Yawning gap between skills, production needs

As the graduation season peaks, President Mnangagwa in his capacity as the Chancellor of State universities last week had a hectic week.

He capped 1 567 graduates at Chinhoyi University of Technology, had a date with 3 632 others at University of Zimbabwe and topped of the week with a visit to Masvingo where some 3 900 students graduated at Great Zimbabwe University.

The President is also scheduled to cap thousands more from across the country’s higher learning institutions in the coming weeks.

The graduates join approximately 30 000 other alumni who enter the labour market each year.

Observers say the development strengthens Zimbabwe’s status as Africa’s most educated nation.

At over 90 percent, Zimbabwe’s literacy rate is the best in Africa and even beyond the continent.

However, while Zimbabweans pride in being Africa’s academic geniuses, there actually may be very little to celebrate in this feat.

Despite its high literacy rate, numerous State universities and high graduate output, Zimbabwe is in fact facing a huge deficit of critical skills.

Critical skills refer to particular capabilities needed for an economy to function normally.

These may include humanities, engineering, health science and mathematics, to mention a few.

According to the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira, Zimbabwe has a 62 pewrcent skills deficit.

“We conducted a critical skills audit in December in order to see at what level are our skills,” he said.

“Zimbabwe has a very high literacy rate, which is good. It (the literacy rate) is currently between 94 and 96 percent and it’s very good because it’s a beginning but don’t over celebrate that because when we look at it, we see that the skills levels in this country on average are at 38 percent.”

Prof Murwira said this points to a situation whereby graduates have knowledge but cannot convert it into production.

He said as Zimbabweans, “we read, we write but we don’t do”.

The most stinging of Professor Murwira’s revelations is the fact that besides Zimbabwe being an agro-based economy, there is a serious shortage of skills in the agricultural sector.

“The critical skills audit reviews that although we have an overall skills deficit of 62 percent, agriculture has a skills deficit of 88 percent and it basically means we have skills availability in agriculture of only 12 percent,” he said.

“For engineering, there is a 94 percent deficit, natural and applied sciences have a 97 percent deficit, business and commerce 21 percent surplus, medical and health sciences 95 percent deficit while applied arts have an 18 percent deficit.

“On average, the skills deficit is 62 percent deficit.”

Experts argue that the bulk of Zimbabwe’s skills are out of sync with the nations’s current economic needs.

“Knowledge that cannot produce goods and services is not useful,” said Prof Murwira.

“We need an education system whose objective is to understand the environment that it seeks to transform and the environment that it exists in.

“We cannot have an education system which produces talkers who then cannot instruct their hands to do something productive.

“The Zimbabwe we are trying to create comes through education.”

Another top academic, Professor Isheunesu Mupepereki, weighed in to say academics must lead production in their own fields.

He gave an example of agriculture lecturers who do not practice farming.

“How can someone who has never practiced farming attain a PHD in the field? And those are the people teaching and giving degrees to our children.

“Do you think such students will acquire the relevant skills to transform the economy? Can these people carry the President’s Vision 2030?

“lt is upon us as the academia to correct that, to make sure that our education contributes to production.”

Prof Mupepereki said the lack of skills is responsible for low production in the country despite the fact that Government is providing required inputs.

Economist Mr Rodney Sekete said there ought to be more cooperation between universities and the industry.

“Those in industry know the sets of skills they want to produce and I’m sure our universities are more than capable to produce those skills,” he said.

“But as long as the two (industry and tertiary institutions) don’t go to the table to give clarity about what needs to be done, then we will continue to produce graduates that do not possess the required skills.

“This is why the apprenticeship programmes produce a brilliant workforce.

“Training in colleges should be production based.”

Mr Sekete said a properly trained graduate should be able to start their own business in the event that they do not find employment.

“This is how economies such as India and China emerged, they started doing things for themselves because they had the skills relevant to their situations,” he said.

“Why do we need South Africa to produce soybean for us? Why should South Africa manufacture cooking oil for us when we can have so many intelligent minds in this country?”

However, it is not all gloom and doom.

Prof Murwira said Government is already working on an education system that is heritage-based. It is hoped that the system will close the skills gap.

The minister said the system analyses history, looks at present problems and tries to give solutions based on empirical data.