Nigerian fresh graduates and labour market challenges

A story was told of a young Nigerian man, Okezie Ikerionwu, from the South East who after his tertiary education was not able to fit into the labour market because he lacked the practical competency.

This man decided to relearn the acts and art of marketing by offering himself for apprenticeship with a trader at the Main Market in Onitsha, Anambra State. After some years he decided to leave his job in Onitsha and emigrated to America for better prospects and applied for a salesman’s job at Macy’s Bloomingdale’s downtown department store.

The boss asked him, “Have you ever been a salesman before?”

“Yes sir, I was a salesman in Nigeria,” he said.

The boss liked him and said, “You can start tomorrow. Learn fast and do well.” The first working day was long and arduous for the young man, but he got through it.

Finally, 6pm came around. The boss asked, “How many sales did you make today?”

“Sir, I made one sale!” said the young salesman rather happily.

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“Only one sale?!” shot back at the boss. “No! No! You see, most of my staff make 20 or 30 sales a day.”

If you want to keep this job, you would better be doing better than just one sale. By the way, how much was your sale worth?” “$933,005.00,” said the man.

“What?! How did you manage that?” asked the surprised boss.

“Well,” said the salesman, “this man came in and I sold him a small fish hook, then a medium hook and finally a really large hook. Then I sold him a good fishing rod and some fishing gear.

“Then I asked him where he was going fishing and he said down the coast. So, I told him he would need a boat, so I took him down to the boat department and sold him that 20-foot schooner with the twin engines.

“Then he said his Volkswagen would not be able to carry it, so I took him to our automotive department and sold him that new Deluxe 4X4 Blazer.

“I then asked him where he would be staying and since he had not decided, I took him to the camping department and sold him a six-sleeper camper tent.

“Then he said I should throw in about $200 worth of groceries and two cases of juice.”

The boss took two steps back and asked in great surprise, “You sold all that to a guy who came in for a fish hook?!”

“No, sir,” answered the young man, “he came in to buy sanitary napkins for his wife and I convinced him that since he will be bored with his wife being in period, fishing is the best remedy for boredom.”

And the boss asked him; “Where did you acquire this professional training?!”

“Onitsha Main Market in Anambra State, Nigeria, sir.”

In Nigeria, education was initially embraced to groom those who could read and write in order to meet the needs of the colonial masters. However, with the turn of events, it is obvious that education in Nigeria today has gone beyond the ability to read and write. There are about 25 million unemployed graduates and more are still on the way.

As of 2020, there are 134 recognised polytechnics and 174 universities, including federal, state, and privately owned. They all admit about 2 million and release about 600,000 graduates each year.

According to Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Making learning interesting for students is the imperative for achieving sustainable development of any nation. Nigeria’s education funding policies do not meet the provision for the needed facilities to improve practical knowledge impartation.

Lizzy Ohaka, an educationist disclosed to BusinessDay that Nigeria’s problem with producing fresh graduates who fit the labour market is the neglect of the foundational education level like the early child education which takes care of the nursery and primary education.

“There is little or no emphasis on initiative education”. Ohaka stated. Children should be taught how to solve problems, cooperation, collaboration, perseverance, etc. at the foundational level, and when they are grown they will find it less difficult to fit into the labour market.

Ohaka stressed that governments at various levels are not paying adequate attention to the ideals of initiative education in Nigeria. Curriculum development should be tailored to meet realities on ground. In most instances, except for Lagos State, the curriculum does not reflect capacity development.

“Government should come in and monitor how the system is being run. It is not enough to just allocate funds, someone should see to the proper implementation of policies, especially in the areas of curriculum development and implementations,” she said.

Nigeria, unlike Finland and other countries making headway in the education sector is not developing curriculums that encourage skill development and self-discovery which is a prerequisite to excelling in the labour market. Nigeria pays much more attention to certificates, hence, the system encourages passing examinations to acquire the knowledge.

Ohaka argues that many young graduates in Nigeria lack exposure to real life experiences and wondered how one would expect such a person to easily fit in.

Education policies in Finland encourage local education leaders, principals and teachers to take risks, find new solutions to make education more meaningful to all, and put creativity at the centre of play in schools. As the level of teacher professionalism gradually increased in schools during the 1990s, the prevalence of effective teaching methods and pedagogical classroom and school designs increased. It also encouraged teachers and schools to continue to expand their repertoires of teaching methods, and to individualise teaching in order to meet the needs of all students.

Shola Thomas, a senior lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos sees the problem more from the labour providers than the education system.

“Students are meant to acquire knowledge according to the curriculum given per time. It is solely the responsibility of firms to induct and train properly the fresh hands to meet their industrial requirement. Asking for 3-5 years’ experience from new intakes is outrageous. Where do you want them to get such experience?” She asked.

To Efriye Bribena, the CEO, Tamief International Limited the issue of employability of many graduates is in fact a case of the realities not matching what is learnt in school. If the schools are producing people to fit into the labour market, he stressed, the schools must know what it takes to excel in the labour market.

“Many fresh graduates have paper qualifications without the needed skills in such a field, and this is a problem on its own”, he said

Ideal education system should produce graduates who are all-rounders, being able to fit into labour skill requirements.

Economic competitiveness is first and foremost all about sustained learning. When individuals or societies have severe learning difficulties the economic forecasts will not look good. If students do not learn to love learning in their schools and universities, they will not find learning and change attractive afterwards.

Therefore, education policies should basically try to make learning in schools interesting and creative for all students without sacrificing the other important goals of education.

Wole Akanbi, a parent, believes that parents can help their children by exposing them to ‘street life’ experiences.

“Parents should expose their children to everyday life by engaging them in their business and trades. That way the child will gain true life experience”, he explained.

Many parents and guardians can maximise the opportunities of the summer holidays to engage their children and wards especially the teenagers in skills acquisition programmes which will in turn help them earn a living in life.

Ohaka in proffering the way forward called on the government at all levels to stop putting square pegs into round holes in the education management system.

Bribena opined that the compulsory Industrial Training (IT) should be made to last at least 1year to enable students acquire much more experiences on the field.

“Curriculum review is very necessary in addressing this ugly development. Besides, there is the need to lengthen the IT period of students from 3months to 12 months to give them enough time in the field,” he said.