Youth unemployment has been a topical issue for some time now. Clearly, the phenomenon is not peculiar to Ghana. Rather, it is a global issue and has been so for several decades becoming more pertinent since 2007 owing to the global economic crunch. Since 2007, youth unemployment has increased by over 4 million totaling about 75 million and putting the current global rate at 12.6% (ILO, 2012). Overall, 40% of the global jobless people are youth. However, out of the whole, a distinction is usually made between the educated and the uneducated youth in the unemployment nexus and it is within this broader context that graduate unemployment should be understood. Generally, unemployment is highest among the educated youth as against the uneducated (UNECA, 2010). For instance, in 2003, the unemployment rate was 8.5% for the former and 6% for the latter group in Ghana. This is because the educated are proclived towards picking among job opportunities using several variables but the uneducated are not (Twerefou, et al. 2007 cited in UNECA 2010). This “educated joblessness” is what has now become known as graduate unemployment where people with university degrees cannot find decent work and which may be solved convincingly through resort to the NGO sector.

Graduate unemployment is not a recent phenomenon in Ghana. Even in the 1980s when economic development is said to have been positive, graduate unemployment was high. The question that naturally arises from this fact is why has the country not been able to resolve this issue? Or why has this situation been so persistent? Answering this question, many interesting views have been shared. For some people, successive governments have not done enough whilst others blame the universities for irrelevant curriculum. Yet others have blamed the graduates for not baking themselves well before graduating. So thus far, it seems the debate has largely been a blame game. Boateng and Ofori (2002) have however found that the perception of quality of graduate output varies between policy makers and employers; whilst the former perceive poor or falling output, the latter believe that recent graduates have been satisfactory on the job. The issue of quality borders on the possession of some specific skills considered relevant to job performance. Research has clearly shown that employers do not necessarily require certificates but the ability to perform and this has led to increasing demands for these qualities namely computer, analytical, managerial and technical skills to name a few. For example, according to Boateng and Ofori (2002), in 1995 only 13.4% of jobs requiring university education also demanded computer skills; 0.4% also demanded communication skills; 1.5% also demanded personal attributes. The demand increased to 45.7% for computer skills; 38.6% and 41.8% for communication skills and personal attributes respectively.

But what actually is the gravity of the issue? Merely considering the persistence of this issue on the media landscape for long may be sufficient to appreciate its gravity. However, the figures on the ground present a more worrying picture, particularly comparing figures of the near past to recent figures. According to Squire (1981), in the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were 33% more jobs for new entrants with secondary education or higher. Also, the share of graduates in advertised jobs increased from 30% in 1981 to 45% in 2000 (Boateng & Ofori, 2002). Again, a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Education in 1996 intended to examine the labour market experience of graduates found that 71% of graduates sampled found jobs within five months of completing national service with about 61% employed in the formal services and 3% in big companies. Comparing the above to current statistics, it becomes alarming. Only recently, the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) has indicated that about 50% of graduates from the 2011 graduating year may wait up to 2014 without finding jobs. Moreover, a careful juxtaposition of enrolment and graduation figures with current job availability does not present a lively picture. The universities and the other tertiary institutions are reported to churn out about 68,000 graduates yearly without corresponding high number of jobs being created to absorb them. The formal sector is said to be the preferred job destination of graduates, but it employs less than 40% of all graduates. Worse still, the job expectation of graduates does not match wage offers given by employers. A survey conducted among 450 final year students of the university of Ghana in may 2000 found that over 84% expected wages significantly higher than current wage offered by the sectors in which they indicated they preferred to work (Boateng and Bekoe, 2001 cited by Boateng and Ofori, 2002). The above clearly indicates that the situation is critical, as concluded by the ministry of education in 1996.

So what could the solution be? Despite the above statistics, all is not necessarily doom and gloom. Indeed, the NGO sector is a viable alternative employment avenue. Graduates from the social sciences who are said to face stiffer competition in search for jobs (Boateng and Ofori, 2002) can explore this area and use their social research skills to get themselves busy and impact their communities. It may not necessarily offer high wages, posh cars and plush houses but it presents the opportunity to utilize the skills acquired in school and to contribute to the development of their communities. To do this, it is pertinent for graduates to form small groups and define strategic areas of interests. The Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana will be useful in this regard. The interest areas so defined should be relevant to the development of especially rural communities and should fit into the overall development agenda of the nation. For instance, areas such as access to ICT, education, health care, income generation, human rights, women empowerment, and climate change are more likely to attract donor funding and thus may be considered. The small groups should seek information on NGO management through the internet and other resources or perhaps government should create the avenue for proper coaching. For resources on NGO establishment and management, reference to the following websites will be helpful;,,,, and

In conclusion, it is clear that the graduate unemployment conundrum presents a critical situation and that it can be better understood if situated within the context of overall youth unemployment. However, exploring the NGO area may present a glimmer of hope if not a reliable panacea. Whilst helping them to put their skills into desirable use, it will also give graduates the opportunity to play their role in the national development effort.


Boateng, K. & Ofori-Sarpong, E. (2002). An Analytical Study of the Labour Market for Tertiary Graduates in Ghana. Accra.  Retrieved from on 23/05/2012

International Labour Organization (2012). Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012. Retrieved from—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_180976.pdf on 23/05/2012

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. (2010). Unemployment,Underemployment andVulnerable Employment in West Africa: CriticalAssessment and Strategic Orientations. Retrieved from Partie2ENG.pdf on 19/05/2012



    LEVEL 300, UG, LEGON




  1. I also think graduates gearing towards the area of NGOs will help greatly in acquiring some working experience that will help a fresh graduate in securing jobs.
    The problem however is that almost all the graduates want jobs that offer higher salaries and so thinking of working in the sector of the NGOs does not even come to them as an alternative…

  2. Well-researched piece. From what I’ve heard the NGO sector is also very competitive. I think you should have considered the prospect of self-employment, which is also a credible means to reduce graduate unemployment.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Great insight! I’m a recent graduate with a social sciences degree. The slow job market here in the US makes me consider starting my own business. When I visited Ghana last summer I was so impressed with how everyone worked. Everyone was busy selling something! I really admired that. Education is certainly valuable, but it’s no substitute for hard work.

    Looking forward to more posts!

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