C. Rangarajan, a famous Indian Economist once noted that the employability of a growing young demography is an important factor in the economic development of a country and the crisis of skills development has to be turned into opportunity to growth.
Latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that Nigeria’s total youth labour force population (those within the working age population willing, able and actively looking for work) was 40.74million in Q4 2016, representing over half of the total labour force. 19.3million of these were either unemployed or under employed. Within this year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO 2016) disclosed that a major reason behind high unemployment/under employment rates across the world and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a huge mismatch between the skills that workers in the economy can offer and the skills demanded of workers by employers. Likewise, the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2016 reported that a lack of relevant skills and the absence of access to appropriate financial services for entrepreneurs are two common barriers to youth employment. Certainly, socio-economic development can be attained only when youth are equipped with the right skills.
Three editions ago (July 21, 2017), we proposed a hypothesis that acquiring at least one skill by every Nigerian youth within the next one year, is capable of improving employment or creating investment opportunities that can substantially employ others. This would also determine economic growth and sustainable development.
We have therefore identified some of the most sought after skills Nigerian youths can explore for development, according to the United Nations’ SDG target 4.4; which calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant technical and vocational skills:
Food and Agricultural Production Skills: The indispensability of food to survival naturally positions skills in food and agricultural production as one of the most valuable. The call for a 50% to 100% increase in food production by 2050 (FAO 2011, WEF 2015) further corroborates the infinite demand for competence in food and agricultural production across the planet. Moreover, in line with the Federal Government’s economic diversification plans which is tilted towards agriculture, agricultural skills might emerge as the most advantageous to the socio-economic development of Nigeria in few years from now.
Incidentally, the agricultural sector received a N12 billion increment in the 2017 Appropriation Bill based on the commitment of the government to more funding in tackling food security and economic diversification. More so, there are lots of local and international funding opportunities available for youth in agriculture, as well as several government, private and international sector sponsored trainings in the sector, waiting to be tapped. Poultry, fish, snail farming, cassava, rice production, food production and preservation, are some of the relevant fields skills are required, to stem the high youth unemployment rate and for the socio-economic development of Nigeria. The agricultural sector remains a gold mine, waiting to be explored.
ICT and Digital Marketing Skills: According to the Minister of Communication, although there are about 149million mobile subscribers and 97million internet users in Nigeria, only a small number of individuals and enterprises are taking advantage of new digital opportunities available. A 2012 National Baseline Youth Survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Federal Ministry of Youth Development reveals that 85% of the few computer literate youth in Nigeria (10million of about 12million) are only proficient in internet browsing and word processing. Yet, ICT has become a major tool for gaining competitive advantage in the corporate world and as such has been integrated into the operations of most high performing organisations in every economy.
Hence, there is a high demand for distinct ICT and digital marketing proficiency in every business. Today, ICT skills are not only required for jobs in the technology sector, they are now in high demand for employment consideration into every sector and are also necessary for the success of any entrepreneur. Therefore, besides social media (internet) and word processing, there are scores of dynamic ICT and new digital skills available to be explored for development – Graphic design, blogging, troubleshooting and installation, web content development/management, and security technology, which can stem the insecurity challenge in Nigeria.
Manufacturing Skills: Manufacturing is a vehicle to grow and sustain a higher standard of living for global communities and individual families. From increased GDP and lower unemployment to a better quality of life, manufacturing can be the answer for a multitude of complex issues (WEF 2015). Japan, a nation with inadequate natural resources in comparison with other economies of the world has thrived through building various manufacturing industries. It is today the 3rd largest economy in the world after the USA and China.
At the 44th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) 2016, the President of Nigeria was quoted to have said that Nigeria’s economic survival was dependent on the agricultural and manufacturing sector. Nigeria is endowed with immense natural and human resources. There are at least forty four (44) known mineral resources and large expanse of arable land, which if exploited and utilised for manufacturing, can transform the dwindling economy.
Nevertheless, the sector suffers from limited skills. With the focus of the current government on building the manufacturing sector, youth with proficiency in the sector are positioned for better opportunities. However, needed skills by manufacturers are mainly in tandem with technological applications. Nigerian youth are thus required to develop skills in areas such as software engineering, supply chain, automated system engineering, hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical systems, machinery/machine programming, to mention a few, in order to guide against the constant sourcing of foreign experts.
Besides, who says Nigeria cannot produce its own cars, ship and boat in large quantity? Automobile building/production, repairs and maintenance, electrical wiring, general repairs, machine building, computer hardware and software, and mineral engineering skills are other manufacturing skills Nigerian youth should be equipped with to grow the economy and improve its position in international ratings.
Entrepreneurship Skills: This skill encapsulates all other sectoral skills needed for development in Nigeria. Although not everybody can be an entrepreneur, entrepreneurship skills are needed for every sector of an economy. This is because skills such as creativity/innovation, business planning, proposal development, marketing, and financial management are needed even for the growth of established businesses. Hence, employers are constantly demanding for youth who can bring in dynamism and hit extra sales for their businesses, which is what these skills cocoon.
On the other hand, one of the reasons behind the challenges start-ups face in Nigeria is the dearth of relevant business skills. Although over 37million Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are recorded by the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), their impact is low compared to the number. The sector also has a very high mortality rate. Furthermore, the Director General/Chief Executive Officer of SMEDAN has confirmed that the greatest challenge of MSMEs in the country is the lack of capacity; more than 90% are informal (illiterate in skills).
Acquiring Youth Skills for Development
Apart from the several Federal Government special vocational/technical initiatives, schools/training centres across the country such as the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), the National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP), the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), and the Technical Skills Development Project (TSDP), there are many other state government, private sector and international funded skills development initiatives that youth can explore and the government can also leverage on.
For instance, the UNESCO’s new strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) (2016-2021), which focuses on equipping all youth and adults with the skills required to find decent work and develop entrepreneurial and innovative mind-sets as well as becoming active citizens in an equitable, inclusive and sustainable society; supports governments in enhancing the relevance of their TVET systems. The strategy has been strongly endorsed by UNESCO Member States and adopted by UNESCO’s Executive Board in April 2016. The Nigerian government, as a member of UNESCO should fully key into this strategy to adequately equip its youths.
In addition to the current efforts of the government at promoting skills development, there is need to create of more awareness on its skills development strategy, a better regulation of the sector and an entrenchment of a 100% practical strategy for training. It is also required of the private sector, as a partner in nation development to increase participation in skills development. A country like Brazil became the 9th largest economy in the world largely through research and skills development. Nigeria, with all the immense natural and human resources can also get attain such impact only if youth skills are built for development.
Finally, as another International Youth Day is celebrated tomorrow, August 12, 2017, every Nigerian youth, irrespective of educational background, should acquire one or more technical/vocational capacity; for personal benefit and for the sustainable development of the nation.
NBS (2012), 2012 National Baseline Youth Survey: National Bureau of Statistics and the Federal Ministry of Youth Development
NBS (2017), Unemployment/Under employment Report (Q4 2016): National Bureau of Statistics
UNESCO (2016), Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) (2016-2021): UNESCO