According to the International Labour Organization (ILO, 2016), 73.4 million young people were estimated to be unemployed in 2015 (13.1% youth unemployment rate) and the figure is expected to remain at this level through 2017 in most regions. For Sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment rate is around 12%, which is just a little lower than the global rate. The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) in 2016 quoted the President of Coco-Cola Central, East, and West Africa, Kelvin Balogun to have said, “Almost half of the 10 million graduates churned out of the over 668 universities in Africa yearly do not get jobs”.
In Nigeria, the National Bureau of Statistics records that youth unemployment/underemployment rate stands at 47.40% (Q4, 2016), which means that almost half of the willing to work youth remain unemployed.
The government is undeniably saddled with the responsibility to institute reforms and measures needed to reduce the rates of unemployment unfortunately; it continues to face critical challenges due to an overall decline in economic performance. Over the years in Nigeria, many policies and interventions have been implemented to tackle unemployment. Currently, the employment of 200,000 youths into the federal government’s N-Power programme is another strategy to reduce these rising statistics. Yet, despite a projection to employ 300,000 applicants to the 2017/2018 batch, the portal has already registered over 2.45 million applicants. Obviously, the N-Power program will only absorb a fraction of the millions of unemployed youth.
To record significant impact, each state government may need to create similar opportunities. For instance, if every state develops its Agricultural sector in accordance with the current economic diversification focus, there would be an imminent need for employment, which will in turn drastically reduce unemployment rates.
According to the United Nations (UN 2016), labour markets will need to add 600million new jobs by 2026 to accommodate changing global demography. As revealed by the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN), whilst Nigeria boasts of having about 37million MSMEs, around 90% of them are actually micro businesses with between one to ten members of staff. Moreover, most of these MSMEs are said to lack the structure, skills and experience to grow or quantify their businesses. Still, in the wake of the recession, many private organisations laid off employees to cope with the dwindling economic performance, further increasing the population of unemployed citizens.
The Role of Skills
United Nations’ SDG target 4.4 calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills – including technical and vocational skills – in order to encourage employment and entrepreneurship. In order to fix square pegs and address the skills gap between youths and jobs, the United Nations established the World Youth Skills Day in 2014 by a UN General Assembly resolution that expressed concern at the high number of unemployed youth after recognising that promoting the acquisition of skills by young people can empower them to gain access to the changing job market. Aimed at reducing unemployment and underemployment among young people across the globe, World Skills Day has been celebrated annually for three years.
Marking the 2017 World Skills Day on July 15, 2017 with the theme “One Youth, One Skill:
Better Life”, attention is again drawn to the need for more awareness on the important role skill can play in reducing unemployment and underemployment in Nigeria. For Nigeria to attain drastic reduction in rates of unemployment, the government, private sector and development partners must view the ‘skilling’ of Nigerian youth as a major solution to future socio-economic challenges and accordingly, contribute to skills development in the county.
Data from the United Nations (UNESCO-UNEVOC 2016) reflect that there is a huge mismatch between the skills that workers in the economy can offer and the skills demanded of workers by employers. Obviously, existing educational institutions in Nigeria are not meeting the needs of today’s workplace therefore, a significant quota of unemployed citizens are not unemployable. Earlier established that the private sector is faced by an inability to meet current employment demands, there is huge competition for the few available jobs. Hence, it is only logical that the labour market can only absorb exceptional youth talent.
…and the Government
Beyond instituting employment programmes, the Nigerian government must pay attention to the fact that businesses are the largest creator of jobs and thus must be given more room to thrive. Boosting entrepreneurship is key but beyond this, the right policies and structures are tangential to growth potential and strengthening for international competition in emerging markets. These will inadvertently build infrastructure, cut bureaucracy and bolster the ease of doing business in the country. Consequently, job creation through collaboration with the private sector and feasible incentives are urgently required. Although, until the economy gains stability, it could be difficult to achieve these recommendations.
Progressively, African governments are beginning to take more targeted steps at bridging the huge youth unemployment rates on the continent. After days of intense deliberations at the recently concluded 29th Annual African Union Summit, African governments undertook to invest more resources in the youth population. Driven by the theme “Harnessing Demographic Dividend through investments in the Youth”, major stakeholders from every member state agreed to implement four critical components aimed at investing in Africa’s youth whilst re-energising the continent towards 2018. Through employment and entrepreneurship; education and skills development; health and wellbeing; and rights, governance and youth empowerment, the future of Africa is projected to be secure.
With these broad commitments, the Nigerian government should ensure that the local interventions are scaled up and state governments develop increased opportunities for young people to secure livelihoods, beyond mass employment schemes. In all, young people should also seek creative ways to add value to the economy by developing skills in demand to provide employment for themselves and others.
With current trends, it is glaring that all stakeholders have a lot to invest into combatting the persistent youth unemployment challenge in Nigeria. This is clearly not a time for blame passing or dependency on one sector. The government will have to device more strategies to meet the employment needs of citizens by incentivizing youth training and support as well as business environments that support private sector growth to employ more citizens. More so, there are already young people who would rather start businesses than seek employment.
Moreover, there is need for partnership between the government, private sector and the academia in order to incorporate relevant skills/courses into educational curricular design in order to boost the employability potential of Nigerian graduates.
Ultimately, every youth must also aspire to acquire at least one skill within the next one year in order to improve employment or investment opportunities that can substantially employ others.
National Bureau of Statistics (2016): Unemployment/Underemployment Report, Q3, 2016