Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: How to get our youth working (YNaija FrontPage)

First, there is quite obviously the silly mindset of a lot of young Nigerians have that certain jobs are beneath them. Some young Nigerians still believe their degree gives them an automatic ticket to a white-collar job in an air-conditioned office.

So week before last, in response to a famous question by entertainment magnate Audu Maikori on Twitter, we explored the argument that Nigeria’s usual suspects for job creation such as the entertainment industry, oil and gas industries, and the banking industry amongst others are in fact “jobless growth” industries. This means they are industries, which despite their immense contributions to GDP are not labour intensive enough to solve the problem of youth unemployment in Nigeria. I ended by promising to share some ideas on industries that can fill this void.

My picks for four industries that could be rejuvenated or better organized to employ more young Nigerians are infrastructure/construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and security.

My reasons are obvious. First of all these industries create jobs along the entire spectrum of skills – from high skilled to low skilled. More importantly, they are very labour intensive. Unlike the entertainment and other businesses we talked about last week, they require a large and productive labour force to deliver sizeable returns – and finally they are sectors of the economy, which already have proven and growing demand.

So, why aren’t these industries already employing young Nigerians in large numbers?

Personally, I think it boils down to two things.

First, there is quite obviously the silly mindset of a lot of young Nigerians have that certain jobs are beneath them. Some young Nigerians still believe their degree gives them an automatic ticket to a white-collar job in an air-conditioned office. They might need to compare notes with their counterparts in other countries who despite their many impressive degrees from some of the best schools in the world might still be stuck with a barista job at Starbucks to make ends meet. I am actually less worried about this problem. Hunger cures this problem of pride soon enough.

The bigger is the policy problem. It actually turns out that government inadvertently deepens youth unemployment by making it difficult for businesses in high growth, labor-intensive sectors such as the ones I have named above to grow quickly and employ more young people. The good thing about these policy problems is they don’t always require a grand plan to fix.  Even small policy changes can result in sizeable gains in job creation.

Take for example the construction industry. Although the government itself, given its comparatively low Cap-Ex spending and high debt bill cannot invest quickly enough in infrastructure to create jobs for millions of job young Nigerians, it has made it very difficult for others to build private infrastructure. Right now, because of a range of factors including artificial barriers on imports of building inputs like cement and inexplicably complicated land use regulations, apart from the government, only a few very wealthy people/institutions can afford to build infrastructure at scale. A very simple step like deregulating the market for building inputs like cement could spur a boom in public and private investment in infrastructure and create jobs for young people.

Another case in point is the manufacturing industry, where quite obviously, the lack of consistent power supply has been a key factor against the dream of Nigeria as Africa’s premier manufacturing hub. However, a lot of the discourse in this respect has heavily relied on the argument that the power situation has to be fixed much more generally before we can find a solution to this problem for the manufacturing industry. One thing I have always wondered is why we haven’t considered some easy quick fixes like creating specialized manufacturing clusters complete with their own independent power infrastructure. No doubt, the benefits of scale that would result from a more complete solution to the problem would be absent and the power might very well be more expensive but at the very least, we get the jump start we need to revive Nigerian manufacturing and get our young people back to work.

Finally, across the board, there is the matter of minimum wage. Although the labor friendly might disagree with me citing living costs in Nigeria and the already declining standards of living many currently endure, I think the fastest way to turn around youth unemployment is to abolish the minimum wage. This way, employers are likely to hire on and train young people without thinking about the cost it represents to their business. There are other ways the government can assure that young Nigerians are well taken care of by their employers without mandating an artificially high minimum wage that makes it very hard for employers to hire young people in sufficient numbers.

At the end of the day, it takes a government that considers youth employment enough of a priority to deploy creative solutions to reduce youth unemployment and associated national security issues – and I wonder if this government has the will to do it.

 

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

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