Skill and Entrepreneurial Development as Elixirs to Youth Unemployment

August 9, 2017 Africa , Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo

 

By

Jerome-Mario Utomi

 

One of the cardinal promises of Nigeria’s APC party during the 2015 electioneering campaign was a massive job creation for the army of young unemployed graduates in the country. That promise and a legion of other similar promises combined to give the party victory at the polls.

But more than two years down the lane, the narrative has changed. The recently released unemployment index by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveals that the fight against unemployment is not yet Uhuru as this hydra headed problem appears to be winning. A peep into the report shows that the unemployment rate in Nigeria grew from 13.9 percent in the third quarter of 2016 to 14.2 percent in the 4th quarter of the same year. The report as released further revealed that the percentage of the under employed jumped from 19.7 percent to 21.0 percent.

It is a revelation that is as scarring as it is worrisome. The implication of the above is that over 29 million of our labour force are jobless and do not in any way contribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The grinding truth about this number is that the majority of them are the youths, ‘the leaders of tomorrow’.

When you Juxtapose the above picture with that of countries like Canada and the United States of America, you will observe a glaring difference in these  economies. While our unemployment rate stood at 14.2 percent, that of Canada is presently pegged at 6.6 percent and the United States 4.3 percent, as of February, 2017. Also, while the Canadian Government recently added 15,300 jobs in the month of February, 2017, the import of this is that theirs is work in progress. There was no such information added to that report emanating from my nation.

The report is not in any way cheerful news to the nation or the citizens as it implies that in every family in Nigeria there is one or two unemployed individuals. This and the inflation rate, which presently stands at 18.72 percent, brings to the fore the excruciating economic situation Nigerian is passing through.

Though worrisome, all the socioeconomic key performance indicators point to it.  A very critical analysis of our tripartite economic factors vis-à-vis-inflation rate, the foreign exchange rate and the fiscal deficit show that our economy is stressed and our national debt operating at an unsustainable level.

 

A search for the reason(s) for this hyper unemployment rate reveals that the federal government’s inability to manage our power generation and distribution chiefly laid the foundation for this economic problem. To buttress this point, a very close look at our socioeconomic sphere will reveal that one of the most basic needs to spur economic growth is power and this is conspicuously missing. As remarked by Barack Obama, ‘any nation that cannot manage her source of energy cannot manage any other thing.’ Our projected electricity consumption need by the year 2020 is put at 35,000 megawatts, but currently we are crawling round a wobbling and fluctuating 3,687megawatts. That shows the wide gulf between where we are and where we should be.

South Africa, a country with a population of about 54.9 million is currently and conveniently generating 34,000 megawatts and hopes to top it to 40,000 in no distant time. Now compare this development with Nigeria that has a whopping population of well over 180 million, all left scampering with the paltry megawatts stated above. That alone speaks volumes of why our industrial sector is in a sorry state.

Inadequate power supply is visibly grinding our economy, forcing both the small and the medium scale industry players to close shop and in turn throw their staff to the already saturated labour market. It also increases the overhead costs of other corporate organizations as they are now charged with the responsibility of searching for ways of closing this power deficiency.

To worsen the situation, the Minister of Power, Babatunde Raji Fashola and the Association of Power Generation Company (APGC) are singing in a discordant tone. While The Minister is saying that the grid capacity is 7.200 megawatts, the APGC says that they have the capacity to generate 12,000 megawatts. Whom among the parties shall we believe? This to my mind is a visible sign of working at cross purposes.

 

Lack of political will on the part of the government is equally contributing to the ever increasing number of both the unemployed and the under employed. Most of the government owned corporations that are supposed to absorb most of our graduates and youths were established without conceptualizing the economic viability or just sited based on political considerations and as a result, soon fizzle out or in some cases, corruption brought down the laudable enterprise to its knees. This has accounted for while we have most of these government organizations moribund.

A very good example of the above is the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) which was established in September 1971 to function as the Federal Government integrated iron and steel plant and was planned to be commissioned in three phases. But upto today, nothing positively cheerful has been heard of such an investment that is supposed to act as a cash cow to our economy through employment generation, satisfaction of the nation’s iron and steel needs, massively contribute to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and enhance the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.

The very attractive attention paid by the past and present governments to recurrent projects as against capital projects is also contributing to this hyper unemployment. The reason behind such decisions smacks every logic as conventionally, payment of disciplined attention is usually directed to the capital projects in civilized climes. The reason for such decisions comes in two folds. First it ensures adequate infrastructural development and brings about urban upgrading, renewal and elimination of slums. Secondly, in the process of executing the above, employment of various types are created ranging from temporal to permanent.

Our educational system did not in any way help the situation as it was structured without recourse to entrepreneurship and skills development from kindergarten to the university. That informed why everybody heads to the labour market upon graduation thereby increasing the sea of heads labouring in vain in the already saturated labour market

Current unemployment challenges call for urgent attention and concerted effort by government. Failure to act along the axis of job creation with urgent attention will spell political and socioeconomic doom to the nation and the youths who have been labelled ‘the leaders of tomorrow’. As a report puts it, ‘We are in dire need of solution to this problem because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, the large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation that does not have job creation as its main objective will not take us anywhere.’

Arresting Nigeria’s unemployment malady needs to be carefully planned with an execution of certain economic policies which I think should chiefly revolve around taking entrepreneurship and skills development very seriously by the government, corporate organizations and faith based groups.

 

Skills and entrepreneurial development have and will remain pivotal economic tools for equipping the masses and getting the youths empowered. To exit these embarrassing unemployment and underemployment brackets, the Federal Government should take a second look at skills and entrepreneurship development.

When people are trained, they become knowledgeable, when they are knowledgeable, they become powerful. Remember the aphorism which says that ‘knowledge is power’. Very good instances abound with a number of training opportunities that youths have been involved in. Today, you see some of those graduates happy and doing very well economically on their own. They have exited the labour market and drastically reduced the sea of heads that flooded the ‘market’ before now. They are now their own bosses and some have become employers of labour and are contributing to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, no matter how meagre. Above all, they have become self-reliant and happy.

But to achieve this, the government should lead the revolution by first overhauling our educational system to accommodate the teaching of entrepreneurial and skills development straight from primary school. This will bring a shift in paradigm from seeking employment to setting up personal businesses upon graduation. It is a known fact that some of us came from school empty and needy, and because of our state of mind, some became greedy and desperate; remember that a desperate fellow can do desperate things. That has on its own accounted for the increase in socio-economic vices.

The second step should be to redesign The National Youths Service Corp (NYSC) scheme to become entrepreneurship and skill development oriented. The Government can achieve this by getting the National Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) empowered and equipped to handle this aspect.

Loan facilities, whether soft or revolving, should be made available to those that have successfully gone through one training or the other while the federal Government should revitalize, as well as strengthen, the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) with monitoring and evaluation capacity.

The state and local government should also key into this by using different strategies, advocacy, enshrining of entrepreneurship and skills development in our academic syllabuses and the establishment of entrepreneurship /skill acquisition centers in rural areas.

The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency take steps to address the current energy challenge in the country. Achieving a stable power regime will guarantee peaceful existence of both the medium and small scale industries. It may also bring back multinationals such as Dunlop and others that fled this country in the wake of the nation’s energy crises. This will go a long way in thawing Nigeria’s monster youth unemployment which breeds all manners of restiveness. A stitch in time, definitely, will save Nigeria’s dangerously bourgeoning “unemployment nine”!

 

 

 

 

Jerome-Mario Utomi

Jerome-Mario is a Social Entrepreneur and an alumnus, School of media and communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria.

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