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9% Of Nigerian Graduates Find Employment: Why Are Nigerian Youths Not Employable?

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Several factors are adduced for the swelling figure of unemployed Nigerian graduates, and the nagging issues should be addressed to contain the trend. What are they?

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In Nigeria, the scourge of unemployment keeps biting harder in an environment beset with traditional age-long challenges and the added burden of unsavoury realities occasioned by current economic woes.  There are currently about 24 million unemployed graduates; an unprecedented figure in the history of the nation. Disturbingly, the future looks grim based on alarming signs and indicators revealing forecasted rise in these figures over the next few years. The data on unemployment rate last released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in March 2021 revealed that the gross unemployment rate in the country rose to 33.3 per cent from 27.1 per cent recorded in the previous year. It further showed that the youth unemployment rate rose to 42.5 per cent, underemployment stood at 22.8 per cent and youth underemployment at 21.0 per cent. Regrettably, there appears to be no end in sight to this endemic, due to the twin factors of population explosion and disproportionate economic development.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), unemployment is the portion of the labour force that is without work, though available for work and seeking employment, including people who have lost their jobs and those who have left work.  Under the Nigerian educational system, a graduate is a person that has successfully completed first academic degree in a university approved by the National University Commission (NUC), in the case of university graduates or the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) for polytechnic graduates.  In Nigeria presently, there are about 140 polytechnics and 174 universities which admit huge number of candidates annually and also produce up to 500,000 graduates each year. The universities and polytechnics keep producing fresh graduates each year, even though the job market is already filled up and seems like it cannot absorb further graduates. In April, the Federal Government approved licences for 20 new universities and the NUC is still working on applications for additional new private universities.  In the next five years, the number of degree awarding institutions may rise, and up to 200,000 graduates may be added to the employment queue annually. Graduate-producing industry keep on expanding in size while the graduate-absorbing industry keeps on shrinking in size; which is the ugly paradox of the Nigerian situation. The unemployment situation is similarly responsible for a significant rise in crime rates and social unrest all over the country; with an abundance of idle hands and unproductive minds that are amenable to the predilections of societal misdemeanour.

The shortcomings of government in effectively containing the soaring unemployment rate is apparent; as apart from federal and state government MDA’s; there is virtually no other sustainable employment platform from the government. Different administrations at both federal and state levels have introduced many forms of entrepreneurship programmes at varying degrees aimed at tackling this endemic but so far; it has refused to effectively address this challenge. Government backed industrialisation, investment in the real sector and development of the vocational industries capable of taking in millions of youths are mostly non-existent in the country, leaving graduates stuck in a limbo and desperately in need of productive engagement. The private sector; another key partner that assists government in keeping unemployment under control is mostly influenced by larger macroeconomic factors beyond its reach. And if the economy is struggling, the ability of these private firms to employ good number of graduates will wane significantly. Many of them half the volume of their annual recruitment and others even lay off existing staff members as part of cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.

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But dire as the situation is, many graduates who are able to distinguish themselves in recruitment processes, especially in the private sector, keep getting good offers, while many promising opportunities pass others by due to their own personal shortfalls, negligence or indolence. Many employers have complained about the pitiable state of lots of graduates who are unable to prove themselves worthy of being offered a chance in their organisations. Many graduates find it hard to search and apply for jobs online as they want jobs to be given to them on a silver platter. Surprisingly, too, simple curriculum vitae and cover letters prepared by graduates are ridden with unpardonable errors and spelling mistakes of basic words. Many others can barely attain simple minimum set-standards in elementary interview sessions, and some cannot even get the average pass mark in recruitment tests and exams. Many others reject some opportunities complaining that the pay offered is too poor, not taking into account that the first few years of employment is to acquire practical skills and use that knowledge gained to bargain for better offers in the foreseeable future. Thus they remain unemployed and add to the large swath of unemployed population.

To be candid, a lot of Nigerian graduates are unemployable because they lack basic employability skills. These include hard and soft skills that could guarantee gainful employment. So, when the graduates lack the relevant skills that are needed in the job market, they may never be able to get employment offers in any organisation. Therefore, it behoves on the government and key stakeholders in the sector to ensure that the education system in the country is tweaked for improvements into a quality standard capable of meeting the dynamics of global knowledge and technology economy; or else the same problem will keep whirling cyclically.

Some graduates are also unemployable because their educational career was built on a defective foundation, being products of examination misconduct in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), and gaining admission to tertiary institutions through illicit centres where malpractice is the norm. Few years ago, the Head, National Office of WASSCE lamented that Nigeria has the highest number of examination malpractices incidences among the five member countries of the council, forcing WAEC to withdraw full recognition for 113 secondary schools nationwide, and cancelling results of 30,654 candidates that sat for the examinations. In the tertiary institutions, this undignified pathway continues through plagiarised term papers, poorly motivated lecturers, sex scandalised examinations, and doctored thesis. The truth is that a good number of graduates from tertiary institutions in recent years, cannot effectively defend their certificates. Beyond these, Nigerian graduates cannot favourably compete in the global economy as the institutions that produced them are lowly ranked due to various underlying factors. Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2021 ranked only four Nigerian universities- Covenant University (401-500), University of Ibadan (501-600), University of Lagos (801-1001), and University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1001+) out of 1397 ranked. The fact that the new generation Nigerian graduates are poorly trained and half-baked in lowly ranked universities reflect in their oral and written communication.

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Apart from the massive upgrade in terms of infrastructure, capacity and innovation needed in the Nigerian tertiary space, many lecturers and administrators in the Nigerian tertiary institutions are supposed to undergo training from time to time to hone their knowledge in their areas of expertise. Their knowledge could be obsolete and they can only impact the students based on what they know which is often academic and doesn’t cover the broad scope of current practicalities. Therefore the skills and knowledge being impacted are insufficient to inspire confidence in the students after graduation. The quality of education offered to students is not streamlined to the current realities of the society. The future of work highlights a paradigm shift into an area where automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will eventually replace many existing human jobs. But it is quite unfortunate that the training in the Nigerian classrooms still focuses on the industrial era which is phasing out by the day. It is a fact that most of the programmes taught in schools till now are outdated and irrelevant to the current world situation.

Besides, the Nigerian educational system is not structured in a way that it could accommodate practical entrepreneurship in its curriculum. In short, most students read to just pass their examination and come out with good results. They are not equipped practically or exposed to the reality of life situations. Therefore, upon graduation, they become confused as to how to handle life and make the best of opportunities. There is a growing mismatch between outputs of educational institutions and requirements of the labour market. Most graduates go for their one-year mandatory NYSC programme without any plans for life after. The NYSC programme should be an avenue for self-discovery for those who lack relevant skills to face the job market. But the reality is that most of them see that as an avenue to spend one year doing almost nothing but receiving stipends at the end of each month. There is little commitment and dedication to making the most out of that window. The programme finishes and most graduates are back to square-one.

The need for government action in turning around the situation is expedient as only major shift in policies and commitment of public resources can assist in revitalising the economy to create jobs and correct the fundamental defects which has given rise to the current high unemployment rate. But at the same time, the quality of graduates being produced need to be strengthened significantly through a robust input-output mechanism by raising the standards of our secondary and tertiary institutions to bring out individuals who are employable across board. Graduates must also accept the reality that bagging a degree is not all; there is a need for continuous development and knowledge acquisition to make themselves competitive and prove their competence when the chances come.

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