Careers for Ugandan youth: Can education drive employability?

By 2030, Africa’s youth population is expected to grow by 42%.

A young woman learns to sew in the vocational school of Kiryandongo refugee settlement. Uganda Credit: GPE/Henry Bongyereirwe

By 2030, Africa’s youth population is expected to grow by 42%.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals, the world has committed to providing these young people with unprecedented access to quality primary and secondary education and ensuring they acquire the skills for business, employment and decent jobs.

Delivering on this promise will be one of the greatest challenges to achieving SDG 4 by 2030. While there is an underlying logic to the concept that education has a significant impact on employment, tangible evidence of education initiatives improving employability is actually lacking.

For example, in Uganda where there has been significant economic growth as well as progress in both primary and secondary education delivery, this has not translated into significant impact on employment opportunities for young people.

Young people represent more than half of the unemployed population in Uganda, with the unemployment rate for young women double that of young men.

Exploring challenges and drivers of employment for young Ugandans

In Uganda, the challenges that are preventing young people from translating their education into employment need to be concretely examined.

Every year, more than 40,000 young people graduate from Ugandan universities and complete for only 8,000 formal jobs[1]. The formal job market remains small, and most young people end up in the informal sector. For example, over half of young workers are engaged in the agricultural sector where 95.5 % do not have a written contract and most are temporary jobs, which last less than a year (ILO, 2014).

The nature of the job market requires young people to be able to develop their own business and employment opportunities. They need to be drivers of their own employment and have the entrepreneurial skills and financial knowledge to do so.

The ICT market is one of the fastest growing sectors at a rate of 25% per year, yet 34% of students in Uganda failed to attain grades A-E in A-Level exams in 2015. Students, especially in rural schools, lack access to computers and practical ICT lessons.

This is due to both technical issues (such as a shortage of computers and unstable power supplies) and a lack teacher capacity to operate core computer programs and apply a practical approach to teaching.

Schools need to be resourced with functioning ICT labs and teachers well equipped to deliver practical lessons. Access to the internet is needed to open up opportunities for students to explore career opportunities and research and revise other subjects.

The areas with the greatest job growth[2] require strong performance in science and maths and yet, less of 10% of girls and less than 20% of boys in Uganda elect to take sciences at A-levels. The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports, with funding from the World Bank, has been reforming the lower secondary school curriculum to promote these marketable skills and competencies among students.

The quality of practical teaching within these fields will need to be addressed in order to both deliver the new curriculum and increase pass-rates and enrollment in these subjects. Gender needs to be a key consideration to address the lack of engagement with sciences and mathematics.

57% of students aspired to science, technology, engineering and maths related careers, but many don’t realize they need to pursue science and math subjects. Students lack information about the linkages between subjects and their education and future career paths and opportunities.

Education needs to not only equip students with employable skills but provide career guidance and help students navigate the linkage between their studies and their future career paths.

Teachers need to be enabled to deliver this guidance, and employers and professionals need to provide the insight, knowledge and mentorship to assist young people in developing career pathways.

Measuring results and impact of education on employment

Africa Educational Trust is currently developing and testing a model to address all of the above challenges through our BRITE Futures project, which aims to deliver:

  • Improved teaching and resources for science, mathematics and ICT subjects aligned with the new curriculum and focused on practical application and student-centred learning
  • School-based enterprise and business development to increase school budgets and provide practical, real-life business experience
  • Career guidance kit and lesson plans for secondary schools and fostering mentorship by connecting local professionals to schools
  • Support for girls’ participation and development in STEM subjects, employment opportunities and further education.

When designing how to demonstrate the project’s impact, a major challenge became clear.  While we are able to track improved results in schools and skills development of students, establishing a clear link to improved youth employment is problematic. 

Lesley pictured with one of the teachers and students involved in the BRITE Futures project development. Credit: Africa Educational Trust

Lesley pictured with one of the teachers and students involved in the BRITE Futures project development.

Photo Credit: Africa Educational Trust

As the majority of Ugandan schools do not track and follow past graduates, tracking of individuals from school to work is challenging. Furthermore, students from poorer areas often take a few years to afford to enter further education, delaying their route into their career.

Robust monitoring systems will need to be developed to track young people and control groups beyond the course of project implementation. AET’s M&E system considerations include:

  • How to drive student and teacher led tracking
  • How to incentivize reporting and involvement beyond the life-cycle of the project
  • Use of mobile and computer driven capture systems
  • Funding of long-term monitoring systems outside of typical project cycles.

This process reveals just some of the complexities of generating evidence-driven approaches to education for employment initiatives. These complexities need to be explored by the development community and its funders at the start of the 15-year Sustainable Development Goal process or time will get away from us. Properly evaluating education for employment initiatives leaves little space for last minute interventions.

Young people, living in the poorest communities, have a right to education, but they also have the right to an education that delivers on the promise of a better life. The effort must begin now to ensure there is a robust approach to ensuring that the investment in education pays off in terms of better futures for young people everywhere.   

 Africa Educational Trust will be hosting a webinar on August 19 at 12:00 BST to discuss approaches and challenges to education for employment initiatives in Uganda. Register here


Africa Development Bank (2011), Enhancing Capacity for Youth Employment in Africa: Some Emerging Lessons, Africa Capacity Development Brief.

AAU, DRT, UNNGOF (2012), Lost Opportunity? Gaps in Youth Policy and Programming in Uganda.

EFA Global Monitoring Report (2012), Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work.

International Labour Office (2014), Labour market transitions of young women and men in Uganda. Work4Youth Publication Series No. 24.

Youth Map Uganda (2011), Navigating Challenges. Charting Hope. A Cross-Sector Situational Analysis on Youth in Uganda.


[1] University Guide 2016/17, New Vision Newspaper, 17 March 2016

[2] Medicine, Accountancy, Biotechnology, Information and Communications Technology, Telecommunications Engineering, Forestry and Natural Resources and Manufacturing according to University Guide 2016/17, New Vision Newspaper, 17 March 2016

Sub-Saharan Africa: Uganda


Senior Program Coordinator, Africa Educational Trust
Lesley has a Masters in International Development with Distinction and over 9 years’ experience of coordinating education and development projects in East Africa. Lesley joined AET in January 2011, following 3...

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