As it settled down to business in the country office, the first challenge the Ethiopian accelerator lab took on was the employment gap for university graduates. According to data from Central Statistical Authority (2018) unemployment in Ethiopia is higher among youth (15-29; 25.3%) and females (27%) in urban areas than among the general urban population.

While youth unemployment is a huge challenge facing the country, we wanted to take a segment of that population, university students, and understand why even with an education it was hard to secure employment. According to the national Growth and Transformation Plan, over a 100,000 students graduate from universities each year in Ethiopia.

Our exploration started with a co-creation bootcamp with university students (read blog) where they were able to prototype a solution to address the joblessness dilemma they faced when they graduate. 

One of the prototypes was Cassiopeia, a student-led entrepreneurship development platform, out of Addis Ababa Science and Technology University (AASTU), that aims to equip its members with the necessary skills to become entrepreneurs or become marketable and employable when they graduate. 

We were interested with this prototype that allowed students to take ownership and chart their career development pathways because it got us thinking what would happen if students could be at the centre of their learning rather than the top-down structure of university-led career development services.

Current experience with Career Centers

Following the expansion of multinational companies, industrial parks and employers emphasizing employability, there is an effort across universities in Ethiopia to establish career development centres. The centres provide comprehensive resources to equip students with basic skills such as communication, problem-solving, CV writing, interview skills and entrepreneurship skills that will enable students and graduates to develop career decisions and employment plans. 

At the end of the day, the career centres aim to produce students with high employability skills that not only have the technical know-how but also the soft skills that will allow them to become successful after graduation. 

Some of the services provided by the career centres are counselling, job fairs, career week for incoming students and resources on career paths. This was the case at AASTU as well, where a career services centre managed by academic staff as advisers guides students throughout their time at the university. 

However, we found that even though 98% of the students expressed interest in skill development activity, 76% of students had no idea about the career development activities on their campus.  

We learned that the top-down approach of career development centres was able to attract only a few students compared to the number of students that showed interest. This led us to move our experimentation from not only looking at student-led career development initiatives but also to test the most effective ways to communicate with the student body.

Bridge the gap – The experiment 

Our team designed quick experimentation to test what impact will build upon the strengths, and bridge the skill gap of student-led initiatives around career development, have on increase student engagement while providing incentive mechanism and digital platforms to increase awareness. To accomplish this, we partnered with Dereja Academy, a youth career empowerment platform maximizing the Ethiopian youth's potential and employability skills, Addis Ababa Science and Technology University student affairs office and Cassiopeia. Dereja developed a tailored training program with Cassiopeia and together we are leveraging existing resources on campus to promote career development services.

 

From the experiment, we learned that increasing students’ ownership and placing them at the centre of their learning creates autonomous critical thinkers that are equipped with skills and experiences that they have already bought into as being necessary for their success.  

To this end, universities need to inspire and allow students to take the lead in their growth and give as much energy and effort alongside the university. When students are at the centre of their learning, they find relevance and purpose in it. Deraja’s experimental training to the students received positive feedback from students because it was based on a needs assessment from the students. It is very important to provide an opportunity for students to have a voice in what and how learning experiences take shape and provide a space for students to express their existing talents to fit in what they are learning.

 

During our experimentation, we also found that there are more than 20 student-led platforms and clubs in the campus working on different topics including tech, entrepreneurship, charity, environment piece etc. About 58% of students are participating in extracurricular activities inside and outside the campus, but these platforms and clubs are neither working together horizontally nor working closely with career development centres on common agendas like employability and entrepreneurship skills.

So we tested different promotional tools including the usual promotion techniques like posting a poster and using digital posters on telegram channel and leveraging other student organizations. Through Cassiopeia's telegram channel, we were able to increase subscribers from 199 to 277 in 6 days. But through a digital poster, we have found the subscription doubled in another six days. By the end of the month, Cassiopeia was able to increase its subscribers to 552.

 

Throughout the experiment, we observed students move away from passively receiving information to actively participating in their learning experience.. This then became beneficial in engaging more students in the activities because they learned that they are not just receiving instruction, but actively shaping their futures themselves. Therefore, universities should take advantage of making their career development activities demand-driven and practice student-centred or student-led approaches be more engaging.

To take our finding further, we are exploring the possibility of joining forces with initiatives at the Job Creation Commission that are looking to empower the education sector to produce qualified graduates with skills and ethics that fits into the labour market.

Feel free to reach out and share your suggestion and comments on this topic by emailing us on ethiopia.acclab@undp.org

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