• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Underemployment and a future in peril

unemployment

KEN UGBECHIE

What job do you do? Are you fulfilled in your career? Okay, let me put it this way, do you really find job satisfaction in what you are doing? Not many Nigerians would scream an emphatic yes to this poser? The truth is that many are just hanging on to a job because there is nothing else to do. Many are not exhibiting dignity in labour because their job does not offer them a sense of fulfillment. They work without passion, without zeal, without fervidness. To them, work is drudgery. They leave home without a tincture of excitement. In spite of the splendid ergonomics of the workplace – constant electricity sustained by generator, cool ambience made possible by noiseless air conditioners and good natured colleagues for company – they still see their office as a labour room. And they really labour all through the day, everyday.
And perish the thought. It is not about pay. Often they are well paid; sometimes they are overworked and underpaid, but whichever is the case, the bottom line is that such Nigerians do not find a sense of career fulfillment on their job.
Take for instance, a brilliant Petrochemical engineering graduate with an impressive first-class degree or at worst a second-class-upper grade. Five years in the university have exposed him to the dynamics of hydrocarbons and the techniques of chemical analyses. He had looked forward to a career in the oil and gas industry. Brimming with hope and confidence, he passed out of national service into the labour market. In other climes, a good grade ought to give him a job of his choice. But in Nigeria, he requires an added advantage. He must know somebody before he could get the job. At least, he should be recommended by somebody. That was the wager that denied him his choice job for two years after graduation. By now, his self-confidence has waned considerably and something has to happen very fast. But his uncle knows somebody who works in a bank. A hint of hope. So, to the bank he went and got the job. A different environment altogether. But it is a job and the pay is just as good.
He’s taken through a training regime on the rudiments of banking. He learnt very fast being a naturally brilliant young man. Three, five years on the job, he sees a future bright and beautiful in his new career. But his heart is still with the community of hydrocarbons. He had looked forward to a life of hydrosynthesis and all that. Occasionally, in his quiet moments, he flips through textbooks and journals on petrochemicals. He would ruminate over the several titrations and chemical analyses he did in his school days. He could not connect them to his present station.

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He sees the money, no doubt, but at the expense of his passion for hydrocarbons and chemistry. Clearly, he has a good job but it is not likely he has the full joy that goes with a good job.
Many Nigerians fit perfectly into this mould. For some, the job is never a good one. They have good degrees and diploma certificates but the jobs they do and the pay they get fall far below par. Ask them what they do, they would tell you they are “managing with one company.” Truth is, they are underemployed. Many Nigerians are. Underemployment is not just working part-time or not having enough work to do; it means not being used to full capacity and capability. And this is where the definition hurts the more. It hurts both the individual and the nation.
Through a culture of poverty of leadership and incompetence in high places, successive Nigerian governments have exposed the youths to a life of underemployment. Destinies have been aborted or changed, not because the people wanted it so, but because that is what the circumstance of our peculiar mess has foisted on them. Think of the legion of engineers who had been trained in the ways of concepts, design and implementation languishing in classrooms as teachers, struggling to write lesson notes which they never learnt in schools. And I do not in any way intend to ridicule the teaching profession. But it is obvious that certain basic trainings are fundamental in the making of a good teacher. The best students do not always make the best teachers. Teachers are supposed to be emotionally stable, tolerant and have the ability to communicate their thought with clarity just so the students would be able to assimilate. Some of these attributes are imbibed while undergoing tutelage at teaching schools. The same cannot be said of a non-teaching graduate.
Think again of the countless number of graduates of a particular discipline doing jobs that have no relationship with their training and passion. Please, don’t get the argument here wrong. I’m aware that these times, your career does not start from school, meaning you are not duty-bound to practise what you studied. That is why we have psychology and history graduates working as programmers at Microsoft. That is why mechanical engineering graduates have shunned the moulds and machines at Ford or Chrysler for the digital laboratories at Oracle. This is a different ball game because in this instance, the people identified where their passion and flair lie and pursued it. Their new careers were not circumstantial. It was a matter of choice and core competency.
A few Nigerians have found fulfillment in other careers outside their areas of training. But it was for them a matter of choice. This article is not about such category. It is about millions of Nigerians who are just doing a job because that’s what their hands have found to do. They are managing a job because they live in a country where the leaders over the years have failed to create the right environment that would lead to job creation. The legion of graduate engineers and the multitude of chemists, microbiologists et al have no where to practise their chosen careers because the likes of Dunlop, Michelin and thousands of other players in the primary sector including textile manufacturers have closed shop, unable to cope with the prevailing harsh business clime. The danger in underemployment is that it does not help to build the requisite capacities. It undermines a people’s tomorrow today. That’s the mess we are in. I ask again, do you like the job you are doing?