More than three quarters of Ugandans are under 30: this huge youth population has the potential to lift the country out of poverty, but only if high levels of unemployment can be reduced. VSO volunteers are stepping up to help, and changing lives in the process.
The young people of Uganda’s Albertine region are at a crossroads. Oil and gas exploration and a boom forecast in related industries such as construction and tourism are predicted to create more than a hundred thousand jobs in the coming years.
But to get these jobs they'll need to possess vocational skills of an international standard – and at the moment, these are severely lacking in the local population. For too long, vocational training has been viewed as the route for 'failures' whose poor grades keep them from studying at university level. Vocational training centres themselves have been underfunded and struggle to stay afloat, never mind deliver graduates with quality skills.
Thankfully, volunteers are working hard to bridge the gap and make sure Uganda's youth have the skills to succeed and build a better future.
1. Improving the standard of vocational training
Vocational training adviser volunteer Nobert Sebastian has spent almost a year working with five vocational training institutes across the Albertine region, helping them improve the quality of training.
Here, he is pictured overseeing the welding and fabrication department at St Joseph's Vocational Training Institute, playing an important role to help these young students acquire quality skills that will allow them to get decent jobs.
Nobert is bringing years of experience from a career working on engineering and construction projects in Zimbabwe and his native South Africa to help him advise the instructors here on how they can improve tuition by making simple changes. For example, allowing students to learn by working on real life projects that benefit the institute, like welding door and window frames for new classrooms.
2. Bridging the gap between training and jobs
VSO long-term volunteers are also working to help vocational training colleges improve the relevance of classes to help students find work in the outside world.
In her role as work readiness specialist, volunteer Karen Gartner is supporting these institutions to improve students' ability to find work through better soft skills such as interviewing and communication, as well as understanding how to run a budget and craft a compelling CV.
Here, she observes instructor Jenna's work readiness class at St Joseph's Vocational Training Institute, where students like Alfred are being supported with how to manage a budget as an entrepreneur.
3. Helping vocational training institutes attract students and new business
Volunteers with specialised skills are also helping fill targeted skills gaps, such as marketing and communications.
Institutes have struggled to attract young trainees and explain the opportunities now available for people with vocational skills. Most also are not doing all they could to market their students and products to the outside world, which could help in bringing in new business, income and private sector partners who could offer jobs to students.
VSO long-term volunteer Rea Torres, from the Philippines, has been working with a group of corporate volunteers from SAP on our project. Together, they are sharing crucial knowledge and strategies that will help the institutes long into the future.
4. Peer-to-peer awareness raising on employment skills and opportunities
A negative image of vocational training persists in Uganda. At the same time, young people in school lack access to quality employment education to help them make decisions about future education and training.
In the Albertine region, VSO's International Citizen Service (ICS) youth volunteering programme is bringing together young people from Uganda and the UK to engage their peers around these issues.
Through delivering work skills sessions in secondary schools, and organising open days for young people at vocational training institutes, these ICS volunteers are giving young people the insight into current opportunities they need to make informed choices about their futures.
5. Bringing together diverse forms of volunteering to tackle youth unemployment
By bringing together long-term volunteers with specialist skills and the commitment to build long-term relationships, corporate volunteers with technical knowledge, and youth volunteers with the ability to create connections on a peer-to-peer level, VSO is helping young people get ready for an industrial boom in Uganda.
We are working to increase demand for vocational training, while improving the quality of that training. And at the same time, supporting training institutes to improve their efficiency, effectiveness and relevance to employers.
The unique way that VSO brings together different kinds of volunteers towards a common goal will ultimately mean more young people can earn a decent income and build a better future for their country.
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We've worked in Uganda since 1965, building healthy communities, strengthening inclusive education systems, and supporting people to develop sustainable and resilient livelihoods.