Tuesday, April 23, 2024
CommentaryFemale graduates’ struggle to find jobs in Ethiopia

Female graduates’ struggle to find jobs in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, like most African countries, faces a major challenge in terms of youth unemployment. Due to variations in access to resources such as skills, time, and capital, as well as underlying social norms, women graduates are less likely to be employed or engage in entrepreneurship than young male graduates.

In a report presented to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) in December 2022 by the Ministry of Education, as many as 42 percent of all university graduates are unable to find work after graduation. Yet, while young women’s employment is important for the overall economy as well as women’s voice and agency, it is mostly the issues of young men that tend to dominate the policy discussion on youth employment. This should not be the case.

But what kind of support could improve the employability of female graduates? The types of active labor market interventions that would promote the employability of female university graduates and the difficulties they face have not been thoroughly assessed.

With the support of the International Development Research Center (IDRC) Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW)—East Africa project, the Network of Ethiopian Women Association (NEWA) and two local organizations (the Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission and Abamela Consulting) are implementing a three-year research project that investigates interventions that facilitate the entry and retention of women graduates in high-value sectors in Ethiopia.

Using an approach that combines quantitative (Randomized Control Trials) methods with qualitative research, we are testing whether providing job readiness skills and access to job information services will improve the likelihood of employment, whether wage or self-employment. We recently conducted a baseline study in three major cities (Addis Ababa, Hawassa, and Jimma), and here is what we learned so far with some policy implications.

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Despite the low success rate, young, recent female graduates continue to look for work. For instance, out of 1936 research participants, 1439 (74.3 percent) have actively been looking for a high-paying job in the past six months. The participants had an average of about seven applications over the past six months, and they were invited for about one interview.

On average, the chance of being interviewed is 16 percent. However, despite an active search, job assistance remains low. Only 8.9 percent of research participants who have been looking for high-paying jobs—1439—received support from the government and other entities in terms of placement in training programs and job-related information. Nonetheless, even the limited assistance was likely a one-time event.

Also, participants in the study claim to face a variety of restrictions in accessing employment. The top five obstacles to finding jobs were lack of work experience, limited job vacancies, corrupt system, political instability, and language-based discrimination.

Furthermore, the number of young female graduates who start their own businesses is limited, and of course, not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. At any rate, of the total of 1936 research participants, only 179 (9.2 percent) have taken some steps to establish their own business, and the percentage of participants aspiring to become entrepreneurs is slightly higher in big cities.

Only 12 percent of the participants said “yes” when asked if they received any advice or assistance from the government or other entities to start a business.

One of the obstacles mentioned by nearly two-thirds of the participants (63.1 percent) was a lack of loan opportunities. Barriers identified by the study include the perception of a lack of business opportunities (37 percent), political unpredictability (34 percent), a lack of experience (34 percent), and the lack of a guarantee to obtain loans (31 percent).

About 12 percent of the participants who were struggling to launch their own enterprise highlighted corruption in the bureaucracy, even though it is largely concealed. A lack of skills and knowledge and discrimination based on gender, disability, religion, language, and other factors are also mentioned as problems.

In terms of soft skills, most of the respondents scored slightly higher on these measures, but this is understandable considering inherent biases in self-reported measures. However, the data suggest that those who score relatively higher on communication, job readiness, and self-esteem measures are more likely to take steps to establish their own business and actively look for higher-paying jobs.

In other words, those with strong soft skill sets are more likely to take the initiative to apply for jobs or start businesses and even succeed in doing so. The findings justify the importance of soft skills to encourage young female graduates’ efforts to succeed in getting jobs or starting their businesses.

What policy implications do these findings have? While the final evaluation is yet to be conducted, preliminary findings indicate the need for targeted interventions to improve female graduate labor market information and advance their soft skill sets.

Soft skills can boost aspirations for success and confidence, and creating access to job information services can expand applicants’ options. In this regard, policymakers can exercise strong leadership, and the recent plan by the Ministry of Labor and Skills to transform some of the existing youth centers into job service centers is a wise choice, assuming it is implemented soon.

Evidence-based interventions are effective in addressing youth employment issues. In this regard, NEWA will share regular insights from the GROW research project with stakeholders in the hopes of fostering dialogue about potential policy changes on youth employment in general and female graduate employment in particular.

(Tilahun Girma (PhD) is a development consultant with a background in statistics, demography, and development studies. Meseret Ali is an expert in law and gender.)

Contributed by Tilahun Girma (PhD) and Meseret Ali

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