In its election campaign, Tonse Alliance promised Malawians one million jobs within a year. Almost two months after its victory on June 23, our News Analyst MERCY MALIKWA engages Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo on progress towards the big promise for the youth.
So far, what has government done to create one million jobs?
Our new government has placed job creation at the top of its national development agenda. The President [Lazarus Chakwera] prioritises job creation because for a long time, thousands of young people have been leaving school or colleges without opportunities to either find a job or set up a business. My ministry has formed a roadmap for the formation of a job creation strategy. We realised that for the economy to create one million jobs, it is important to craft a deliberate strategy that will identify and address bottlenecks that impede job seekers and job creators in the economy.
The roadmap sets a series of activities to be undertaken. The first is engaging employers in both the private and public sectors, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs). We have already done this in the last four weeks. We have also prepared a tool for gathering data on employment numbers and projections into future years. Once the data is collected, it will be analysed and consolidated; enablers will be identified and possible solutions will be identified. After a validation process, a team of experts will draft a job creation strategy.
What notable firms have your ministry engaged with and what are the outcomes?
We have spent the past four weeks meeting various stakeholders, particularly private sector players, big and small businesses. The large companies include Press Corporation, Illovo Sugar Malawi, Mapeto DWS, FDH Bank, Standard Bank, Raiply Malawi, Press Agriculture, Cear, Castel, Rab Processors, Vizara Rubber Plantation, and numerous SMEs in all three regions.
The meetings have been fruitful. We used the opportunity to explain our mission and solicit views from the captains of industry on how we can create jobs. We also appreciated various challenges faced by the businesses. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and passion that most of the private sector players have about the future of this country. They were unanimous that if the challenges were addressed, it would be easy to create many jobs even in the short-term.
What are some of the sticky issues to be addressed?
For the large companies, the common problems include smuggling, inconsistent power supply, unfavourable government policies and corruption.
Smuggling requires a comprehensive effort from virtually all parts of the government, not just the police or Malawi Revenue Authority. At a technical level, when the kwacha is artificially expensive compared to other currencies, it makes imports much cheaper than locally produced items. As for power shortage, the problems will be eased as power purchase agreements are concluded between Escom and private power producers and when the Malawi-Mozambique power interconnector comes on stream in two years time. In terms of policies, we will hold discussions with relevant ministries to find some kind of accommodation. On corruption, this government will clamp down very hard on corruption.
What about the problems faced by SMEs?
The main challenges are lack of access to capital for their business operations and markets within government departments and large companies.
We are of the view that they should be prioritised by the public development financial institutions such as Malawi Enterprise Development Fund, Export Development Fund and Malawi Agricultural and Industrial Investment Corporation as beneficiaries of financing. Many SMEs find it difficult to meet credit conditions required by commercial banks. We have undertaken to hold discussions with the directorate of public procurement and major procurement units in the public sector.
How are you going to deliver the promised jobs as the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing some businesses to close and some to trim staff?
Clearly, the current business environment is very difficult. Many businesses are operating at low capacity levels. However, we are optimistic. We believe that soon, the pandemic will slowly ease and that the business environment will normalise. Even if the coronavirus persists, we believe all of us will decide to live with the virus just as we live with other viruses and allow the economy to get back to normal. We believe that it will be possible to implement the job creation strategy.
During your engagements, you talked about government’s plans to set up job centres in cities and incubation centres in colleges. How will this work?
Job centres will be modern public employment bureaus that will provide computer facilities storing data about vacancies available in the country for job seekers to submit applications online. The centres will be linked to a nationwide network. We intend to have at least one job centre per district. Later, we intend to have a digital platform where both job seekers and employers can access the database using smartphones.
At the moment, we are mostly using district labour offices as public employment services. With time, these offices have become inconvenient for many, particularly those seeking white-collar jobs. As a result, most job seekers utilise newspapers as a source of information on vacancies, which disadvantages many Malawians who cannot access newspapers.
Employers would also find job centres useful in identifying suitable recruits.
However, incubation centres will be established at our national technical colleges to provide entrepreneurship training to the trainees and prepare them for the business world. We want the trainees to establish and manage business start-ups to complement the technical and vocational training they have received from the colleges. At these centres, we expect that the industry will help us nurture our graduates.
What is the sustainability and exit plan of the graduate internship programme introduced by the previous regime in 2018?
The two-year internship programme offers university graduates an opportunity to gain working experience. At the end of programme, the interns are supposed to find employment themselves either in the public or private sector. A new cohort of interns would then be recruited. The first cohort was recruited in 2018, then the second in 2019. The first cohort should have graduated in 2020, but government extended its term by another year.
The programme feeds into the job creation initiative. It improves the employability of the graduates, many of whom do not have the opportunity to find summer jobs or industrial attachments while in college. Perhaps what is needed is to persuade the private sector to assist in absorbing the interns as the complete the internship programme.