Zimbabwe is not in this economic turmoil because of Western sanctions, but ruinous government policies. How did Rhodesia and South Africa prosper under United Nations-imposed sanctions with the Afrikaners building the biggest economy in Africa? We do not need to re-invent the wheel but just emulate what these regimes did during their days of international isolation.
We pride ourselves in having the best educated workforce but we do not have the industry to employ these individuals. That is why it is easy for a Zimbabwean to migrate to the West because we train managers. The facts are here for all to see, Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, has six universities and only one polytechnic. It seems the national policy is focussing on producing managers without the workforce to do the practical work. We need a complete shift, our government now needs to relook its national policy which focusses on introducing more vocational technical institutions.
For Zimbabwe’s economy to kick-start, we now need to fully introduce apprentices and artisanship programmes. This strategy was used by Ian Douglas Smith to build Rhodesia during the white regime’s 16-year rule. National railways of Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe, Hwange, Ziscosteel and Shabanie-Mashaba Mines are all products of apprenticeship and artisanship programmes.
These institutions are battling because Zimbabwe did not continue training the workforce to keep up with the exodus of workers to regional and international markets.
The Rhodesian government’s national policy was focussed on producing a practical workforce who would start as apprentices and end up being artisans. An artisan is a worker in a skilled trade, that involves making things by hand. Bricklayers, builders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, welders, fitters, turners, millwrights, sheetmetal workers, boilermakers, mechatronics, mechanics, toolmakers, patternmakers, joiners, shutterhands, steel fixers, glaziers, plasterers, tilers, sound technicians and instrumentation and electronic technicians, just to name a few, are all classified as artisans.
It is government policy to focus on producing a lot of graduates, but our artisans are ageing and younger people are not exposed to the opportunities presented by Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef). Zimdef’s role is to finance the development of critical and highly skilled manpower through a 1% training levy paid by registered companies in Zimbabwe and this is not being fully exploited. With the projected growth of universities, generally there is fear and concern that, in the next two decades, artisanship might disappear almost completely from the development landscape of Zimbabwe.
While unemployment is a major concern in Zimbabwe, the lack of skilled artisans is a big barrier to job creation and economic growth. Artisans play a huge and important role in the economic growth of Zimbabwe and if we had more skilled artisans, it would also help our industries who are now often forced to look outside the country to find the right skillset due to the declining numbers.
There is also a theory that artisans are key because they all end up being entrepreneurs which is the prime cause of economic development which is critical now. The rapid disappearance of technical labour skills and services is a bad omen for Zimbabwe’s development, since master artisans are now entrepreneurs. Yet, our government and industrialists appear oblivious to this serious problem, as there is no concerted research and policy regarding this ominous challenge pulling back our country.
There is now an urgent need to quickly increase the number of artisans by raising the number of vocational institutions as well improving the quality of artisan training which is a key driver of both economic growth and employment opportunities in Zimbabwe. With the current economic challenges, the demand for new artisans has become limited to mining and manufacturing. However, with the “Second Republic” push for economic growth, hopefully this situation will change as economic conditions improve and it is essential for Zimbabwe to maintain and increase its number of qualified artisans in the long term.
Engineer Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi
ICT divison chairperson of the Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers, practising engineer with the Engineering Council of Zimbabwe, member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and member of the Institute of Directors.