Dele Momodu: Another look on how to tackle unemployment

by Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, let me say that nothing worries me more than the lack of jobs for our teeming youths. I have lost count of how many requests I get daily from unemployed graduates and non-graduates seeking any kind of job. Some have been out of jobs forever and they’ve been out of school for so long that they’ve almost forgotten whatever they learnt. Many consider you wicked and insensitive when you give them the bad news that you can’t be of any help. They are of the opinion that because they see you with the movers and shakers of society you can just pick your phone and get whatever you want at the snap of a finger.

But it is not as simple as that. Knowing big men and women and maintaining relationships with them is often a product of not making demands on them. It actually requires some knowhow. Otherwise, whenever they see your calls they turn into artful dodgers by ignoring you. They will soon see you as one troublesome nuisance who must be avoided by all means, at all costs. Truth also is many job-seekers are not readily employable for various reasons. Some went to school to read the wrong courses. Many barely passed out in poor grades. Many have not updated or upgraded their knowledge since leaving school. These lapses are easily discoverable during interviews. These days many companies are looking for the highest grades because of the collapse of the education system. However, this is not necessarily a solution because high grades does not translate into a competent and proficient employee for several reasons. Looking out for the high academic achievers also has the potential to automatically ostracize majority of the job applicants. So where do we go from here? I have a few ideas to share.

A long time ago, I learnt from my unlettered but intelligent mum that only a fool would find nothing to learn from others. Since I have been on the campaign train of President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, I have discovered more secrets on how to combat mass unemployment. Addressing Ghanaian youths who often complain that developing infrastructure alone won’t feed them, President Mahama often tells them why he is investing heavily in infrastructure development. According to him, it is a good way to boost the socio-economic status of Ghana. Social infrastructure makes it possible for many artisans to get jobs in the short run during the course of construction typically involved in the provision of such infrastructure. The completion of any infrastructure also helps to provide jobs, directly or indirectly in the long run. For example, the brand new hospitals being constructed between Accra and Tema would provide thousands of jobs because the cumulative bed capacity of those hospitals, namely the Regional hospital at Ridge, The University of Ghana Teaching Hospital at Legon and the Maritime Hospital at Tema should add over 1,000 beds instantly. Just imagine how many doctors, nurses, paramedics, administrative staff and others. There is no other way of doing this. Any politician promising jobs or social welfare would only be deceiving the poor youths for the fun of it. It is one reality we must face in Nigeria urgently.

The other fact is that we must help our artisans to professionalize their art and trade by returning to those days when technical colleges were in vogue. It would be nice if we can upgrade our Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics to degree-awarding institutions. This would elevate the quality of our technical staff and reduce the calamities attached to sub-standard works. This has been successfully done in Ghana by promoting upgrading former Institutes and Polytechnics and by placing more emphasis on professional studies in these institutions in the knowledge that they would be relevant to societal needs and requirements.

For reasons that I fail to understand, the education sector in Nigeria is a much neglected sector. Education hardly commands the attention and allocation that it should and this needs to be critically addressed.  Our leaders seem blinded to the possibilities and opportunities that education offers to any economy. In the United Kingdom, tertiary education alone accounted for over £73 billion contribution to the economy in 2012 and this figure has kept growing. There is good reason for this.  Apart from direct contributions arising from student and teachers input into the economy there are indirect contributions as well which have a positive influence and impact on the economy. If our educational system were developed to the level that it should be we would have a significant number of foreign students coming from West Africa if not the whole of Africa such as was the case many years ago. Apart from the fees that they would pay, we would expect that they would spend money on their upkeep and maintenance which would have a positive bearing on transportation, housing and even health care. There would be indirect employment of those people who would provide indirect services to teachers, students and administrators alike. In addition, we would expect that when those students returned to their respective countries they would forge relationships with colleagues they had met here as well ass have good things to say about Nigeria.

