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Skills are central to economic growth

The Somali investment law stipulates that all Foreign Investors must employ 50% of workers from within the population.

Liban Obsiye

Going to university and studying a profession­al course is all the rage in Somalia. Without a degree most young people feel that their life chances are limited. Get the degree, secure the corporate post, buy the suit and sit in the office has become the ultimate dream which is misleading students and hurting any possibility of genuine job creation in Somalia.

Education is crucial for economic development but the narrow definition afforded to it within the Somali culture needs to urgently be revisited. The problem with Somalia today is not that there are no educational facilities or policies like during the period of State collapse but that the priorities are all wrong.

Somali universities spit out more graduates than there are jobs for like most of their counterparts across the world. While most students are truly proud of their achievements, the harsh reality is that most universities in Somalia produce graduates that are disadvantaged by their qualifications and, in most cases, by the substandard education they re­ceive from unregulated private institutions which declare themselves to be universities.

The Government has made clear that Somalia is turning the corner and the fuel to drive the nation’s hopes even fur­ther forward is economic development. The Somali Govern­ment has placed investment Promotion at the heart of its economic policy and while this is welcome, the question is where is the skilled workforce to make this a reality?

The skills mismatch in Somalia is something that needs to be addressed urgently if investment is to pro­duce any meaningful gains for the Somali people and Government. The Somali investment law stipulates that all Foreign Investors must employ 50% of workers from within the population. While the requirement itself is plausible, the difficulty is finding the qualified and skilled people to actually do the work when the invest­ments materialise.

Somalia’s economic strengths and the priority fields of investment the Government has focused on in its investment promotion thus far such as infrastructure, agriculture, livestock, blue economy and energy all re­quire skilled engineers, builders, welders, electricians, farmers, fishermen and a whole host of other skilled workers. These are all sadly in short supply in Somalia.

While attending university to study law, accounting and politics are individually rewarding, the current state of the Somali economy will not allow its graduates to reap much rewards. Before the creation of law and ac­counting firms, PR companies and other white collar consultancies, the hard task of physically establishing the products and service markets must prevail with a blue collar revolution. It must be remembered that it was the productivity of the industrial revolution’s labourers, engineers and factory workers which eventually led to the creation of the managerial posts in developed coun­tries that Somali students and workers seek so eagerly.

The Somali Government has a crisis of skills mismatch which it must confront urgently if investment goals are to ever be realised. Education planning and policies should focus on skills, technology and vocational and language training as a priority.

Foreign investors, in order to comply with the 50% Somali workers rule under the national Investment Law, must have skilled people to employ and train further within Somalia. The early investors will most likely fo­cus on construction, agriculture and the blue economy. These sectors only need specific vocational and lan­guage skills and not 4 year degrees in fields that do not yet exist in Somalia. While the latter courses do teach some transferable skills, it is most probable that inves­tors would seek sector specific skills and experiences to capitalise on the benefit of early investment.

The President of Somalia has been vocal about the need for vocational training to create economic oppor­tunities and spearhead nationwide development. How­ever, despite such endorsement from the top, action in policy terms has been painfully slow from the relevant Government departments.

The Government of Somalia can look to its private sector for inspiration and guidance in the areas of vo­cational training and skills development. Many of So­malia’s main companies, big and small, train their own workforce internally. Foreign investors in the future will no doubt do the same and be rewarded by the gener­ous incentives contained in the Somali Investment Law but initially they will most certainly rely on the Govern­ment to provide a skilled workforce.

Unlike these companies, the Government of Somalia is mandated to skill up the entire population of Somalia so that its own desire for attracting investment can be realised and its people and nation can escape the suf­focating poverty trap they are currently caught up in.

In order to prioritise skills development in all fields, it is critical to establish a National Skills Commission which undertakes a national skills audit in line with the nation’s investment priorities and projected required skills. It is also fundamental to establish language and IT hubs urgently to equip Somali workers with the skills to communicate with potential clients, customers and employers in the future.

Globalisation has made the world into a small village where service providers, producers and customers never need to meet. However, they need to speak in a language that will allow them to understand each other and use technology to complete all transactions wher­ever they may be.

Skills and vocational training are not only important for national economic development but they will also assist Somali jobseekers abroad and when trading with foreign entities. Skilling up the Somali population will ensure they benefit meaningfully in all manner of ways and more immediately given the country’s circumstanc­es from all economic opportunities that arise or they create themselves.

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