How do you fix a problem like underemployment?

by Kayode-Alli Abiodun

“To be of use in this world is the only way to be happy” Hans Andersen.  One is compelled to agree with the thought of the Danish author who is viewed as a genius in storytelling and writing of fairytales, however, we must sometimes come to terms with the reality of events in our world that it would take more than wishes and hope to make dreams come true at these times.

I remember sitting at a reception, waiting to be interviewed for an auditing job, and discussing with my fellow interviewees on their academic backgrounds. Seven (7) out of the ten (10) of us were from pure science disciplines. As we went back and forth on the state of the economy, an elderly man walked in and took his seat with us. On hearing our arguments, he joined in the discourse, revealing that he had a very good foundation in an engineering field (first class) but presently holds a PhD degree in accounting. At the end, my colleagues and I were taken aback with the reality of the state of employment in our national system.

The labor force population according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) are persons whose ages range between 15-64, therefore anyone within this age category and who is willing but unable to find work is viewed as unemployed.

Below is the recent findings on unemployment published by NBS, here’s a pictorial analysis to give you a clear frame of their analysis


Source: National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) May 2015

Gotten the picture yet? Well, a brief look at the various types of unemployment probably might shed more insight.  There are three basic types of unemployment: Cyclical, frictional and Structural (CFS). In the order of their introduction, we have these scenarios

C – International oil prices are rising, Power is available for business, Infrastructures are developed and well maintained, businesses are thriving at least cost; Consequently, Nigerian firms are recruiting massively

F – Bode just left Access Bank early June and has been appointed to resume duty in GT Bank by December, therefore he spent six months in a state of being unemployed (frictionally).

S- The telecommunication sector is in dire need of a thousand customer care agents at a period when the University system churned out thousands of medical and engineering graduates who can’t seem to find jobs elsewhere.

My beam of focus is on the devastating form of unemployment termed under-employment. This is an endemic issue plaguing the Nigerian system. Underemployment, though subjective, follows a pattern of structural unemployment. Consider this

Ade studied molecular biology at the Obafemi   Awolowo University, Ile-Ife for 4 years, graduated with a first class and proceeded for his Master degree for a period of 2 years. Ade is still unable to secure a job in a biology related field, but ends up becoming a recruit at First Bank of Nigeria Ltd (FBN). Ade begins a new foundation in accounting and banking practices, learning how to balance  accounts, use the ledger and records cash flows. The energy spent for the past six years learning about bacterial pathogenesis is not efficiently sustained in that work environ.


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Source: NBS, May 2015

During my short time of work with a telecommunication firm, I conducted a survey on career satisfaction of the workforce in the customer care department. Results show that approximately 96% of the respondents were in the constant habit of telling themselves each time they attended to customers the phrase  “can’t wait to get out of here”. In addition, 64% of them fell in the line of pure sciences, having studied courses such as Mechanical engineering, Industrial Chemistry, and Physics. With the realization that the telecommunication industry itself is just an aspect of the economy, one is only left puzzled by the crater of hopelessness youths have fallen into in a needful society.

The NBS definition of the term underemployment gives a brilliant description of this malady that has plagued the youths of the country. In their view underemployment is the product of working less than full time which is 40 hours but work at least 20 hours on average a week and /or if you work full time but are engaged in an activity that underutilizes your skills, time and educational qualifications.

Indian Economist, Armatya Sen  laid emphasis on enhancing capabilities. As described by Sen “the capability approach is defined by its choice of focus upon the moral significance of individuals’ capability of achieving the kind of lives they have reason to value”. Series of questions should bog the minds of all stakeholders- policy makers, academic systems, Parents/Guardians and the International Community.  By now, I expect that the ancient culture of “following your parents’ passion or expectations” should have struck parents as a failing ideology.  In the midst of an environment where structures that support capabilities are absent, parents ought to do more objective counseling than try to dictate the route their wards should take in life.

A highly recommended antidote for this malaise is a massive College-Industry synergy whereby firms and organizations nourish and garner talents by working directly with these Colleges through yearly organization of seminars and expositions as organized by firms in the western world. Companies such as Shell, Chevron, MTN, Stanbic IBTC, KPMG, Dangote, Coca-Cola could exploits talents from our available colleges. They could play more by giving career insights into various departments and functions in their organizations as well as conduct interviews and tests for interns.  If this aspect of the labor force development is exploited by the current government, an army of youths would be on a better part off the track of underemployment.

Pretty they say is what pretty does. Genius and Enterprise sure has a lot of benefit both morally and economically. For example, the outstanding feat performed by the Innoson group in building the first indigenous car gives an iconic model for our science graduates to appreciate, study and work upon. Such technology and achievement is a pointer to the great accomplishments that could be achieved through hardwork and dogged determination. Such knowledge could be channeled into the construction and invention of most gadget and appliances which have become an indispensable part of our lives but are gotten from foreign nations. In the end, one must search inwards and draw strength and inspiration to make certain that square pegs are fitted into square holes.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (2)

  1. very elaborate and precise view on underemployment keep it up

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