IMANI Alert: Youth employment prospects & the educational system of Ghana

Unemployment remains a major development issue globally, and in Ghana, the rates are quite high especially among economically active population- the youth. The international labour organization (ILO) refers to youth unemployment as the share of the labour force within ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment. In Ghana the number of the youth in the total population(25.90 million at 2013) has increased from 1.1 million in 1960 to 2.3 million in 1984, and to 3.5 million in 2000( World Bank, WDI, 2014) . The World Bank statistics also indicate that about 65 percent of the unemployed in Ghana can be found in the 15-24 years age group. The problem of youth unemployment can be identified in two forms; the difficult transition from school to work, even for youths who are job-ready; and unemployment for youths who lack basic academic skills probably because they are drop outs. Under-employment, another form of unemployment, is also a major problem especially among young men and women in rural areas. The majority of employment opportunities for youth in Ghana continue to consist of low-income agricultural and informal activities.

The transition from school to work has been a frustrating process for many of the youth in Ghana. This is mainly because the job market is not very vibrant and transparent, inadequate job placement centres, most of which are not functioning; very few but highly priced private job placement centres. In the absence of a well-staffed and equipped job placement centres, many of the youth depend on what is generally terms as ‘hearsay’ or ‘having contacts’ to secure formal employment. Generally, high youth unemployment rates in Ghana over the years can be attributed to the following;

• The failure of the economy to generate sufficient employment outlets,

• The inability for Ghana’s industrial base to develop due to ineffective management of the divestiture processes,

• The shrinking of public sector employment opportunities and relatively slow growth of the private sector

• The introduction of the JHS and SHS system without adequate planning for integration into the trades/vocations and   job placement has also exacerbated the problem as education and training have no link to the needs of the important sectors of the economy.

• Lack of coordination between the academia and the corporate or industry is also a major reason for unemployment, especially graduate unemployment

• rural-urban migration exacerbating the problem of urban youth unemployment

The education system

The present structure of education, starting at the age of 6 years, is a 6-3-3-4 structure representing, 6 years of primary education, 3 years of Junior Secondary School, 3 years of Senior Secondary School and a 4 year university course. The first 9 years of free and compulsory basic education was designed to expose children to a wide variety of ideas and skills while the Junior Secondary School (now junior high school) level education which offered the subjects Agricultural and General Science, Pre- vocational Skills, Pre-technical skills and Social Studies, was meant to be work-oriented. After JHS students may choose to go into different streams of Senior High School (SHS), comprising General Education and Technical, Vocational and Agricultural and Training (TVET) or enter into an apprenticeship scheme. The Senior Secondary School curriculum has Core subjects and with five programs: Agriculture, General (Arts or Science), Business, Vocational and Technical from which 3 elective subjects are chosen. Naturally students who successfully pass the Senior Secondary School Certificate examination can proceed to offer courses at a Polytechnic, Training College or other tertiary institutions. Proponents of the JSS system argued that the system would attract more students into technical, vocational, business, and agricultural institutions. Thus those students who did not gain admission into the SSS would be better equipped to enter the job market.

With Ghana’s bid to reach the middle-income country status by the year 2020, the Vision 2020 education policy had the objectives to ensure all citizens regardless of gender or social status, are functionally literate and productive at the minimum. The policy also has objectives for each sector within the education system and required all sectors to embrace scientific and technological education as well as making education more accessible to girls in order to obtain a gender balance. By the early 2000, the regular annual turn out of graduates from the Junior and Senior Secondary schools, private and public tertiary institutions resulted in many young graduates remaining unemployed, mainly because of inadequate planning for their integration into the trades/vocation of various industries.

The mode of teaching and examining in the various basic and second cycle institutions; the quality of teaching , the monitoring of teachers , mode accessing or examining students , the quantity of subjects, the relevance of subjects are main reasons for producing poor quality outcomes.

Tertiary Sector and Industry

In expectation that the new JSS and SSS structures would increase the number of students seeking advanced training centres, the Winneba College, and the University of Development Studies, Tamale were established in addition to the three public universities and polytechnics. In the last decade however Ghana has experienced a very vigorous participation of the private sector in the provision of tertiary education and distance learning opportunities. With the increase in the number of private tertiary institutions, access and enrolment has increased in general. Stakeholders of the education sector have attested to the fact that there are no comprehensive policies to guide private-participation in tertiary education and has led to the springing up of several private institutions of which only a handful are accredited.

Secondly there has been an imbalance in the admission of students into programs, majority of which are not targeted at addressing specific national needs. This has led to churn out of many university graduates, whose skills do not meet the needs of the labour market, resulting in the crisis of graduate/ youth unemployment. Most tertiary institutions admits fewer students into the sciences as compared to the arts, humanities and business programs. For public tertiary institutions, the lack of adequate funding means there are inadequate learning equipment and logistics to support these courses. The result is the poor quality graduates who lack the ability to be innovative and are unable to put to use the skills they have acquired.

