In September 2015, World Leaders at the United Nations Special summit adopted what has been described as “the most inclusive development agenda the world has ever seen” – the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The 17 ambitious goals provide the impetus for countries and communities to tackle confronting challenges, including those in the world of work – highlighted in goal 8 (full and productive employment and decent work for all). Goal 8 is of critical importance for Nigeria given that while education serves partly as a means to getting a decent job, especially for young people, inclusive skill development and training are indispensable in order to keep up with the changing employment needs at the labour market.
The youth are important to economic growth and development because they have the potentials to be innovative, willing to take risks, and the ability to learn and adapt in a changing world. In low and lower-middle income countries like Nigeria, the role of youths in economic productivity and sustainable development cannot be overemphasized. Nigeria, with its increasing population, more than half of which are young people under the age of 24 and a fifth of which are youths (15-24), have a potential to benefit from demographic dividends. This implies that a growing number of young people potentially in the workforce could trigger a boost in economic productivity.
However, the labour market in Nigeria is characterized by a significant mismatch between skills demanded by employers and those possessed by these young prospective workers, which has led to an increase in youth unemployment rates. Graduates of tertiary institutions remain unemployed for up to five years after graduation, partly because they lack market-relevant skills, and also because job creation has not kept up with the increase in the young adult population. Typical of most developing nations, Nigeria has experienced significant increases in youth unemployment rates over the past decade, with an average rate of 21.73 percent between 2014 and 2017. Furthermore, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) places the number of unemployed youths at 6 million or 33.1 percent of total unemployed Nigerians in 2017—almost double the number in 2012 and representing the largest unemployed age group in Nigeria. The unemployed population in Nigeria is further increased with the number of underemployed youths, even larger when adding the number of underemployed youths.
The problem of high unemployment and low employability for young people results from deficiencies in the supply and demand sides. Contributory factors include dysfunctional educational system reflected in a failure to pass-on market relevant knowledge and skills to prospective young job-seekers, and poor teacher training among others. Moreover, young Nigerians who manage to possess few marketable skills are also confronted with the lack of vibrant industries to absorb them, a situation aggravated by flawed and inconsistent economic policies. In this article, solutions are suggested to bridge the current skill gaps in Nigeria— this is important to meet the SDG 8 and offers significant economic payoffs for Nigeria.
WAY FORWARD: SUPPLY SIDE
The Nigerian education system and curricula need significant reforms. Incorporating and re-integrating work-based learning models into the curriculum, as well as having career professionals as role models in the classroom present crucial steps towards improving youth employability. These could be complemented by programs and courses with practical market values similar to vocational schools in other economies. Replicating Germany’s dual education system, where young people have access to a combination of vocational education and work-practice education, could function as affordable and realistic path to meaningful employment.
Youths should see mentorship as a crucial support strategy for a successful career. Voluntarily seeking out mentors – those who are further ahead of their careers and have been fortunate to obtain good jobs and successful careers – allows for the development of non-cognitive skills necessary for successful employment. Mentors can enhance youth employability in two key ways: enhancing career readiness skills and providing guidance for professional challenges. More importantly, youths can stay engaged academically while preparing for a career path.
In order to gain work experience prerequisite for employment, the youth in Nigeria can also volunteer at jobs while in school. As an equal experience provider, volunteering in one’s field of interest, even if unpaid, prepares the young adult to join the labour market even before graduating from school by developing hands-on experience and networks within the industry. The aim is to have the record in their resumes as relevant work experience, and also to gain a deeper understanding of the skills required in the workplace.
WAY FORWARD: DEMAND SIDE
Investment in apprenticeship and work-readiness programs in collaboration with well-certified and credible training partners will provide new entry points for young people, tailor their talent to match the needs of firms and clear the hurdle of having no job experience. Rejuvenating the Nigerian GIS (Graduate Internship Scheme) is a step in the right direction, but the focus should be on sustaining these efforts over the long term. For instance, the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) can draw learning outcomes from the GAN (Global Apprenticeships Network) initiative in Switzerland- a program used to advocate and commit to actions around skills development and youth employability, through a coalition of stakeholders. Further, these collaborations could replace unpaid work-readiness programs, and provide soft loans for young people interested in entrepreneurship. While such programs are a foundation for career development, unpaid placements can leave young people embittered towards the concept of work.
Labour unions can effectively intervene through well-intentioned youth employment protection labour laws. In Nigeria, three out of four young people employed informally do not have access to employment-related protections, health insurance and other benefits. Without protective laws, active young job-seekers may not be enthusiastic about joining the labour market for fear of physical risks and uncertainty.
For many young Nigerians, entrance into the workforce is becoming far more challenging than expected. The growing misalignment between the demand and supply for skills means that both employers (demand side) and prospective young employees (supply side) must be willing to play their roles simultaneously to curb the dearth of youth employability in Nigeria.