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Without new skills, Nigerians are being left behind in jobs of the future

Over the next four years, data entry clerks, accountants, auditors, financial analysts, relationship managers, human resource specialists, mechanics and machinery repairs are among jobs that will no longer be relevant, at least according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020.

It projected technological change is set to displace a range of skills in the labour market by 2025, while driving greater demand for a new set of core skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and critical thinking as well as skills in the use and design of technologies (“digital skills”).

Jobs that will be increasing in demand include data analysts & scientists, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning specialists, big data specialists, project managers, robotics engineers, fintech engineers, software and application developers.

The nature of jobs that will be relevant in the future has been constantly evolving, in particular with recent disruptions to traditional workplaces. Now, some top CEOs and business leaders are worried that Nigerians may be left behind in ‘jobs of the future’, due to skills shortages as most companies switch to working remotely in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic.

A report by International Finance Corporation (IFC) highlights the existence of a skills gap, out-dated curriculum in engineering programs and lack of opportunities for students to apply skills learned in the classroom in most African countries including Nigeria.

Nigeria also lags behind much of the world, in terms of technology advancement, innovation, investment and digital skills. According to the 2020 global innovation ranking, the country dropped seven places to rank 121st out of 131 countries.

Another dilemma is that even if Nigeria decides to thread the path of technological change, it could lead to unemployment and uncertainty as human jobs could be replaced by machines due to the skills gap.

Damilola Adewale, a Lagos-based economic analyst noted that if the skills gap in Nigeria is not solved, it might be a case where most jobs would be lost to technology.

“If you check the proportion of the workforce based on the level of knowledge in the country, low skilled and semi-skilled accounts for a higher portion than the high skilled ones. So, with this the skill gap and the fast momentum of AI will escalate our unemployment problem,” Adewale said.

Similarly, Yemi Orimolade, Founder, Tellit.NG, a strategic communication technology driven organization said jobs that will be lost are the ones that are done repetitively and manually.

“For robots, if there is a role or job that does a repetitive pattern, the computer with some few lines of code will help address that. However, the opportunities that these emerging markets would create are more than the jobs that will be lost. So, the core conversion is the ability of young people to upskill and right skill that is to unlearn to relearn to take advantage of these opportunities,” Orimolade said.

For example, an accountant might become less relevant if he or she focuses only on theoretical accounting knowledge. However, if he or she decides to upskill by getting more knowledge in data analysis or science it positions them as an accounting expert with additional digital capabilities.

Adebambo Aina, a human resource expert believes that Nigerians will adapt to the innovations due to their competitive nature.

“The reality about Nigerians is that we are very competitive because of our large population and if there is any new technology that is adapted, it will only make people understand that if they get these skills, they will become more marketable and get ahead of the competition,” Aina said.

Globally, the world is experiencing the trend of automation of jobs that can be done in the way we live and work; from self-driving cars, Automated Teller Machine (ATM) , virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, payment solutions, investment trading Apps, chatbots, AI-powered predictions like Google Maps, to smart email categorisation and a ton of others.

“Technology grows geometrically. The progress we made in tech in 2020 is more than what we made in 2010 and 2019 put together,” Kassy Olisakwe, an AI enthusiast said. “Day by day, it grows rapidly and AI is just part of it. The trend will come to Nigeria which will cause a huge unemployment gap.”

AI is the ability of a computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with human beings.

“It is a set of algorithms like a software that is built to imitate human beings. People that go into AI know a bit about neuroscience and Information Communication Technology. It is different from your normal machine that is lifeless and pointless without any skill gap,” Olisakwe explained.

In order to prepare for this transition, there would be a need for the government to invest in human capital especially as tech talent in Africa and Nigeria is at a historical peak and continues to rise.

According to the same report by IFC, there are nearly 700,000 professional developers across Africa with more than 50 percent concentrated in five key African markets: Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. The report also highlighted that the top two developer training pathways are through university programs and self-taught channels.

A 20-year-old male who is a self-taught coder says he decided to take an online course because he felt what he was taught in school was not sufficient to get him a quality job in today’s world although he studied neuroscience.

“I used Udemy for deep learning and Coursera for machine learning, I was able to complete my course in 3 months, the only challenge I faced was electricity,” he said.

There are also some companies taking advantage of the skills gap in the educational system in Nigeria such as Decagon, Gebeya, Google, Moringa School.

Tosin Olademeji an affiliate of Decagon says the company has been training world-class software developers and connecting them to job opportunities

Decagon aims at training 5,000 software engineers over the next five years, with each training and mentoring, at least, one individual as well. The training costs N3 million, covering accommodation, feeding and learning equipment such as laptops.

The pandemic created the need for more digital knowledge in organisations as many people lost their jobs with the world going increasingly digital. To address this gap, Microsoft introduced its new global skills initiative to provide digital skills to more than 25 million people worldwide who have been displaced by the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020.

A 2020 annual CEOs survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that retraining/upskilling is the best way to close the skills gap. But they were not making much headway in tackling the problem with only 18 percent of CEOs saying they have made “significant progress” in establishing an up skilling programme.

A human resource expert who wished to be anonymous pointed out that the pandemic has made companies realise that they need to invest in technology.

“They have re-evaluated their operations by knowing the employees that are not critical to their business. That is why it is important for people not to be comfortable but develop themselves and get to a point where their value can be kept and offer more usefulness to companies. Also, parents should take their kids to lessons where they learn software programming or digital skills,” She advised.

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