The major consequence of this imbalance is a disconnect between industry and the academia, where by there are more graduates whose skills do not match industry requirements. According to Bawakyillenou et all (2013), the mismatches between tertiary education and the needs of firms have three major effects on the Ghanaian economy: in the labour market which is manifested in growing unemployment for young graduates without possessing job-relevant skills; the productivity effect on the part of industries, and the development effects in the form of high unemployment and dependency rate, and in increase in social vices in the economy.

Also there has been a challenge for school leavers/graduates to improve or have additional skills and competencies so as to enhance prospects of employability by obtaining additional professional courses such as ACCA in addition to their qualifications. Similarly, industries are compelled to spend considerable amount of resources in retraining newly recruited graduates.


According to a report (UNECA, 2005), the problem of youth unemployment cannot be tackled without taking into consideration the profile of the unemployed. The 2000 and 2010 population and housing census shows that the highest unemployment rate was among persons with secondary school certificates at 19.7 percent of labour force respectively, followed by those with tertiary education. The report also showed that female unemployment rates were also higher than male unemployment. With this, one can infer that unemployment is largely associated with the transitioning period of or young people from education to work. This therefore suggest the need for both public and private sector to play their respective roles in curbing the menace of unemployment among the youth.

The education sector in general needs to undergo a very rigorous structural reform to improve the quality graduates produced at every level of education. Successive governments ever the years have focused largely on issues of quantity especially on increasing enrolment numbers and have sidelined the key issue of the ‘quality’ of education. For the various sectors the Ghana Education Strategic PLAN 2010 – 2012, has as their strategic goal, to provide and increase equitable access to a good-quality child-friendly universal basic education, quality second cycle education and a tertiary education that prepares young adults for the various options available within and the workplace. Enrolments have increased at all levels according to the Ministry of education Performance Review 2013-14 report, but the level of quality education continues to be a challenge.

The centralization of management and supervision of the education at the national capital is said to be one of the major causes of setbacks in achieving these goals in our education system over the years. First steps of reform should include decentralization in the management and supervision of various institutions teachers, and school workers and paying critical attention to quality of education provided. In the case of basic and secondary education the modalities of delivery of teaching and assessment should be given a critical attention. There also the need entrepreneurial training be included into the academic programme /curriculum at all levels of education.

With respect to tertiary level, there is a need for institutions to redesign their academic programs or curriculum and to that which would provide relevant skills to feed the sectors of the economy that are growing and restructure admission policies. The service sectors (energy, telecommunication, insurance, agribusiness etc. ) continues to be major drivers of growth constituting over 50 % of the Ghanaian economy, followed by industry and agriculture at 28.4% and 19.9% respectively, and is said to be a major source of formal employment (AFDB country strategic paper 2012- 2016)

There is need to develop strong governance and leadership structures through a comprehensive national plan to guide tertiary education sector in reviewing their curricula to give graduates diverse skills and knowledge and that will ensure the needed production of a skilful workforce. In addition, government needs to promote an industrial policy that will lead to the diversification of the economy meant to promote the manufacturing sector. There is a huge potential for Ghana in the area of adding value to our raw materials (agribusiness) and the creation of thousands of jobs for our youth. Government should prioritize research and innovation, improve data collection in the labour market, appropriate skills development, to address the problem of graduate unemployment

Generally there is the need to improve the ability of the youth’s transition from school to work or from one job to another by stimulating the economy as whole. A sound and business friendly environment would encourage entrepreneurship to a large extent. With regards to the informal sector include enhancing job qualifications and expanding job training programs for school leavers of various levels would reduce the unemployment rate among the youth. In Ghana, Agriculture (agribusiness) and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) are major sectors that have the potential to create jobs for the thousands of youth who are jobless (tertiary and SHS graduates) if only the right policies are put in place. The newly introduced program YEA (Youth Employment Agency) when implemented within the right legal framework will be capable of ensuring most unemployed youth in Ghana are well trained and placed in these sectors. The Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations which now supervises the Agency (which was under the Youth and Sports Ministry) believes that since the agency is now backed by law, it will be able to facilitate job creation for about a 100,000 youth through new programs such as the Alternative Livelihood Program, meant to engage about four hundred thousand youth who were involved in illegal mining otherwise known as “Galamsey” to enable them earn a decent livelihood.

It can be recommended that modules should be developed to be self-financing in order to relieve Government of the unsustainable financial burden of the programme. The modules should therefore be reduced and restructured to make governance, implementation and effective much easier. The Monitoring and Evaluation unit should be strengthened to take necessary actions to ensure value for money.

With both public and private sector playing their part effectively, the education system will produce quality graduates and school leavers who will be equipped with the needed skills and be readily absorbed into the growing and productive sectors of the economy.


Ruby Sinam Nutor is a research assistant with IMANI.

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Henry Cobblah

Henry Cobblah is a Tech Developer, Entrepreneur, and a Journalist. With over 15 Years of experience in the digital media industry, he writes for over 7 media agencies and shows up for TV and Radio discussions on Technology, Sports and Startup Discussions.

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