Barriers to opportunity for students in Mozambique
In their own words
Across Mozambique, 1,600 secondary school graduates from technical and vocational (TVET) institutes are being tracked as part of the school-to-work transition survey of the Inclusive growth in Mozambique programme — the country’s first long-term study in this area. Back in January, I conducted in-depth interviews with 22 graduates, who shared their hopes and fears for the future as they enter the working world.
Although the interviewees had only just finished school, their early expectations and worries will shape the career choices they are about to make – where to look for work, what job offers to accept, and which opportunities they feel are inaccessible for ‘someone like them’. Three major concerns arose in the interviews, reflecting a deeply felt experience that the labour market is neither fair nor meritocratic.
1. The selling of job vacancies
The selling of job vacancies – venda das vagas – refers to a covert, yet common practice where an employer or middle-man asks candidates to pay a fee in exchange for a vacancy. This practice creates a barrier for students who are as qualified as others but less affluent or less well connected. For example, the tracer study of university graduates by the Inclusive growth in Mozambique programme found that 15.4% of university leavers were asked to pay a venda das vagas fee, with the average fee roughly equal to a month’s income.
The reality is that to enter, when you are someone on your own you need to place down a value. Without it you can’t get that vacancy. To enter you almost always need to have money.
The ‘selling’ of job vacancies persists due to school leavers perceiving a lack of vacancies for qualified TVET graduates. The extremely high competition for coveted jobs means graduates will go to great lengths to secure a job.
'In most recent vacancies listed, companies require five years to ten years of experience… It ends up being an insult to whoever has just graduated!' — 22-year-old male management student, from Maputo Province
'Because here in Mozambique there are less than five vacancies for every five TVET students […] the reality is that to enter, when you are someone on your own [without social contacts] you need to place down a value. Without it you can’t get that vacancy. To enter you almost always need to have money' — 25-year-old male agriculture student, from Nampula
2. Social contacts
Many interviewees repeatedly conveyed that having good social contacts and sponsors – padrinhos – in the world of work was more important than any skill or qualifications. Less well-connected graduates, such as those who were the first in their family to complete secondary school, were highly demotivated by this, some even saying there was no point in applying to the big companies.
'Really, I am just with my faith in God. Without having help from someone inside the business or someone who is willing to help […] If they called everyone for interview and really chose someone honestly, then, yes, I would really win a job, I would really get a job very quickly! […] It’s normal to see a colleague who was never in class, a colleague who knows nothing, yet who passes through everything just because they are a ‘conhecido’ [well-known] – and they already have work! And we are there every day in the classroom, beating our heads in the heat. We accomplish everything and then find ourselves here with a high probability of not getting a job.' — 19-year-old female agriculture student, from Nampula
Actually, it's just money that I need, just some money to start my life. Because everything is in my hands, I just need an initiative - which is only some small funds - unfortunately.
3. Financial security
Finally, money is also a necessity for students to access other career paths, such as starting their own business, migrating to another part of the country with more opportunities in their field, or undertaking further studies.
The precariousness of the graduates’ finances was also worsened by the expectation that many would take on new and large financial responsibility in their households, contributing to their younger siblings’ school fees and living costs as soon as they started earning. The dedication shown to helping younger siblings was powerful, with many of the interviewees owing it to their older siblings’ support to have been able to go to school themselves. However, with high school fees, this is a significant financial burden to carry on a first salary, and a sacrifice that could prevent them from reaching their personal goals.
'Actually, it's just money that I need, just some money to start my life. Because everything is in my hands, I just need an initiative – which is only some small funds – unfortunately.' — 25-year-old male mechanics graduate, from Maputo Province
'A great deal of it – if it wasn’t for my sister – I wouldn’t be where I am now […] At some point I will find work, and after that I will start to help my siblings who are following me, and not just escape myself.' — 21-year-old female customs graduate, from Manica Province
Why do these expectations matter?
Taking the time to understand some of the expectations and challenges from school leavers’ own perspectives is important for education and livelihood policy, revealing both potential barriers, but also risk areas for demotivation, frustration, and self-fulfilling prophecies in students’ aspirations. While the ongoing tracer study will explore the extent to which these worries become reality, ongoing qualitative research and check-ins with graduates as they embark on their professional journeys is crucial in providing texture, nuance, and context to our understanding of the technical and vocational graduate landscape.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.