Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Graduate Employment and Employability Challenges in Nigeria

By Olu Akanmu

Being Abridged Text of Presentation Given at the Association of Commonwealth Universities/ British Council Regional Policy Dialogue on Graduate Employability in Africa in Accra, Ghana on the 18th of January, 2011. This paper was also presented at the British Council Global Higher Education Conference in Hong- Kong, on the 12th of March, 2011.

Nigeria has a serious challenge. Many graduates of its higher institutions cannot find work. Despite an average economic growth rate of about seven percent per annum over the last seven years, a good performance by global standards, wage employment is estimated to have declined by about thirty percent according to a recent World Bank Publication titled Putting Nigeria to Work. Nigeria has a serious jobless growth problem. Its strong economic performance over the last decade has not translated to jobs and real life opportunities for its many of its youths. Three out of ten graduates of higher education cannot find work. Being highly educated does not increase the chance of finding a job. Many graduates of higher education who find work are not usually gainfully employed. They are forced to accept marginal jobs that do not use their qualification in sales, agriculture and manual labour according to the British Council sponsored Nigeria-Next Generation Report. For those who are lucky to find jobs, employers are concerned about their skills and fit with their job requirements. Standards have fallen in higher education due to years of poor funding, leading to a growing preference for overseas university education. Nigeria is one of the biggest markets for British Higher Education because many upper- middle class families see it as a way to give their children a head-start in life. This however has serious social equity implications as not more than ten percent of Nigerian families can afford to send their children abroad. There is an increasing correlation between employability of graduates and their social class. If education is bridge to liberating the potential of young people and bridging the social divide by offering everyone a chance to climb the social ladder, higher education in Nigeria may be failing.

Employers want their graduate recruits to be competent technically in their chosen field. They also want them to come of school well equipped with complementary life skills such as problem solving, reflective and critical thinking, interpersonal and teaming skills, effective communication, character, integrity and high level of personal ethics, self esteem, self –discipline, organizing skills and abilities to translate ideas to action. The problem, typical of higher education in many countries is that these life skills are rarely thought as part of higher education curriculum. Yet as soft as they are, they are no less important in making a success out of school as the specific technical skills in a graduate’s chosen field.

There are two critical policy issues to address in putting the Nigerian graduate to work. The first is how to increase the employment generation capacity of the economy, create jobs that will absorb thousands of higher education graduates and reverse the current pattern of Nigeria’s jobless economic growth. It is estimated that Nigeria needs to create twenty-four million jobs over the next ten years to half current unemployment level of thirty percent. The second policy issue to address is how higher education institutions will produce graduates that are employable for the jobs created. How would Nigeria’s higher education institutions improve standards to produce graduates with the minimum sufficient technical skills in their chosen field? This is critical given the historical underfunding of higher education in Nigeria in the last two decades. Nigeria in the 1990s spent significantly more of its resources in the regional peace keeping mission in West Africa known as ECOMOG than on its Universities. Her national spending priorities will need to be re-ordered to allocate more resources to human capacity development which has a high leverage on its social and economic development. In addition, Nigeria’s higher education policy must also address how its institutions will develop the complementary curriculum that addresses the life skill requirements its graduates and prepare them better for their post-graduate life journey? The disconnect between post graduate employment reality and higher education curriculum in specific field and general terms will need to be addressed.

A three way cooperation of the Nigerian government, business and higher education institutions is required to solve these policy issues and put the Nigerian graduate to work. The Nigeria government should adopt a new economic and industrial policy that promotes employment intensive industries with strong potential national competitiveness. Nigeria is typically known for its oil. The oil industry is however more capital intensive than employment intensive. It contributes 40% of Nigeria’s GDP but employs less than 5% of the Nigeria’s population. Industries such as light manufacturing, construction, ICT, wholesale and retail, meat and poultry, oil palm and cocoa along with their value chains have very high employment potential. They need to become the focus of Nigeria’s industrial policy to ensure that its economic growth numbers have real meaning in jobs and life opportunities for Nigeria youths and higher education graduates. The constraints which has held these industries at its infancy such as physical infrastructure particularly power and transport, access to finance, bureaucratic investment environment and dearth of technical skills and manpower to operate these industries on the desired scale will need to be removed. Nigeria needs to develop a more formal technical and vocational education system that will produce graduates with the technical and vocational skills needed to operate the employment intensive industries and its value chains and thereby put more of its graduates and youths to gainful work. Anyone who has ever set up a factory or a construction project in Nigeria knows that they have to import a platoon of Indian, Israeli, Chinese or German technicians to run the project. We are producing too many liberal arts, science and theoretical engineering graduates in our universities whose employability potential is very limited. Technical and vocational education must be given its own prestige and made attractive to young people. Polytechnic higher education must be re-sharpened rather than blur the difference with Universities. We must establish more standardized technical colleges that will produce competent technicians that will work the factories of the new focused employment intensive industries and the small businesses that support them. Business must play a complementary role to government to achieve this. The new Dangote Technical Academy from one of Nigeria’s industrial conglomerate is a shining example.

The historical underfunding which has led to a crisis of standards in higher education must be reversed. Nigeria will be spending about twelve billion dollars to bail out its banks and the financial system, five times the size of the federal budget on education. The government correctly recognizes that the financial system is a public good whose ill-being has serious social consequences and externalities beyond the private interest of its banks’ shareholders. The government needs to apply the same the public good concept to its higher education sector and its funding crisis because there are significant externalities in social benefits in the well-being of the education sector beyond the private interest of individual students and their families.

Putting the Nigerian graduate to gainful work also implies that its higher education institutions should partner with business to develop employability content in higher education curriculum and provide formal life skills training for students. They should use more life case analysis in teaching that brings the real work problems to life. Entrepreneurial studies should be made compulsory because many may find themselves self-employed after school. Formal careers services and employability performance tracking working through a formal Alumni network will also be critical along with the exchange of best practices locally and internationally.

