National service and beyond: A panel study of tertiary graduates in Ghana

This project examines the mismatch between graduate skills and industry requirements in Ghana by tracking a cohort of tertiary graduates as they transition from schooling into the labour market. Existing studies on mismatch have predominantly used cross-sectional data to identify gaps between labour supply and demand. However, this approach does not capture the dynamic process of skill acquisition, labour market entry, and career progression. This study takes an alternative approach of comparing students who graduated from the same institution and entered the same labour market, having pursued different tertiary courses of study. The strength of this approach is to examine initial differences in academic performance, character skills, personal background, perceptions of the labour market, and career aspirations upon graduation. This information will provide a foundation for understanding the determinants of selection into various fields of study, documenting differences in preferences and beliefs, and linking these factors to subsequent employment outcomes.

Ghana is a useful setting in which to study the question of mismatch in the labour market for tertiary graduates because the National Service Scheme (NSS) provides an opportunity to directly observe labour supply as well as demand from public and private employers. Ghana’s National Service Scheme is a one-year mandatory employment program for all tertiary graduates under the age of 40. The Scheme was introduced in 1973 as a requirement for tertiary graduates upon completion of their first degrees. Participants receive a monthly allowance and are posted to work in public or private sector organisations. In order to administer the Scheme, the NSS secretariat receives a list of all students graduating from all tertiary institutions in the country each year. Additionally, public and private establishments are invited to submit requests for personnel. These “user agency” requests provide an indication of labour demand in the economy.

This project will survey a representative sample of national service personnel, constituting the first wave of a longitudinal study on tertiary graduates in Ghana. Follow-up surveys conducted at the end of the national service year and an additional two years afterward will then solicit information on the labour market outcomes of graduates as they complete their national service year and seek long-term employment. The primary objective will be to compare employment rates, wages, and job characteristics of graduates in various fields. This study will also examine variation based on the types of tertiary institutions attended, the academic performance of graduates, their socio-economic backgrounds, national service assignments, and initial perceptions of the labour market. This analysis will provide an opportunity to objectively confirm or reject competing hypotheses about the relationship between graduate skills and industry requirements.

The core research questions this project addresses are

  1. What are the key determinants of differences in the skill acquisition of tertiary graduates?
  2. How do differences in skill acquisition affect the labour market outcomes of tertiary graduates?
  3. What types of skills are most aligned with industry requirements?

Outputs