OPINION | Too many managers, too few workers – Zimbabwe has an artisan shortage, and it’s time to fix it

Zimbabwe economy
Zimbabwe's technical labour skills are disappearing (pic Roel Burgler)

By Engineer Jacob Mutisi

According to Zimstat, Zimbabwe had 93 714 university students as at August 2017, but only 25 952 polytechnic students. Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, has six universities but only one polytechnic.

Zimbabwe’s national policy, it seems, is focusing only on producing managers, without the workforce required to do the practical work.

There is now a need to relook at the national policy, so that it focuses on introducing more vocational institutions. To kick-start Zimbabwe’s economy, we now need to fully introduce apprentices and artisan programs.

This strategy was used by Ian Douglas Smith to build Rhodesia during the white regime’s sixteen-year rule. NRZ, Air Zimbabwe, Hwange, Ziscosteel and Shabanie Mashaba Mines are all products of apprenticeship and artisanship programs. Today, these institutions are battling to survive because Zimbabwe did not continue producing the workforce they needed to keep up with the exodus of skills to regional and international markets. 

The Rhodesian government’s national policy was focused on producing a practical workforce that would start as apprentices and graduate into 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, sheet-metal 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. Our artisans, meanwhile, are ageing and younger people are not exposed to the opportunities that are 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. This is not being fully exploited.

With the projected growth in the number of universities, there is fear and concern that, in the next two decades, artisanship might disappear almost completely from the development landscape of Zimbabwe.

A bad omen for Zimbabwe’s future

While unemployment is a major concern in Zimbabwe, the lack of skilled artisans is a major barrier to job creation and economic growth. Artisans play a huge and important role in the economic growth of our 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 declining numbers in the country.

There is also a theory that artisans are key because they all end up being entrepreneurs, which is the prime cause of economic development, and which is critical now.  The rapid disappearance of technical labour skills and services is a bad omen for Zimbabwe’s future development, since master artisans are now entrepreneurs. Yet, our government and industrialists appear oblivious to this serious problem. There is no concerted and concentrated research and policy regarding this ominous development taking place in our country.

There is now an urgent need to quickly increase the numbers of artisans by increasing the number of vocational institutions. We also need to improve 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 more limited to mining and manufacturing.

However, with the push by the “Second Republic” for economic growth, hopefully this situation will change as economic conditions improve. It is essential for Zimbabwe to maintain and increase the number of its qualified artisans in the long term.


Engineer Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi is Chairman of the ICT Divison of the Zimbabwe Institution Engineers. He is also a member of the Engineering Council of Zimbabwe, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and the Institute of Directors (IOD).