The unemployment trend among youth in Nigeria is startling, and the trajectory is not likely to change soon unless a drastic and holistic approach is adopted. It is a problem that calls for collective effort from providers and managers of education, employers of graduates and youth.
In this article, we examine youth employability, the graduate journey to employment, challenges that stand in the way, and probable tailored solutions that will address the challenges for the collective success of youth, providers and managers of education, and the economy at large.
Nigeria’s unemployment rate is generally high – one of the highest globally, and has steadily worsened in recent times. More worrisome, however, is the youth unemployment rate, which at the latest count by the National Bureau of Statistics was estimated at 42 percent. That is about nine percent above the national average. Unarguably, youth unemployment in Nigeria is two-pronged. The general notion of youth unemployment is a lack of jobs. However, while we can pinpoint a lack of jobs as a causative factor from the demand side, we notice that many employers complain about the difficulty in getting the right candidates to fill entry-level roles.
What are the challenges with the youth securing jobs? Simple: Employers are looking for workplace skill sets and competencies that many youth don’t possess despite years of secondary and post-secondary school education.
The education-to-employment journey has changed from what it used to be some decades back. Our school curricula, at best, prepare graduates for further education but not for the challenges at the workplace. Beyond getting tertiary education, securing jobs entails building the right skills.
Regrettably, building skill sets or acquiring workplace competencies is not yet an everyday staple in this education-to-employment journey in Nigeria. The social bias on vocational training has nurtured young people’s reluctance to pursue work-readiness programmes after tertiary education. We also find a lack of collaboration among providers and managers of education and employers. This trio operates in different worlds with no strong collaborations or alliances, making it difficult for them to take ownership of the challenge and forge collective action. Some employers do not have a strong business case to pursue job-placement programmes for students and graduates. More so, graduates do not have enough incentives and motivation for workplace readiness. How then do we address these challenges for the collective success of youth, providers and managers of education and the economy? What specific interventions may be used to improve employability.
Interventions for student youth:
The providers and managers of education must bear in mind the ultimate expected outcomes of education: to ensure graduates are employable and to drive a correlated return on investment. To achieve these goals, an overhaul of the school curricula is mandatory. This can only be achieved when providers and managers of education work in close collaboration with employers in the sector to obtain an informed knowledge of workplace expectations. When this knowledge gap is bridged, schools can shape curricula and begin to make progress.
In addition to acquiring academic knowledge, while youth are still in school, they need exposure to workplace experience for practical applications of classroom teachings. Again, education providers must work with employers to provide internship placements for students to apply theory to practice and learn what life looks like after school. Employers can tap into early recruitment opportunities to acquire talent by identifying students with high-performance prospects. Such practices will, in return, motivate students to work hard for possible placement offers after school.
Interventions for graduates:
At this stage, interventions should focus on building skill sets and professional competencies. This calls for critical stakeholder participation, particularly from employers, industry associations, managers of the economy, non-governmental agencies, and donors. Interventions such as graduate internships, graduate training, and boot camps are hands-on approaches. Given the enormous challenge of youth employability, graduate internships designed to recruit youth on a large scale will be more impactful. However, this can only be achieved with all stakeholders’ collective effort and involvement. The programmes should prioritize soft skills such as communication skills, personal effectiveness, teamwork, planning, organizational capabilities, critical thinking, and innovativeness, among others.
As an alternative approach, Boot camps are increasingly gaining acceptance and recognition, particularly in the tech sector. Following this route, the youth employability challenge can be addressed significantly. The boot camp approach implies that graduates are engaged in power-packed, intensive training on a combination of soft skills within a short period, say two weeks. Whether an internship or boot camp, the missing piece of the enormous puzzle that must not be left out is mentorship.
Any work-readiness programmes must connect graduates with industry leaders who will provide mentoring and valuable career advice. Collectively, stakeholders must sound the economic benefits of graduate internship programmes to change the existing social bias and influence erroneous behavioural tendencies.
Other pre- and post-work readiness interventions:
Even after youth have acquired relevant skills, they must be able to access job information. There is an urgent need for a job information bureau to provide this access to much-needed information. The job information bureau will also aggregate facts and statistics on employment. Apart from helping graduates to acquire information on existing vacancies, the bureau will provide information on essential subjects such as scarce and high attrition jobs, thus, guiding students while making a career choice. The job information bureau will also track existing interventions on employability and unemployment in the sector, identifying gaps that have been bridged and those remaining to be bridged.
After graduation, schools still have important roles to play. They need to set up a career center that can cater to the peculiar needs of graduates while transitioning to employment. Career advice and counseling are still much-needed interventions for graduates as they are for students.
Employability in corporate Nigeria is a big challenge that cannot be resolved with a one-size-fits-all approach. Interventions must be provided to meet the different situations confronting youth employability. More importantly, providers and managers of education, employers of graduates, and students must work together to address the employability challenge.