Once the student complete their education thought must be given to how they would be gainfully employed. Entrepreneurship is a field that requires urgent and particular attention in this regard. Many job-seekers may never find jobs no matter how hard they try. This is because the educational policies have remained stagnant and not moved with the times.  There is a need for reorientation and rethinking of our educational values and ethos. The former prevalent attitude that one needed to work in the civil service or even in private companies as a graduate fresh out of school needs to be changed. There is now a need to create a corps of entrepreneurs over and above one of employees.

The better way out to create employment for the great mass of unemployed youths, especially with our humongous population, is for as many of them as possible to be in self-employment. Those with a negative mindset might ask where the unemployed graduate would get the money for the start up required by any entrepreneur.  However, for a variety of reasons, this need not be a problem. Firstly, It is not every business that requires millions for start-ups. There are so many original ideas out there that are yet to be tapped which do not require a lot of initial funding. Even the traditional things can lead to great fortune if properly harnessed and marketed. I remember always telling my wife that whoever introduces akara burger to Europe and America would make a kill. Akara is a special delicacy made from beans. It is rich in protein and quite healthy. My children love it and we eat it a lot. We often buy the powder in London from Olu Olu and Ola Ola and my wife fries akara ever so deliciously. Put in a bap or between two slices of bread and you are almost in second heaven. As a vegetarian meal I believe there are few that would surpass it. I was therefore pleasantly stunned when my first son sent me a link only yesterday that some smart guy has started the business I had been procrastinating about. That is it. An entrepreneurial spirit is about to make serious money by refining and uplifting a simple Nigerian meal.  There are many other Nigerian traditional dishes that could be refined and exported to the world as well as at home if only our youths could put their fertile minds to such matters.

Government can also play a big role in developing this entrepreneurial spirit.  This is already being done to a small extent by the initiatives of Federal and State Governments to create entrepreneurs.  However it needs to be replicated nationwide on a massive scale. The Government schemes should aim to produce at least one million such entrepreneurs in the space on 5 years.  It is possible given the right approach and the will and zeal to make the programme succeed in great numbers. There only needs to be a diversion of funds to this area of social development rather than to unproductive areas of which there are many.  Money saved from cutting down on waste, pilferage and looting can also be channeled into such a venture.

In addition to the traditional business ventures, Government must seize the moment and encourage our youths to open their minds and expand their horizons. Sports, the arts and entertainment are now big business.  Our children must be taken away from the nation that you must be a doctor, lawyer or engineer to prosper. Our educational curriculum should include such esoteric subjects that deal with various aspects of sporting, artistic and entertainment endeavours and this must be given pride of place.  One way of doing this is to provide incentives in these fields.

The new areas of information technology and computer studies must also be fully integrated into our curriculum from primary school to tertiary education. It is by introducing children to these areas at a very young and tender age that we can fire their creative and virile imagination which will make them successful innovators and thus entrepreneurs.  The world is in its infancy as far as new age technology is concerned and there is no monopoly of thought and ideas out there.  However, we can only participate as distinct from being mere spectators by engendering and fostering innovation and entrepreneurial skills from childhood. At the moment I do not see these things happening within our current educational and social milieu.  I still see and hear parents, teachers and other educationists complain about the amount of time our children spend on their phones, tablets and in consequence on social media.  They do not realise that a lot of education, indeed the most relevant present day education, is taking place in these fora. The present crop of entrepreneurs and world leaders are molded and fashioned nowadays from the internet.  Role models exist in that space.  There are dangers lurking there on the internet too and it behooves us to learn to deal with it as an educational source and tool rather than shut our eyes to it and therefore assume that all is well.

There are so many other things we can do seriously in relation to greatly reducing youth unemployment if government can create the requisite enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. In this respect, President Muhammadu Buhari should assemble a crack team of scholars and practitioners who can help him come up with so many ways of creating jobs and employment opportunities. Information technology, music, acting, comedy, fashion, painting, carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, welding, sports, and so many other possibilities can help reduce the pain and pangs of unemployment. The denigrated oddjobs of yesteryears are now the fashionable jobs of today.  Our leaders must learn to embrace this new way of thinking so that our youths may be guided to the right path and the prosperity that we crave may become a reality after all.

– This article was first published on ThisDay Newspapers

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