• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Roadmap to employability and entrepreneurship skills development in Nigeria

The Federal Government recently announced that it is carrying out a review of the National Employment Policy, with a view to focusing on youth employment. In the news report, the government recognized the need for the emergence of “a critical mass of entrepreneurs to jumpstart the economy and create mass employment” and it also conceded the ineffectiveness of current measures to boost entrepreneurship development, which it says are “ad-hoc and uncoordinated”. Its intention therefore is to come up in 2016 with a National Policy on Entrepreneurship Development, which will “provide a framework that will guide all stakeholders and ultimately pave way for the emergence of a critical mass of entrepreneurs”.
On the surface, this sounds good, very good. However, it will be useful to have some understanding of the bottlenecks that may hinder the success of the policy. But for the challenge of administrators in our education system not having sufficient understanding of how to equip their students with skills that will either make them employable or enable them to become the “critical mass of entrepreneurs” as the government apparently wants to do, the education system is the best avenue to nurture the required skills and talents that result in entrepreneurial success in today’s technology-driven environment. Some years ago, the government instituted a policy which mandated tertiary institutions to establish entrepreneurship development centres. Well intentioned, the methodology and approach have been completely wrong and ineffective. What is worrisome is that administrators in our tertiary institutions do not seem to realize that the approach is wrong and has not been achieving the intended results, but they continue to toe the same wrong path. The NUC, on its part, monitors the institutions’ compliance with an ineffective system. Meanwhile, the country’s president does not seem to be aware of any type of entrepreneurship training taking place in our universities, if his statements at a couple of recent convocation ceremonies (the University of Benin and Kaduna State University) are anything to go by. He kept emphasizing that “our universities must promote entrepreneurship training in their courses”, which was something they had led us to believe they were doing all along! Do we need any further proof that the methodology is not working? But do we hear of any plans by the NUC and the universities to review the current approach? Not to the best of my knowledge.
Here is what they do. In the first two years of study, undergraduates are taught the theory of entrepreneurship by faculty who know nothing about the practice of entrepreneurship. In their third year, they are then taught what is referred to as “practical”; bead-making, adire, soap-making, etc. There is nothing wrong with equipping students with vocational skills. Some of them will proceed to spin entrepreneurial ventures out of those vocational activities. But it should not be regarded as the “practical” component of entrepreneurship development. Simple logic dictates that there should be a link between theory and what is ostensibly regarded as its practical expression. What then is the connection between the theories of business planning, financial management, marketing and human resource management that university students are presumably exposed to during the theoretical part of their training and the subsequent lessons in soap and bead-making and such like which are regarded as the “practical” component of their entrepreneurship education?
These are vocational crafts that, had we properly implemented the basic education policy, students should have acquired while in secondary school and those who are vocationally inclined may well continue on that path through further technical education. But we do not appear to have clearly-defined routes and progression opportunities, as indicated in the GE “The future of Work in Africa” report published in July 2015. “Improvements in infrastructure and the business environment should be complemented by greater investment in skills. Today, education systems in many countries across the continent are still weak, with technical schools few and far between. Large parts of Africa’s labour force are relatively unskilled, and elevated unemployment rates for graduates signal a gap between the skills created by the education systems and those needed by industry,” the report said.
Sadly, this scenario is amplified in Nigeria. Several other reports, both international and local, point to the gap between the skills possessed by those graduating from our institutions and the skills required by industry. The Phillips Consulting Education & Employability Report (2014) highlights the need for skills such as critical thinking, interpersonal relationship, ability to work with technology, etc. But these are not the skills our universities are equipping students with, thus rendering them unemployable from the get go.
For the new policy to work, we have to address several systemic issues. Not all graduating students are cut out to be entrepreneurs. We have not realized that simple fact. Making entrepreneurship studies compulsory and training them in the particularly shabby and uninspiring way our tertiary institutions have gone about the assignment so far already confirms why government has admitted failure. The Central Bank is planning to give loans to one million recent graduates for entrepreneurship endeavours, while the Bank of Industry has already commenced a similar scheme with the NYSC. Sadly, we are not confronting the real challenge. It looks like we are simply throwing money at a problem and wishing it would disappear. But it won’t. The graduates we are giving the funds to are the same people who the universities have underprepared and graduated with no relevant industry skills or critical thinking ability. They are the same people that faculty members who have no clue of what it takes to run a business have taught the “theory” of entrepreneurship and have left them to their own devices to discover the real “practical”. When the rubber hits the road, it’s a different proposition entirely.
