How age as job criterion worsens Nigeria’s unemployment crisis

A third of all unemployed persons in Nigeria are between the ages of 25 and 34, according to government data, and human resources professionals say the prospect of discrimination on the basis of age poses a barrier against their securing a job.

Age is an important factor in the recruitment process in Nigeria and job adverts especially for entry-level positions or graduate trainee jobs in the private sector are often capped at 26 years.

This is not the same in other parts of the world where competence is priced over age. This situation has compelled fresh graduates who do not meet the requirement to lower their real age in order to meet this demand.

The problem could get worse as Nigeria is currently dealing with a backlog of students who are yet to enter the university. This poses a challenge of meeting the often acceptable employability age by private sector employers.

“As regards the setting of age for whatever reason, companies should revisit that policy because the current realities has made candidates or students miss out on education for some years which may affect the time they are meant to graduate,” Adebambo Aina, a Lagos-based HR expert said.

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Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting, a UK and Nigerian registered Recruitment and Training Consultancy told BusinessDay that using age as a guiding factor for employment is not the wisest option because “age does not necessarily demonstrate somebody’s competence.”

Oyelade said companies should focus on the actual capabilities of the people they are trying to hire rather than discriminating on the basis of age.

Similarly, Abidemi Ajai, HR manager at Nosak Farm Produce Limited said a private sector with a good culture that understands what a business is all about, will focus on not just degree and age but the right set skills, knowledge and attitude.

“Does the person you are trying to hire have the knowledge, skills and character? Can we further increase this person’s knowledge and skill to fit into the role that we need,” He added.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), out of 23.2 million unemployed persons as of 2020, those within the age group of (25-34 years) are the highest with 7.5 million.

A banker who wishes to be identified only as Shile had to forge his year of birth to 1993 from his actual year of 1985.

“I would have graduated before 24 years old but I had issues in Lagos State University. So, I had to go to another university to start all over again, which made me finish at the age of 28. And then I went for the one year NYSC compulsory service. I knew my chances of getting a job were slim due to my age, so I had to forget it,” he said.

HR experts say the preference for younger employees is based on the assumption that younger persons are more up-to-date, often more knowledgeable about current trends and have ‘longer life expectancy’ so that on-the-job training and experience will stay longer within the company or establishment.

“There is also a psychological front to this employers’ behaviour as they prefer younger persons that may be susceptible to manipulation,” Sholarin David, a Partner with Grace Curia Attorneys said.

He adds: “To some extent, these reasons are plausible and the employers need only apply them within the ambit of the law. Such considerations are prohibited in most liberal societies and as such, it must be discouraged in our society as well. Where there is any breach of this, there must be legal remedies available to such employees or victims.”

Nigeria’s Labour Act does not make provision against age discrimination or ageism with respect to recruitment, retainment or promotion of employees, it only provides against the employment of a child or young person.

Unlike Nigeria, other countries are solving the challenge of age discrimination. For example, in Ontario, and the other Canadian jurisdictions, legislation prohibits discrimination based on age in advertising job vacancies and recruiting new employees.

Moreover, every jurisdiction protects candidates for employment from having to disclose their age on any application form or during an interview. Where such questions are relevant to company pension or benefit plans, the employer can only ask for the information after making an offer of employment.

In United Kingdom, discrimination on the grounds of age, originally introduced in 2006, is now contained in the Equality Act 2010.The provisions protect people of all ages in employment regarding recruitment, promotion, reward and recognition, redundancy and vocational training.

Also, the United States of America Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are at least 40 years old.

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