are released annually into the job market to compete for available jobs regardless of their qualifications, but only 90,000 get something to do out of the approximately 9,000 jobs available each year.
The unemployment crisis Uganda faces was put into stark perspective in May this year when 34,820 people applied to fill 218 jobs advertised by the government. Only 21,800 candidates were shortlisted to sit aptitude tests which led to a scramble. Things are so bad, that the crisis has bred the reprehensible practice where people are being forced to pay bribes to get shortlisted for job interviews.
In mitigation, four years ago in January 2019, the cabinet approved the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) policy focusing on establishing an employer-led TVET system and TVET qualifications framework. However, research conducted by Tracer and Labour Market.
Assessment between 2017 and 2022 in Kampala, Mbarara and Nakivale refugee camps, showed that 49 per cent of youths who completed vocational studies remain jobless because they lack start-up capital to set themselves up in private business.
In June 2022, there were about 150 vocational training institutes and of these 35 are government-owned.TVET offers hands-on occupational training in hairdressing, fashion and design, plumbing, electrical installation, automotive mechanics, hotel management, catering, and computer studies. Every year, more than 25,000 people graduate from TVET institutions across the country.
The other programme that was initiated to solve the unemployment problem is the Presidential Initiative on Skilling the Boy and Girl Child in 2017. Its goal is to empower underprivileged youth aged between 17 and 35 years.
After six months of free training in computer studies, plumbing, and electricity among other hands-on courses, the beneficiaries are examined and awarded certificates under the supervision of the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT).
The next step for most is to earn a living from the work of their hands. Good parenting will now see that the future, just as Ms Turamuhawe imagined it and came to realise, lies in our children’s hands.