I did say earlier that not all graduating students, in fact, not all individuals are cut out for entrepreneurship. Strive Masiyiwa is by all means a successful African entrepreneur. He says, “We need entrepreneurs who will come up and create businesses, yes. But not everybody’s an entrepreneur.” The rudiments can be learnt, definitely. But that does not mean that all who learn the rudiments are cut out to practice it. Even then, the rudiments have to be learnt in a way that will deliver impact, not the current textbook approach.
So we should stop defining the objective in terms of the numbers of graduates we are giving loans to but in terms of the number of sustainable businesses that can emerge and create jobs. It takes more than finance, it actually requires an entire ecosystem – from training, coaching and mentoring, ongoing support, access to information and market intelligence, as well as finance – to build sustainable entrepreneurial ventures. The Oxford Business Group in its 2015 Nigeria report says of the burgeoning masses of the Nigerian youth: “If properly educated, these citizens are set to become productive members of the future workforce. If not, unemployment could rise even further, contributing to social tensions and exacerbating the state of economic inequality.”
How then do we develop entrepreneurship skills?
Expand the scope of training: The development of employability and entrepreneurship skills has to be through a series of well-coordinated steps and processes, not the current slapdash approach. We should realize that we couldn’t teach entrepreneurship in isolation of employability skills.
Student support and career guidance: We need to improve the quality of student support and counselling services in our tertiary institutions to ensure students become more self-aware and are able to intentionally make decisions and choices about possible career options. Ideally, this should have started much earlier but it is crucial in higher education. Too many students are focused on entering university and graduating that they have no clue about what they are able to do or not do, neither do they have an idea of where their strengths and passions lie. Our current minister of Trade and Industry (Okechukwu Enelamah) is a medical doctor who built the largest private equity company in Nigeria. Olusegun Adeniyi recently wrote about a tailor in Abuja who quit a banking job to set up a fashion-designing outfit that is now the rave in town. We fail our students when we do not take intentional steps to help them become self-aware, identify their strengths and development needs through the use of validated psychometric instruments, which is what companies do when they hire people.
Furthermore, we should incorporate entrepreneurship training at all levels of education; change the way we deliver entrepreneurship education; find, train and support the right people to deliver the curriculum; build an ecosystem, and finally, intentionally promote collaboration, especially between industry and academia.
The place of government policies
A recent report by the Omidyar Network and Monitor Group, titled “Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa”, says Nigeria’s key entrepreneurship strengths “are found in more individualistic factors like the mindset towards entrepreneurship and a limited fear of failure, a finding which corroborates the global Entrepreneurship Monitor finding. However, the Omidyar reports paint a bleak picture in terms of government support and confirms that Nigeria underperforms “her global and SSA peers along a number of contextual factors; most notable are financing, infrastructure and government regulations”. So far, the few initiatives we have seen have been in the area of addressing the funding gap but I have my doubts about the sustainability of those initiatives. What keeps a Nigerian entrepreneur going is the sheer drive and grit. If this is present in our DNA, what do we then do to students in our institutions to ‘kill’ this drive? In some cases, the challenges are too daunting and they have not received the kind of education to enable them reason their way out and adopt a problem-solving mindset.
To give an idea of the scale of the challenges faced by Nigerian entrepreneurs, the Mo Ibrahim Index on Infrastructure (2010) reports Nigeria at 10.1 while Africa average stood at 31.4. If existing entrepreneurs are facing this level of daunting challenges, a harsh policy environment with regulations and red tape that almost seem deliberately designed to frustrate enterprises, how then do we bring more youth into entrepreneurship or help them to survive in this harsh, unforgiving environment? Without comprehensively overhauling the policy framework and reducing red tape, how do we expect to create “a critical mass of entrepreneurs”? Government policies have to be reviewed to create an enabling environment.
We are sitting on a time-bomb. It’s time to fix the problem and grow our economy as a result.
Tope Toogun
Toogun, a member of the Human Development Policy Commission of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, is the MD/CEO of Accelerated Learning Systems Limited in Lagos and founder of Clarity Education (Pty) Limited in Johannesburg, South Africa.