As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the International Labour Day today, officials admit that underemployment and unemployment are a threat to the country’s economic aspirations.
But, in an interview with Sunday Times, the Director of Labour, Research and Employment Promotion unit at the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, Faustin Mwambari, said that underemployment is the most challenging of the two, with unemployment relatively under control.
He pointed out that underemployment is a very pertinent issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
Statistics indicate that the rate of underemployment in the country is 36 per cent while unemployment among the general population stands at around 2 per cent. Unemployment rate among graduates is at 13.5 per cent, at 9 per cent among secondary schools dropouts, with urban unemployment at 8.7 per cent.
Understanding unemployment, underemployment
Unemployment occurs when a person who is actively searching for employment is unable to find work while underemployment is a situation in which a worker is employed but not in the desired capacity, whether in terms of compensation, hours, or level of skill and experience.
While not technically unemployed, the underemployed are often competing for available jobs.
Up to 36 per cent of Rwandans work less than 35 hours a week, below the standard threshold. The average minimum working hours a week is 45.
Indeed, 36 per cent of the working population in Rwanda works fewer hours than they are supposed to; this is mainly seen in agriculture where the average working hours is 21 per week.
Mwambari said that the situation is caused by a number of reasons, including the size of the private sector, skills mismatch, the capacity of demand, the mindset of graduates, among other factors.
“The private sector is still small and therefore not able to accommodate all the graduates yet it is supposed to be the main employer because the government employs only 2 per cent of the workforce,” he explained.
The private sector has expressed concerns about jobseekers who lack the skills needed in the labour market, while, on the other hand, there is also a problem of mindset on the part of graduates who are more inclined towards white collar jobs, which are normally in short supply.
What is being done to improve the situation?
The Ministry of Public Service and Labour has of recent made efforts to respond to this skills gap, including through the establishment of the National Employment Programme designed to help streamline employment issues.
“We are running a programme this year under which graduates are being equipped with hands-on skills; this is aimed at dealing with the issue of skills mismatch,” Mwambari said.
“This financial year, 400 youths have registered to undertake vocational training at Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centres (IPRCs) across the country, we hope this will make them more suitable to the labour market”.
The programme will enroll 1500 graduates in the next financial year, he added.
To try to address the issue of a relatively small private sector that’s unable to employ more graduates, the ministry has recently joined hands with several players such as Rwanda Development Board and Business Development Fund (BDF) in a bid to diversify the industry.
Under the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2), the country seeks to create at least 200,000 off- farm jobs each year. In 2012, some 104,000 jobs were created, with officials saying that this has since increased to 146,000 jobs.