She was even more excited upon completion of her studies and looked forward to putting her newly-acquired knowledge and skills to practical use at the workplace, but that has all remained just a pipedream. Her hopes and ambitions have bitterly evaporated and been replaced by choking frustration and despair.
Four years after graduating, Jena remains under-employed and languishing in poverty. After initially job hunting in her field of study, she finally settled for work in fast-food outlets and supermarkets with the hope of eventually finding a breakthrough, somehow.
Now Jena believes her dreams have all but been shattered and has lost all hope of ever finding a job in her chosen profession in an economy which is struggling to recover from effects of a meltdown and hyperinflation which reached record levels in 2008.
Jena is just one of millions of Zimbabwean youths who are either under-employed or roaming the streets in search of work. Most of the youths have now joined the burgeoning informal sector where their education is not being fully utilised. Estimates say above 80% of Zimbabweans are unemployed. Millions have left the country for neighbouring countries, mainly South Africa, and overseas in search of jobs mostly after 2000 when the economy went into a tailspin.
Due to lack of jobs graduates, for instance in accountancy, have found themselves driving taxis and working at fast-food outlets — something they never imagined while still at university. This is the grim reality facing tens of thousands of local graduates whose parents invested heavily in education but cannot get the expected retains as their children are unable to find appropriate jobs.
With the coalition government failing to secure economic recovery and tackle unemployment, analysts say this has become a crisis that could overtake the HIV/Aids pandemic in terms of its impact on youths.
When Zanu PF and the two MDC formations formed the inclusive government, they agreed to embark on a comprehensive economic programme aimed at resuscitating the economy and tackling unemployment.
However, the unemployment issue seems to have dropped off the government’s agenda as the three political parties concentrate on power struggles and squabbling over elections.
The youth unemployment rate in the formal sector rose from 70% in December 2009 to 80% in December 2010 and this was blamed on lack of job creation and continued retrenchments by many companies. Statistics from the United Nations Office of the Coordination Humanitarian Affairs say 480 000 people were formally employed in Zimbabwe in 2008 out of a population of about 12 million.
Governance specialist David Takawira said the inconsistency of the government in implementing economic policies had resulted in its failure to come up with a model economic blueprint which can ensure economic growth and translate into job creation.
Takawira said the current job market has not expanded enough to cater for new graduates and given the already high unemployment rate, there is an emergency need for the government to engage key industries and individual companies to boost employment creation.
Zimbabwe Youth Council director Livingstone Dzikira recently said youth unemployment and underemployment had the potential to trigger social instability and chaos if not addressed. This is a threat facing many countries around the world.
Besides the economic cost, high youth unemployment and underemployment also have social ramifications as some frustrated job-seekers resort to crime and prostitution.
“Africa, Zimbabwe included, is currently facing demographic challenges with most of its young people aged between 15 and 24 years failing to secure jobs,” said Dzikira.
The 2012 national budget proposed that government sets up three funds to tackle unemployment, namely the youth fund, jobs fund and a small-to-medium enterprises fund.
However, it is unclear if these funds are operational or just another case of empty rhetoric designed to make it look as if the government is doing something about unemployment.
The alarming rise in unemployment has been largely blamed on the government’s lack of vision and policy failures. Poor leadership and economic mismanagement are also part of the problem.
Social commentator Tabani Moyo said the “password” for curbing unemployment is economic growth.
Moyo said the government needs to actively address unemployment by luring massive capital and investment into the economy, while tackling the collapse of infrastructure and service delivery as well as the deterioration of education standards.
He said government, unable to collect enough revenues through taxation due to unemployment, was burdening 5% of those in formal employment with supporting the unemployed.
Unemployment and underemployment have also caused demographic challenges as youths migrate from rural to urban areas, into the region and overseas.
Rural-to-urban migration causes imbalances and has negative social implications.
The strengthening of partnerships for youth development between government, the private sector, civic society, churches, youth organisations and other groups through intensified compulsory apprenticeship programmes and a complete overhaul of the educational curricula is crucial in tackling youth unemployment.
In the meantime, Jena and tens of thousands of other unemployed youths now feel as if they have to wait for a miracle for them to emerge out of unemployment and misery.