President Akufo-Addo, last week Tuesday, inaugurated the National Builders Corps in Kumasi. It is a social intervention programme that would employ a whopping 100,000 graduates for the next three years. Apart from the entrepreneurial skills the beneficiaries will acquire, it would also equip them with the experience needed on the job market.
Most employers nowadays demand over three years of industrial experience of prospective job-seekers before employing them. The NACOP is, therefore, seen as a laudable initiative that would help address two critical issues – job creation and experience needed to enter the job market.
Though this is not permanent employment for the beneficiaries, it would, no doubt, help to curtail the monster called ‘graduate unemployment’. Critics of the programme have, however, argued that it would not bring any economic benefit to the country and that it is a waste of the taxpayer’s money that would eventually lead to increase in inflation. These critics have rooted their arguments in the fact that the 100,000 graduates are not being deployed into the productive sectors where their contribution to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) could be measured.
These are genuine observations, but, unfortunately, those doing the criticisms have not come out with any alternative idea that would help rake in revenue to address the increase in the inflation fears they have expressed. Yes, the government has made provision for GH¢600 million in the 2018 Budget to take care of the programme. Though this may appear gargantuan in the eyes of those criticising the programme, wouldn’t it be better for the nation than to wait for the graduate unemployment situation to burst in our faces?
The Arab spring started because of high unemployment among the youth. Today, most of the countries that went through this revolution in the form of street protests have not regained their past glories. This should tell all of us that we have an explosive situation on hand, which demands ad-hoc measures to temporarily contain it. The monthly pay for these graduates is not the best of offers, but it, at least, ameliorates the plight of the beneficiaries before they get permanent jobs. Let us be honest with ourselves, in the job market itself, are graduates not earning less than the GH¢700 the government has decided to pay the NACOP beneficiaries?
It is only a fool that would kick against fair criticisms, but it does not mean we should keep on criticising without proffering any alternatives. Already there are reports that over 40,000 graduates have applied to be enrolled onto the programme, a few days after the President had launched it. Would it have attracted these huge numbers in less than a week if the programme was so bad? The answer is obviously no, and that is why The Chronicle is calling on those criticising to come out with solutions that would help strengthen the programme for the benefit of our brothers and sisters who are sitting at home, because they do not have jobs.
Whilst taking on those who are trying to undermine the programme for political expediency, we wish to also draw the attention of the government to the fact that it has the responsibility to grow the economy to absorb more workers, especially, into the informal sectors. If policies and programmes are not leading to the expansion of the economy and its concomitant creation of jobs, then the money we are splashing on these graduates would just go down the drain. It is our hope that Vice President Bawumia, the Senior Minister, Mr Yaw Osafo Maafo, Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta, and Dr Akoto Osei, who are in charge of the economy, are listening to us.
But, whilst at it, we suggest to the government to deduct GH¢200 from the GH¢700 monthly stipend that would be paid to the beneficiaries. Most of these graduates, we guess, are still dependents of their parents, therefore, taking out the GH¢200 would not have any adverse effect on them. After the deductions, the money must be invested into profit-making instruments, which would be paid to the beneficiaries at the end of the three-year programme.
This means at the end of the three-year programme each beneficiary would be entitled to a lump sum of GH¢7,200. If interest on the investment is added to the principal, each person would be going home with an estimated sum of GH¢8,000. This is enough capital for those who would like to establish their own small businesses after exiting the programme. We have made the suggestion, but the final decision lies on the implementers of the programme.