A Graduate Needs More Than High Grades for Employment

FROM: John Sabatele – 21. January 2021

The current education system in Tanzania leaves youth disillusioned, tired of learning, and without the motivation for further education. 

According to the World Bank, about 850,000 young men and women in Tanzania enter the job market every year – with only 40,000 formal jobs available. Formal vocational training can only absorb around 40,000 students and higher education institutions, less than 70,000 students per year. This means almost 600,000 young people are excluded from further education or formal employment.

The current education system leaves youth disillusioned, tired of learning, and without interest in or the motivation for further education. They see no value in the skills they are receiving through formal education as it does not seem to match with market demand. In formal education, learning is no longer about gaining more skills or knowledge, but about passing examinations and receiving certificates. Due to this, it is likely to find graduates from colleges or universities with high grades, but who lack personal attributes needed in the world of work.

Soft skills for hard times

In many countries, formal education cannot absorb the high numbers of young people for many reasons, calling for alternative ways to fill the gap.

Young people struggling to find or keep jobs need different soft skills, such as interpersonal and communication skills, listening skills, time management, and empathy. Many of the youth, who are often school dropouts or did not attend formal education at all, lack self-confidence and a clear vision for their professional career. Therefore, to prepare this vulnerable group for employment, regular soft skills training is necessary to improve their interpersonal skills, avoid misunderstandings, and in some cases disasters at the workplace.

Amina Daudi, for example, lives with her mother and two siblings. As the oldest, she helps her mother to take care of her siblings and sometimes helps out in the family garden. Two years ago, she got her first job in a small restaurant in town. However, Amina encountered struggles in arriving on time because she had to carry out duties at home such as cleaning and looking after her siblings. Coming late led to a salary cut. Eventually, she had to quit her job to continue helping at home. “At that time I thought I had a busy day, but the truth is I lacked good organization skills”, Amina says.

Preparing youth for employment in today's world

The YES project, which I work for, works with young women and men who are passionate to study but had to leave school due to different reasons such as having to help at home or lacking finances. Many of these young people are expected to contribute to the family income, but they lack the skills to do so. The project offers vocational and practical courses, such as tailoring and mechanics, that are attuned to the youth’s needs, require little literacy, and leave time for them to pursue other activities such as helping out in the family shop or family garden after school.

For example, Amina Daudi, mentioned above, attended a time management and communication skills training program, which was accompanying her vocational training in beautification. The training made her realize what she could have changed instead of quitting her job. “Through the training, I am now able to schedule my day to ensure that tasks are completed on time. This gives me hopes that I will perform better in my future job”, she concludes.

Participants of a soft skill training session
Trainers also need training! I took this selfie at a training session for soft skill trainers. 

Due to the lack of employment possibilities in Tanzania, many young people have no other choice than to opt for self-employment and start their businesses. Here again, the soft skills training comes in. The project prepares the youth through the facilitation of financial literacy and entrepreneurship training so that they can come up with new ideas and turn them into doable, successful business plans. Having appropriate knowledge of keeping records, marketing, and customer care are among the biggest challenges to many young people to start their businesses. These topics are covered through the soft skills modules to ensure the youth have the right tools in their toolbox to ease communication and interaction with the customers, fellow workers, and partners to ensure the success of their businesses. All of these efforts are being done to ensure that we are all on the bus moving and coping with job market demands as the world keeps on changing rapidly hence working environments too.

Tracing the graduates

871 youth have graduated since the project started at the beginning of 2019. The project traces the graduates three months after graduation to verify their employment status: So far, 713 youth have been reached. The numbers emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship and other soft skills modules: 38% of the youth have become self-employed, while only 6,9 % are employed and 17.4% work part-time. 31.8% of the graduates are still in the process of finding a job. Some of the youth already had an income before the training, which increased due to the training.

                                                  The YES project traces the graduates three months after graduation to verify their employment status

Johannes Madano, a masonry graduate, who is now self-employed, recalls: “The training has helped me improve my technical skills, but I also work with a more entrepreneurial mind now. I know how to negotiate with my clients, set up contracts and I feel more confident when doing my work.” He is now able to attract more customers and has managed to double his income since finishing the training.

A wish for the future!

Education is the fuel needed to reach the sustainable development goals. As a step to eradicate poverty, education should empower people to master their environments and improve their living standards. In an ever-changing world, soft skills become increasingly important to allow young people to quickly adapt to alternating circumstances. When searching for employees, most employers look for graduates who have the right personal attributes such as good communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills that will enable them to work with others at the workplace. Thus, it is in the interest of all of us in the education sector to include soft skills training wherever possible, be it formal or non-formal education. We are not too late for this; There is a lot of good quality training material available, we can start right now by putting more effort into ensuring that soft skills training is included so that we can generate competent and job-ready youth for the economy.


John Sabatele is a volunteer soft skills trainer at YES.