Ask any 2020 graduate how they imagined their graduation to be. I don’t know about the rest but I would have wanted to make mine memorable. I would love for my parents to witness me get the qualification I have been working for all these years. But, with the current state of emergency, graduation ceremonies will remain only a figment of my imagination. Worse, job openings for recent graduates are virtually non-existent. Not only is there no celebration of our achievement, we have almost no careers ahead of us where we can use all that we have learned.
Intellectually, I know that what I have learned and what I can perform in my career is not connected to a cap and gown and applauding audience. What I can do is inside of me, whether there is a ceremony or not. Still, affirmation and public acknowledgement is important to me and many others.
I would love to sit with my colleagues in a local hotel’s huge ballroom and get lost in the moment as we go through our graduation, hear our name called and go get our diploma. Students and their families live for that day. We study our heads off for years so that one day we may be groomed with our qualifications in front of our parents and colleagues.
A lot of my friends had planned parties for their graduation. They ordered dresses and suits and had their gowns hung in their closets, awaiting the big day. They were so heartbroken when they found out they had to graduate in absentia. “It’s like running a marathon only to find out there is no prize to be won when you finish,” one of my friends said.
As if graduating in absentia wasn’t enough of a heartbreak, graduates are confronted by the harsh reality of the lack of jobs.
And this reality is ongoing. My class is now in competition with those who graduated last year and the years before who sit at home without jobs. Furthermore, with all the retrenchments, we are in competition with those who are looking for new work. We all have degrees.
Government still has a freeze on civil service jobs and in fact, the Finance Minister hinted in his speech that civil service jobs will be reduced in the near future.
Graduation year is supposed to be a year filled with fun adventures like internships, job interviews and other exciting things in the world of work. We are supposed to embark on amazing journeys of financial independence. But all of that is set aside now.
With Namibia already in financial distress before the pandemic, now, it is on life support. The Namibian economy is contracting and jobs for those without long years of experience and higher degrees are scarce. We need entry level professional jobs in our career sectors. Where will they come from?
It seems that because of the pandemic, the only career field that has opportunities is health-related sectors, specifically Nursing and Medicine. Hospitals are looking to employ more medical personnel because they need help.
But what other sectors are growing and looking for new employees? Currently the government has accumulated debts of more than N$100 billion which has been piling up long before the new finance minister, Iipumbu Shiimi came on board. Government debts and the pandemic are strangling this economy. The solutions will not be easy.
Maybe this economic crisis might pass in a few years, but will job opportunities still be there when all this is over? With so many taking salary cuts just to keep working, will people actually earn enough to live on?
I asked two of my classmates who graduated in April about this issue. One, who is an English graduate from The Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) said, “Finding jobs will be hard because the government is more focused on everyone’s well-being now. The private sector is retrenching which means most businesses are not recruiting new employees.”
Another of my friends who is also an English graduate like me said that he didn’t imagine his graduation to be anything big, but he was looking forward to collecting his degree alongside his classmates.
“There is not really much hope about us getting jobs so I feel like graduates should use this time to improve their skills and add on to what they have learned in varsity. There might be a high demand for jobs like teaching as learners will be split into smaller groups which means more teachers could be needed, but the salaries might be lower. What matters is that to get that first job and begin our careers,” he said.
I am sure my negative outlook as a recent graduate is not unique. This doesn’t mean that any of us have given up completely. But, it does mean that our plight must not be ignored while post-pandemic solutions are being designed. Recent graduates must have a place on the list of those receiving assistance to survive these dark days.