There is a skills mismatch in Zimbabwean public institutions. Much of that is structural, meaning that professions neither pay as much nor offer career opportunities over time as compared to other economies. This circumstance is described as a mismatch, because the jobs are there, but the prerequisite skills do not match the required work tasks. Let’s make sense of this.
An operational disincentive exists, as illustrated by the Auditor General Report published annually. Much of the “mismanagement” in state enterprises and local government is operational. That means what society generally perceives as mismanagement is actually not parallel to the running of entities, but rather, it is conducted in manners that have become organic in the operation of these entities. One cannot distinguish partisan patronage, for instance, from the day to day direction and execution of work tasks. Consider the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority allocating USD$50,000 as gift to the first family. That is not an operational misalignment; the organization functions to raise money for such gestures. Professional intrusion of this kind often towards otherwise well intentioned workers, whom we suppose took up jobs at ZTA to exercise their professional competence, not only depresses their morale, but over time shrinks their actual professional work flow.
Similar applies for say, an economist or civil engineer working in a public institution. There is a mismatch between the competence they have trained to accumulate and the actual job execution expectant day to day in that position. A few weeks ago, an impromptu announcement of the Zimbabwe Dollar raises queries on how much technical research, macro-economic modeling, and sectorial analyses was conducted by economists at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, or Ministry of Finance. It is reasonable assumption that the ZWD was never in their work flow. What this suggests is the underemployment of high skilled, technical workforce at these institutions.
Let’s revert to the structural implication of this underemployment, where professions neither pay as much nor offer career opportunities over time as compared to other economies. We still use the economist at the central bank or finance ministry and the tourism administrator at ZTA.
The economist at the central bank or finance ministry cannot enhance their professional earning potential, simply because there is no work evidence of competence. They neither have research, macro-economic models, or sectorial analyses that show direct competence of their conventionally presumed professional value. Economists command higher compensation based on the empirical research they publish, and their value rises based on the potency of this research, modeling, or analyses in practical application.
Also, they have no work flow material to show when time comes for professional advancement to higher organizational positions. Promotions at the central bank or finance ministry surely can’t be based on proven research, modeling, or analyses. Similarly for the tourism administrator; the work tasks generically expect a professional that creates competitive tourist regulation amongst various stakeholders in wildlife, recreation, culture, and other offerings in the country. Duly, these work tasks are overridden by more urgent fund raising pressures to appease the patronage system at ZTA. The events calendar is focused on partisan delegates. Instead of attracting global tourism partners, partisan board members take up seats to enjoy these luxuries themselves.
Tourism administrators command higher compensation on the structuring of packages with aforementioned stakeholders, and maybe even integrating the Zimbabwean market to global networks, such as airlines, film, sport, and many other synergies creative administrators worldwide are coming with.
But administrators at ZTA hardly get the opportunity to develop such professional records, and rapport with their professional peers. Thus, very few can provoke higher compensation. Again, promotion at ZTA may not be based on a competence reference.
This is how these institutions become political fiefdoms; advancement becomes more about interpersonal relationships and achievement of patronage work tasks adopted from the governmental partisan influence directing the institution. Perhaps the colloquial phrase “Comrade!” raises some consciousness to how pervaded these institutions have been. You have professionals competing to excel in partisan conformity instead of technical excellence.
Now, what should be understood here is the reduction of employment for these professionals; underemployment to be specific. There is also the strained professional mobility. These situations lead to broader implications for the economy. If these professionals were allowed to their jobs, they would stimulate economic activity which in turn creates more jobs for other professionals. Efficient tourism administration means more clients for safaris, conferencing, and sports tournaments; the downstream economic activity creates employment for many other professionals. Diligent economists at the central bank or finance ministry create more competitive business environments, with technically better policy that manage inflation, interest rates, and overall stability of monetary and fiscal outlook.
If Zimbabwe is to create jobs, it may need to entrust professionals in public institutions to actually do their work! Much of these occupations are high skill, technical, and intellectual jobs. These are the people who are, ideally, paid to stimulate economic activity.
FinX Zimbabwe Business Writer