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Funemployment: Introducing a new economic term

My name is Vivian and I am unemployed. Why on earth would you take career advice from me? Well, I like to think that it is much like being treated by a sick doctor

The ‘Business of Employment’ is a new column by contributor Vivian Ojo who is an avid and honest writer with several years of experience in the “education for employment” sector. The objective of the column is to educate young Nigerians on the employment market and the basic macroeconomic principles that underpin it, while also providing honest and helpful insights on how young Nigerians can find and create opportunities to make both money and impact.

Vivian has consulted with some of the largest international development, educational and corporate organizations across the world and with several African Governments focusing on people and capability building. She has worked on business strategy and job placements with McKinsey and Company, MasterCard Foundation and African Leadership Academy. She is a board member of United World Colleges Nigeria and a member of Umsizi Fund’s peer learning network that convenes over 30 employment placement organizations from around the world including Harambee, Generation and Education for Employment. She has a longstanding passion for transforming the African education to employment landscape and has done work on this as part of her Masters in Public Policy from Oxford University and has been published on the topic in the Harvard Africa Policy Journal among other organizations. Follow thewritewritingcoach on instagram and email me at thewritewritingcoach@gmail.com for more questions.

“Funemployment: Introducing a new economic term”

My name is Vivian and I am unemployed. Why on earth would you take career advice from me? Well, I like to think that it is much like being treated by a sick doctor. If you can overcome the stigma of it all, you may recognize that a doctor who has the same illness as you, is both more aware of your pain points and more invested in the cure. For many people who have ever been unemployed the first sentence of this piece is rarely said plainly and out loud without a slew of other sentences about your previous job, your side projects and when available the start date of your next job. Over the past 6 months, I have learned to say this sentence with more confidence- so much so that while I am still unemployed, I am writing this column to help Nigerians better understand the education to employment market, define and build their careers and ultimately find and create work.

Over the past 5 years, I have connected hundreds of young Africans with full time employment opportunities through my work as a career coach and counsellor. I have reviewed several job applications, resumes, grad school essays and coached people for several case interviews. The wealth of experience I have built is not mine alone and my experiences searching for work and helping others do the same have fortified a tried and tested formula to position any individual for their next best job. This recipe has landed me job interviews and offers as country manager, CEO and strategy lead for organizations with large portfolios, many of which initially required double the number of years of work experience I had when I received the offers. Over time roles have come to me and I have learned to be ready to receive. I hope to share each lesson of this season of unemployment in a different edition of this column, but to start, let’s get into some light macroeconomics to describe the unemployment market young people are facing today.

When your concern is a paycheck or the lack thereof, the type of unemployment you are facing can seem inconsequential. Yet this absolutely matters for identifying what your next course of action should be. There are four main unemployment types that are each relevant to some degree in the Nigerian market. Nigerian economists are most concerned about cyclical unemployment, caused by declining demand or recession, and structural unemployment, caused by a mismatch between the demographics and skills of workers and the types of jobs available. COVID19 and a strained oil industry, which KPMG analysts call a twin shock can be particularly damning for employment and we will discuss these how individuals can counteract this later.

Frictional unemployment is termed to articulate the friction of transitions between jobs and lastly and seasonal unemployment typically experienced by farmers and other blue collar labourers describes those not employed all year round. In traditional economics, frictional and some cases of seasonal unemployment are not considered true unemployment categories as these individuals are expected to ultimately find jobs. Yet, the precarious nature of the current labour market means that frictionally/seasonally unemployed individuals can easily slip into long term unemployment cycles, particularly because for white collar workers unemployment can be as economic as it is psychological. It is for this reason that I strongly advocate for young Nigerians to rapidly shift to another form of unemployment I call functional- nicknamed “funemployment”.

Functional employment is an economic term I coined that perhaps modern economists like Bassier “Decolonizing the teaching of economics” (Africa is a country 2016) would consider endorsing in order to broaden our understanding of the distinctions between developed and emerging labor markets. Functional employment is basically premised on two concepts. First, functionally unemployed (funemployed) individuals work informally and periodically on multiple endeavors to ensure revenue, leveraging their existing resources, networks and even stealth to do so. Secondly, because their work is typically agile and market responsive, in most cases these funemployed individuals create their own job opportunities, which can trickle down to others in their network e.g., a side hustle driving for Uber or managing a fleet of drivers.

This type of unemployment can be complex and demanding of significant manpower, strategic planning and time. The funemployed are not simply informal employees and while they can be, they are not always entrepreneurs. They are more like market gap fillers who exploit any opportunity to generate revenue and are actively looking for any means to increase their revenue streams, improve their education and capability levels, and will apply to formal employment opportunities as needed. At a micro level, there are few things more powerful than funemployment to gradually transform high talent and low opportunity African economies. It is rightfully named the most fun of employments. When combined with the correct network and emphasis, funemployment can become a lifestyle that supports the careers of young people in emerging markets, who refuse to wait for the government or corporates to change their circumstances.

As one such young person, who has been privileged to have significant treasure, time and talent invested in my academic and professional career, I could not be more proud to be funemployed and to take you on a journey to not simply finding, but also creating, the right next opportunity for you.

With gratitude,
Viv

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