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Nigeria squandering its youth bulge misses gains of vocational skills

...Germany, Austria show success stories with Dual VET

The mass failure of candidates in the 2021 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and the backlog of students waiting for admission into higher institutions show why attention should be paid to acquiring vocational skills.

Vocational or technical education is a major way of equipping people especially the youth with entrepreneurial skills, at this time where the labour market is not big enough to absorb fresh graduates.

Knowledge-based and vocational skills are an attractive pull for employers and it solves the triple evils that Africa’s most populated economy is battling with namely, high youth unemployment, poverty, and crime.

“Technical and vocational skills are the way to go for the millions of our youth that are unable to enter universities, so you have to be deliberate about vocational and technical schools,” Akin Benjamin, a Lagos-based education consultant said.

Similarly, Johnson Monday, a skill acquisition coach, noted that with the tough economic conditions, this is the best time to embrace entrepreneurial skills. “So get a vocational skill that you have passion for so that you can sell yourself out there and generate revenue from it,” he says.

Last week, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) confirmed that the performance of candidates in this year’s UTME is poorer than what is recorded within the past three years.

Read also: Nigeria must prioritise investment in youths for national development – Adesina, AfDB president

According to JAMB, the percentage of candidates who scored 120 marks and above out of a total of 400 in 2021 is 99.65 percent which is lower than 99.80 percent, 99.92 percent, and 99.99 percent in 2020, 2019 and 2018 respectively. Also, in 2020, 69.82 percent of the total candidates who sat the UTME scored 160 and above but in 2021, it reduced to 65.62 percent.

Additionally, the global Covid-19 pandemic disrupted academic calendars in 2020 which led to the backlog of students.

Ridwan Muhammed, CEO of Actist Solution, a Lagos based education consulting firm said that failure makes some of the candidates want to rediscover themselves which is most likely towards vocational skills or trade learning.

“Education, it is not only what we do in the four walls of the classroom, but what we do to earn a living and also to contribute to the society,” Muhammed further said.

Nigeria has a large and vibrant youth population but there are fewer job opportunities for them to thrive in society. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, there are 23.2 million unemployed persons as of the fourth quarter of 2020, out of which more than 13 million are between the age group of 15-34.

Nigeria can also learn lessons from European countries such as Austria and Germany who have enjoyed the lowest rates in youth unemployment as a result of a ‘dual system’ for vocational education and training (Dual VET).

The dual education system provides conditions to acquire, improve and develop competencies of the students according to the needs of the labour market, and enables employers to produce a qualified workforce according to its own requirements.

For Germany, the system puts young people through a three-year traineeship composed, fifty-fifty, of classroom instruction in trade-school courses and on-the-job training at participating companies under the supervision of skilled mentors. This has reduced youth unemployment to 5.8 percent in 2019 from 15.5 percent in 2005.

Youth in Austria are usually around 15 years old and who are not interested in or do not qualify for university can enter apprenticeships or vocational training. While those studying in formal schools split their time between working – and learning on-the-job skills. As of 2019, youth unemployment stands at 8.5 percent from 11.2 percent in 2016.

Ayodele Shittu, a Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Lagos noted that the positive externalities associated with acquiring such skills is enormous as it will lead to a reduction in crime rate, financial empowerment and sustainability especially with those that depend on parents or guardians.

But despite the benefits associated with vocational education it has not yet found its footing in Nigeria, as it is challenged by the general perception of the society, the nonchalance of government, inadequate funding, inadequate facilities, curriculum development, lack of Qualified and Properly Trained Instructors, et cetera.

“There are a lot of skills out there that can make you productive. That is why parents should shift their attention to how to educate their children by giving them those practical skills and knowledge that can help them to be job creators. The government should also build more technical schools,” Funbi Matthew, business management and human resource professional advised.

Also, Damilola Adewale, a Lagos-based economic analyst, advised that there should be a broad review of the education curriculum across primary-tertiary levels in such a way that vocational skills are incorporated in the course work of every Nigerian student irrespective of what they study.

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