A young man, let us call him John, recently came to one of our businesses looking for work. He told me he stopped in senior four somewhere in Kisoro and had moved to Kampala to find work. He was an acquittance with some of our workers. He told me he could do security guarding so that he earns a regular salary or like young people always say “any job available.”
He said he was earning a living today as a gardener but generally working as a freelancer hence the desire for a job that could give him regular predictable income. I didn’t have the kind of stability John was looking for but I told him he could come home and help us cut down a royal palm tree of which I could pay him a one-off fee. The tree had been planted near the perimeter wall fence and some of our neighbours were becoming uncomfortable whenever its giant leaves fell down.
So he visited our home, inspecting the tree to be removed. He left a note at home of his bill. I had also promised him that I would keep my ear to the ground for any job opportunities. The promises for him to cut a tree at my home and helping him secure some job would soon become a nightmare for me.
John would beep me about 20 to 30 times a day. I had almost decided because of his incessant beeps not to give him the work. He was irritating. But I also thought I should help him do this job maybe it can help him solve an immediate problem. So I called him to inform him that he could come and do the job on any day of his choice.
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At about 4.00am, my phone rang. Deep in sleep I wondered why would anyone be looking for me on a Monday morning. I am neither firefighter nor medical personnel. I don’t work in security either so why would anyone be looking for me at 4.00am, on a Monday morning? Half asleep, without even checking who was calling, I answered the phone. John was on the other end, to inform me that he would be coming to cut down the damn tree in the morning.
I couldn’t believe it but I remained calm. I left his money at home and went about my work. John came with a few people and they cut down the giant tree. I then received a phone call that John and his team had not uprooted the trunk and they were asking to be paid. They put John on the phone and he said the “deal was to cut the tree, not to uproot the trunk” and therefore if I need the trunk uprooted, that would be at another cost. Palm trees are generally easy to uproot and don’t have those deep tap roots but now John had the upper hand. So I told my people at home to pay him and he goes. On a lazy Sunday morning, I can do the uprooting myself.
John’s behaviour reminded me of a report from the Mastercard Foundation titled Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future Work. If you are a regular reader of this column, you have certainly heard about it. I am only referencing it again because it talks about these issues, about people like John. He dropped out of school in senior four and he hasn’t been prepared whatsoever for the future of work.
So John doesn’t know what time to call a client. He doesn’t know that to have repeat clients, you need to go an extra mile. Surely, we never talked about removing the trunk, I thought it was standard and I was wrong but it wasn’t a lot of work either he could have done easily than giving me payment ultimatums.
Yet the highest level of education most African youth will ever attain is secondary education but like John, the education they are receiving doesn’t talk about work and how they will manage. John isn’t an isolated case. I receive many phone calls from young people who don’t even introduce themselves. Don’t even tell you where they work. You have to ask them who they are, which organisations they represent and all that. Sometimes, you have to greet them!
Secondary education must help these youth with 21st century skills such as digital marketing, using emails as well as other communication skills. That way John would know when to call. African policy makers, therefore, need to create secondary education systems that give people like John some of the skills they need once they are out of school trying to survive in this unforgiving world.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org