Let’s ready our workforce by adding a mandatory “how to keep a job” class

Over my seven years in Rwanda, I’ve had the privilege and frustration of hiring hundreds of people.

If you’re growing a company, like me, or just hiring staff in your house, you’ve no doubt experienced the same frustration: a general lack of understanding about the expectations of a job.

Rwanda’s economy is growing rapidly. For most of my staff, they are the first in their family to have formal employment. It is a massive achievement for the country to bring so many people into the workforce in such a short period of time.

And job creation is only accelerating. As everyone oriented to Vision 2035 and Vision 2050 is keenly aware, Rwanda must create 1.5 million jobs by 2024, roughly 214,000 jobs per year.

We in the private sector are ready to meet that challenge. However, we are often slowed by the turnover in staff, as they do not understand what is expected of them in a “real” job.

No, rain is not an excuse to be late for work. No you cannot have four weeks off because of your wedding. No I will not give you a loan for time you have not worked. No, you cannot have a salary advance every week. No, you cannot do your laundry at work. No, you cannot have your boyfriend come hang out with you during your shift. No, you cannot take photos in the driver seat of my car and post them to Facebook. No, you have not earned a 300% raise after working for two months.

These are just some of the things I’ve found myself saying to employees—and it’s become all too common.

We must not leave it to the private sector to prepare a readied workforce. The quality of education in Rwanda is rapidly improving, and students are achieving higher levels of education than ever before.

But what good is quality education if the students do not have the basic skills to maintain a job?

For example, I just hired a law graduate for a job between her bachelors and master’s degrees. After I trained her, we signed a contract that clearly outlined the terms of her employment.

And then on the first day of her contract, she asked for a day off to run a personal errand—a non-emergency. I explicitly told her she could not have the day off; she was not sick and had not yet accrued any holidays. And what happened the next day? Surprise, surprise—she did not show up for work.

Unfortunately, this is just the most recent example in a long line of employees that do not understand that unpaid leave is not a “thing.”

I implore the Minister of Education and the Rwanda Education Board to start a mandatory class from primary school about the expectations of work.

We must not wait to teach these skills in tertiary or secondary school. As although we are continuing to support students to complete secondary school and beyond, many find employment alongside attending school.

The earlier we can educate our workforce on the principles of how to be a good employee, the better.

Some of the topics of a work readiness class would include:

-       How to show up for a job on time

-       Reasons for being absent from work: what is acceptable and not acceptable

-       How and when to communicate to your manager

-       How and when to ask for a raise

-       How to leave a job by giving notice—you can’t just not show up to work

-       How to manage your finances when you have a paycheck

-       Manners at work—which tasks to leave at home and how to effectively do your job

-       Social media and cell phone etiquette

I understand that there are many pressures on the Rwanda education system. However, what would be more important than ensuring our workforce is able to fulfill the ambitious plans we have for the country?

I look forward to the day when the private sector is no longer responsible for training employees on the basics of how have and hold a job. The day we have a ready and active workforce.

I know that together we can get there—like all things in Rwanda, probably sooner than we think.

The writer is the Founder & Chairman, GET IT, Rwanda’s largest fresh food distributor.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.