With a declining birth-rate and a relatively young population, Nigeria can potentially reap bountiful demographic dividend through its young people if it educates them and put them to gainful work. Doing otherwise with a mass army of educated, unemployed and unemployable youth population would engender high levels crime and threaten social cohesion. As we approach the elections, the shallowness of economic debate among our political parties on how to tackle our onerous problem of jobless economic growth is lamentable. Civil society must put this issue back in the centre of our polity. Putting the Nigerian graduate and its army of young people to gainful work is a task that must be done.

Olu Akanmu
January, 2010


augusteen said...

Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth Olu . this is an inspiring presentation. More power to your elbow. I am learning about the Dangote Technical Academy for the first time.He was at the receiving end of a protest march for the fact(?0 that he employs 3,000 Chinese artisans ...and craftsmen.Other business corporations should follow this example like GLO University of Vocational studies or University of Telecommunications,Mr. BIGGS Universtyi of Catering etc.
I have my reservations about making entrepreneurship studies compulsory in Nigerian Educational Institutions because there is the view that entrepreneurs are Born not Made.Even studies at the Cambridge University seem to confirmed this.The Brains of enterpreneurs are a little different from the Brains of Managers. We need managers just are we need entrepreneurs. A time comes in the life of an entrepreneur when he should hand over to managers and maybe managers also have to hand over to entrepreneurs the recent case of Google seems to prove this.
Theoretical Engineering is the way forward but we need skilled, technologists, artisans and craftmen to translate theses theories into concrete form. So there is nothing bad about Theoretical studies.Its theory the Americans used to land on the Moon.Nikola Tesla(please read about him in the Wikipedia) was a theorist and Engineer,inventor. Thomas Edition was not a Theorist and so was severly limited.He benefited from Tesla and Tesla has now been crowned the Father of the 20th century.
I must also say that as a management consultant and a marketing strategist I am suprised you opine we should de emphasise the Humanities.Management is about Man. Marketing is also about man.So the importance of the Humanities.Marketing the first and last thing in Business
Lastly I stand with Social Justice rather than Self Help.See More
Yesterday at 12:15pm · LikeUnlike

obinna said...

If Nigeria is getting about 7% economic growth and there is still such massive unemployment, then it looks to me like this is a classic case of growth that is not based on increase in the productive base of the economy, but really as a result of services expansion. The rich will get richer and then the poor will get rich when the riches of the rich trickle down (brutal resemblance to supply side economics).

Whilst it looks to me like the economy will grow relatively quicker with growth in services, the implication of this however, is that the productive base of the economy, which is basically what creates massive employment and wealth spread is being sacrificed (this is without prejudice to the fact that they both can and should complement each other).

We don’t have the kind of service based fundamentals of India to grow an economy like ours because our educational system is still grappling with the challenges of contemporary education. Like the writer has said, we need the economy to derive much more growth from manufacturing and other industries that have high employment value chains.

Telecoms is a service industry that is huge, but again, let’s not forget that the industry is not exactly a local industry because a lot of its raw materials (including people resources) is still being imported, which is a cost to the economy.

We need to look at what Europe and America did with the Guild System, which from time immemorial (I am talking of AD 300-600) has been a system that worked. Infact, post WW2, analysts have said that the major reason why Germany has developed better as a productive power house than the UK is that it continued its focus in the Guild System, which made their shop floor workers more adept in using the technology available at the time. Germany did not necessarily have a stronger technological base, just that the UK looked more at other areas of its economy, to the detriment of its own Guild System. Germany has continued in this path because it is more tilted towards a coordinated market economy.

For graduate unemployment and the role of ‘incapable heads and hands churned out of the educational system’, I guess we have too many Universities in Nigeria. I might be called crazy for saying this, but the truth is the proliferation of universities have probably made it more difficult to monitor standards.

The government needs to strategically focus on areas of competitive advantage, like the writer has said to invest in and possibly bring some sanity to the system, probably by converting some universities to Technical Colleges. There are too many people with certificates but no clue as to what to do with their lives.

Businesses should not be scared of investing in technical education as all over the world, businesses take huge responsibility in this area. A manager cannot tell his shareholders that the reason why they cannot be guaranteed return on investment is scarcity of capable human resources. If as a manager, you have responsibility to shareholders and to the society, then you do all you possibly can to deliver on that. Newsweek of Sept 20, 2010, in its article, “The Rise of the Corporate College”, stated that “more than 4 million individuals are studying at a company university, where by some estimates, enrolments may soon outnumber those of traditional universities.”

Adejare said...

Another great write up from a great author in depth and breadth of the content. Wish more people could have access to the information either in the print or other form of media.
The Nigerian educational sector like all the other sectors malnourished by the political class and I think if we don’t change locally we will be forced to comply globally. Since the world is gradually becoming a global village.
The financial crisis is a case in hand and I will submit that the private sector in a bid to compete might look outwards for skills and capability which are usually quite expensive to source internationally and unfortunately even local talent can be quite expensive as well in the long run when shareholders expectations are not met.
In developed markets like the UK it’s been proven that it’s the private sector’s responsibility to create jobs whilst the government will facilitate the environment for private sector expansion. I submit the private sector have a huge role to play in shaping and managing the skills and capabilities which the school system is not able to do. At the moment even in developed markets there is a disconnect between the school curriculum and the key requirements from the private sector hence the need for work experience to guarantee employability.
Programmes like Insight communication Management training and the Dangote Academy are steps in the right direction and only wish more organizations can embrace the idea.
The government facilitates private sector growth and the private sector in turn creates the job and develops the skills and competencies required to compete globally.
Adejare Adesanya