Ugandan youth experience a very long transition from school to stable employment according to aSchool-to-Work Transition Survey (SWTS) conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The report shows that on average it takes more than two years for the Ugandan youth to move to stable and satisfactory job. For those who do not receive immediate employment, the average length of transition is much longer—about 4 years. Within these four years, youth experience both unemployment and temporary employment spells lasting about 18 months each.

Young women and urban youth most unemployed

Uganda reached the first Millennium Development Goal in 2011/12 by halving poverty rates from 56 % in 1992/93 to 22 %. But a high fertility rate of 6 children per woman makes the country one of the fastest growing in the world. Its population doubled between 1990 and 2014 from 17.5 million to over 34 million people respectively. Currently, the share of the population aged between 18 and 30 years is 18 % of the total population (6.5 million).
Other results from the STWS show that more than one in ten (13.3 %) young people in the labour force are unemployed, with young women and youth in urban areas taking up the lion’s share. However, of those who are employed, only 25% are in wage/salaried employment whereas 75% are self-employed (among these 25% are unpaid family workers).

Quality of education a key factor 

The above labour market distribution may partly be attributed to the problems the country faces in provision of quality education to the large youthful population. Although 96 % have attended school, about one half (47 %) leave before completion and 75.2% do not even make it to secondary school level. The corresponding rates for regional neighbours such as Tanzania are 14% and 45% respectively. Urban youth in Uganda are three times more likely to attain secondary school education than rural youth while young women are less likely to receive a tertiary education than young men. Financial reasons such as inability to afford school fees or the need to earn an income are the main reasons for dropouts with women reporting pregnancy as well. Early fertility for women is not surprising given that 45% of female youth were already married compared to 25% of males and 69% of them married between the ages of 15-19.

Agriculture still the leading employer

At any rate, the labour market is too small to absorb the 56.8% share of students who desire to be in professional fields that provide more security in the form of written contracts than any other field. Professional employment makes up only 3.3% of total employment. Agriculture, despite being the smallest contributor to GDP, remains the largest employer for young people at 58.4 % yet it is the highest risk sector, with 95.5 % of its workers without a written contract and many temporary jobs lasting less than 12 months.

Gender affects wage and incomes 

High dropout rates further exacerbate youth unemployment in Uganda and create gaps in large gaps in wage earnings. A young male employee on average earns approximately UGX 172,000 (US$58) a month while a female employee earns UGX 132,000 (US$45). For a youth who has never been to school, the average monthly wage is UGX 79,000 (US$27) while for a self-employed youth, the average monthly income is UGX 30,000 (US$10). This could be mitigated by encouraging longer education for more children. The UN Population Projections of 2009 suggest that if all children aged between 14 and 19 years were in school, there would be a decrease in the new labour market entrants by about 100,000 people per year.

Need for realignment of the education system

There are various national policies in place to confront the issue of youth unemployment such as the Business, Technical, and Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) which is momentarily outdated and the National Youth Policy (NYP). The latter aims to achieve equal access to socio-economic and employment opportunities commensurate with the ability, potential, and needs of the youth mainly through increased access to micro-credit and development of entrepreneurial training programs. Nevertheless, the SWTS suggests that the educational system be realigned to better match the demands of the labour market, subsidizing employers through tax breaks to encourage them to offer better quality jobs to young people that maximize their productivity, and promoting synergies between the different shareholders such as the government, employers, and trade unions for better implementation of youth employment programs.