Checking Youth Unemployment
Nigeria’s army of unemployed youths is giving experts sleepless nights. The issue, they said, must be urgently addressed because of its dire consequences for crime and poverty. To them, a multi-pronged approach that addresses educational and skills deficiencies, and creates opportunities for the young, would check the situation.
The problem of youth unemployment is attracting global attention. The issue has been discussed at many local and international forums, with political and economic leaders raising the alarm about the huge population of youths (about 30 percent worldwide) without jobs and the likelihood of that population exploding exponentially in the next decade.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote was one of those who raised concerns about the problem at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year. He described the situation as dangerous.
With youths aged between 15 and 24 making up to about 64 million of Nigeria’s population, Nigeria is considered one of the 10 youngest countries in Africa. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) put the percentage of unemployed youths in Nigeria between 60 and 80 per cent. The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the rate of unemployment for youths aged 15-34 at 12.1 per cent; and underemployment at 19.1 for the first quarter of this year.
At the second annual Blossom Career and Entrepreneurship Summit held at The Havens in Ikeja on June 2, with the Theme: “Curriculum Re-Examination: Skills Opportunities & the Dilemma of Academic Ambitions”, Mr Uyi Akpata, Country Senior Partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), listed poor education as one of the factors contributing to the unemployment challenge. Many employers, he said, complain about skills gap in graduates.
“Deficient school curricula and poor teacher training (contributes) to the failure of educational institutions to provide their students the appropriate skills to make them employable,” he said.
Quoting a YouthSpeak report based on a worldwide survey conducted by AIESEC (an international youth leadership group) and PwC on education, Akpata said that 53 per cent of the 42,257 respondents (many of them Nigerians) expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of education they received, complaining that it did not prepare them adequately for economic opportunities.
“They are certain about the relevance of an educational experience for their future, but is greatly disconnected from the satisfaction and value they are getting in return. At the same time, students are not getting the guidance and support to understand what they will need for their ideal post-graduation careers,” said Akpata, quoting the report.
Emeritus Professor at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Olugbemiro Jegede, warned that failure to address the problems caused by poor education and unemployment would exacerbate the security and social crisis Nigeria is currently experiencing.
“No development can meaningfully take place unless you build our assets in human resources. This is what Nigeria requires to drive its rise toward an industrial revolution,” said Jegede in his keynote address at the summit.
He recommended that the government, supported by corporate organisations and individuals should come up with an array of programmes to “harness this demographic dividend to national advantage.” He said the programmes should build skills, connect youths with the labour market through career and entrepreneurship meetings or workshops, promote learning using technology, all with the support of the private sector.
The youth unemployment and skills gap problem has not escaped the notice of governments at various levels, corporate organisations and even individuals leading to a variety of initiatives to address the problem through employment, entrepreneurship and other initiatives.
At the Federal Government level, the N-Power Massive Graduate & Mid-level Job Recruitment is another initiative expected to absorb 600,000 unemployed youths into the labour market and reduce the unemployment burden. The recruitment of graduates is ongoing.
While the N-Power programme addresses unemployment, the Lagos State’s Ready, Set, Work initiative, which took off last Saturday at the Lagos State University, LASU, hopes to address the problem of skills gap, unemployment and enhance entrepreneurship – though for a considerably smaller number of beneficiaries.
The initiative focuses on general, employability and entrepreneurial training for 500 final year students of three tertiary institutions owned by the state (LASU; Lagos State Polytechnic, LASPOTECH; and Lagos State College of Health Technology).
Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Education, Mr Obafela Bank-Olemoh, whose office is driving the project in collaboration with an array of private sector partners, notably PwC, told The Nation that the 13-week training is aimed at changing the mindset of the participants about entitlement mentality and attitude to work as well as equipping them with skills that would make them attractive to employers.
The participants can only graduate from the scheme if they attend 21 of the 24 sessions of the programme and complete all required assignments and projects; and late-coming is not allowed. Bank-Olemoh said the government is keen to run this programme well to expand opportunities to more graduates next year.
“In the third quarter of 2015, 1.9 million people entered into the job market. In that same quarter, only 427,000 jobs were created. Prvate sector has told us that the graduates we are churning out are not employable. So, what we are trying to achieve with the Ready, Set, Work is to prepare people who are work ready so that by the time they leave, they get jobs. We graduate 4,500 students yearly from our institutions but we could not fund the project for all of them. However, we hope that we would be able to take more next year, and that based on the performance of this set, next year, we would get more internship slots,” he said.
Emmanuel Iroaya, a 400-Level Computer Science student of LASU is positive about that goal. After going through the first module.
“I am very happy about this. It is just about chaining the mindset of graduates. We believe that things are very tough out there but I now know that with hard work and initiative I can create a better environment for myself outside school. Everyone will get something from this programme, even if we are not all selected for internship at the end of the day,” he said.
Beyond training and employment opportunities, Abimbola Daramola, who represented Ekiti North Federal Constituency I in the House of Representatives between 2010 and 2012, said the government ought to provide safety social nets for students and young graduates because of economic hardship.
To this end, Daramola launched the Nigerian Students and Youth Corps Discount Card, aka the Naija Green Card in March to enable students and youth corps members access goods and services at discounted rates of between 1 and 50 per cent. He said he initiated the concept because with the cash crunch, many state governments cannot afford social programmes.
Daramola said that the concept is not actually new as it is in practice in countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, Malaysia, and Ghana.
He said: “An average student in the higher institution only goes to school when his or her parents have a margin of income. And today, 27 state governments- I am doing reality check for you- cannot pay salaries. They are taking another bail out now, which some people would eat.
“Is it government that cannot pay salaries that will give grants, scholarships and support scheme to students? No, because they cannot afford it, some sincerely so. Today, we also realize the fact that what N10,000 could buy three months ago, it cannot buy it today. And then you send these students back to school, against this big picture, how do you want them to stay focused in school? They are confronted on daily basis by challenges of every Nigerian. But then, theirs is even more.
“Then you come to youth corps members; theirs case is even more instructive. They have come out of school; their parents have said thank God, this one has come out of school. But the reality of things is that how far can they go with N19,450?
“So I said ok, why don’t we do what people have done in organized countries? Why don’t we have a discount card for Nigerian students? The idea of the discount card is that what you used to buy for N10,000, by the time, we interface with those people (organizations) who are doing it, we can get some discounts – get them to agree as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – to sell for less. So your margin of profit may reduce but it is more over volume, because it will direct traffic there.”
Beyond providing training and palliative measures, experts say it is important to restructure the training curriculum in schools to meet employers’ expectations.
To this end, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) is partnering with the Federal Ministry of Education to incorporate entrepreneurship education into the curriculum at secondary school level.
Throwing more light on the initiative, Mr Francis Ukoh, a UNIDO representative, said: “UNIDO is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Education to mainstream entrepreneurship education through the development and introduction of entrepreneurship curriculum into secondary schools as a part of formal education. UNIDO’s entrepreneurship programme is designed for youth to develop a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship, business and self-employment, so that they can take up successful careers of their choice in business at the end of their course. The entrepreneurial attitudes, attributes and skills the youth acquire at academic and technical schools enable them to appreciate different types of economic opportunities, such as industry, services, trade, agriculture etc as well as developing a drive to succeed in whatever they choose to do.
“UNIDO in collaboration with ITF has successfully conducted a skills gap study to investigate the demand/supply skills requirement in the industrial sector with high employability potentials. The report of which will be used to guide curriculum development by career counseling departments in Universities, Polytechnics, Monotechnics and private organizations who are engaged in capacity building programs.”