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School curriculums don’t offer employability skills needed in Nigeria – CEO, EnterpriseNGR

OBI IBEKWE, the chief executive officer at EnterpriseNGR, a professional advocacy group that promotes the growth and development of Nigeria’s Financial and Professional Services (FPS) sector, in this interview with BUNMI BAILEY discusses its Youth of Enterprise (YOE) Internship Programme and how it will boost youth employability in Nigeria. Excerpts:

What is the YOE Internship Programme all about and how impactful will it be for the economy?

EnterpriseNGR seeks to improve the employability of Nigerian youth through the YOE Internship Programme which is designed to improve the skillsets, professional competence and employability of YOE Programme participants while also providing them with workplace experience and ultimately facilitating capacity building in the FPS sector and economy at large.

Through the YOE Internship Programme, EnterpriseNGR intends to tackle the high rates of unemployment and underemployment amongst Nigerian youth. The National Population Commission places Nigeria’s population at about 220 million with 50 percent of the population comprising youths.

Unfortunately, over 42 percent of Nigerian youth remain unemployed while 21 percent are underemployed. Several factors, including deficient school curricula, poor teacher training and the failure of tertiary institutions to equip students with employability skills, have compounded the unemployment rate evident among our youths.

The programme internship opportunities will be open to youth from all parts of Nigeria via the EnterpriseNGR portal (powered by our bespoke technology). Our intention is to commence the YOE Programme with 5,000 interns this year and scale up annually to a minimum of 100,000 interns annually.

It is currently targeted at graduates who are not more than five years post-graduation (i.e., YOE interns), but will be ultimately expanded to include undergraduates in order to expose our youth to experience of the workplace early in their formation. We are confident that our private sector expertise combined with the support of our member firms, stakeholders and international donors will make the programme a success.

Employers participating in the programme will have the opportunity to guide and evaluate placed talent for six months before considering them for recruitment. They will also be able to cost-efficiently build a pipeline of entry-level talent, reduce the size and scope of their orientation programmes and improve the performance of their organizations by infusing fresh academic knowledge, digitization and innovation into their systems.

Read also: Why Nigerian women, youths should embrace modern agricultural practices, by Adigwe

What is the inspiration behind the programme?

Two contributing factors to the growing youth unemployment rate in Nigeria are: lack of jobs and lack of employability skills. EnterpriseNGR has decided to focus on employability.

Most employers agree that the quality of applicants who apply for job openings in their organisations is less than desirable and recruitment is always difficult. This has led private sector organisations, with great cost and effort, to individually implement varied programmes to address the skills gap.

Unfortunately, the problem of youth employability in Nigeria cannot be solved in silos; it requires a collective effort. This is why EnterpriseNGR has taken the first step to set up this internship programme to improve the employability of the Nigerian youth, bridge the industry skills gap and shortage of quality talent in the country.

A report by the World Bank on Skills for Competitiveness and Employability recognizes that desirable skills are essential to increasing employment outcomes and productivity in Nigeria.

We are confident that quality talent always finds gainful employment, hence our reason for focusing on the employability side of the problem as a conduit to addressing the unemployment/underemployment challenges in Nigeria.

Two contributing factors to the growing youth unemployment rate in Nigeria are: lack of jobs and lack of employability skills. EnterpriseNGR has decided to focus on employability.

How is this initiative different from the other ones that have been introduced by other organisations?

We must encourage as many internship programmes as possible given the size and scale of Nigeria’s unemployment challenge. That said, YOE is a unique initiative built on the collaborative efforts of stakeholders in the private sector.

EnterpriseNGR is leveraging its wide reach to build a network of premium organisations willing to offer internship opportunities for all YOE participants. Essentially, the YOE programme is designed to democratise access to career opportunities for Nigerian youth, regardless of their background.

The participants will be exposed to a rich curriculum of employability and digital skills, mentored and inspired by industry leaders who will take turns in sharing their career journeys and secrets of their success. For our Nigerian youth, YOE is their one-stop-shop for exploring pathways to the career of their dreams.

Likewise employers will have access to the YOE portal to request for interns. The vision is that employers will be able to source entry-level talent from the interns they onboard.

Over the years, the Federal Government has introduced several programs such as Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme(SURE-P), Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWin), N-power etc to improve job creation. But it seems these programs have been ineffective as the general unemployment reached an all-time high of 33.3 percent in Q4 2020. What are the challenges and how can they be solved by the government and private sector?

The issue with most of these programmes is that there is inadequate collaboration among government, learning institutions and employers in the private sector.

Unemployment needs to be addressed at various levels, therefore, providers of education, government and employers must work together to address the quality of education and work collaboratively to expose youth to workplace readiness programmes, where youth can acquire employability skills that would make them employable.

This is what we are doing with the YOE Internship Programme. The programme is designed as a collaborative effort of industry players and other stakeholders, which is what is missing in most of the other programmes.

Experts say skills mismatch is a major contributor to Nigeria’s persistent worsening unemployment situation. What can you say about this?

Yes, skills mismatch is definitely a challenge in Nigeria as most job seekers are not adequately suited for the positions they are applying for. The major gap however is largely in employability skills.

Employability skills are those soft skills that make the difference between success and failure in the workplace. Employability skills include communication skills, initiative and problem solving skills, critical thinking, planning and organizing skills etc.

The current school curricula do not emphasize these skills and yet these are the same skills employers look for in prospective employees.

YOE will provide our participants with robust training in employability skills using a rich curriculum designed and enabled by PwC (our partners), thus bridging the skills gap and positioning our young people for success in the workplace.

Capacity building is a major challenge facing the informal sector, most especially in terms of upskilling micro and small businesses in the ins and outs of digital transformation. How can the private sector partner more with the public sector to fill this gap?

We are confident that the programme will help address the capacity issue in the country. The participants will benefit from robust training and on-the-job experience from leading organisations via internships.

A number of participants will be retained in permanent roles in the organisations they did their internships while others will embark on entrepreneurial pursuits on their own. These outcomes will have a positive multiplier effect on the nation’s capacity stock.

We must look for ways to continue to encourage initiatives like the YOE and seek more collaboration between the Public and Private sector.

Apart from the YOE Internship Programme, are there other programs in the works?

YOE is EnterpriseNGR’s flagship programme. Many other initiatives will be implemented based on the sector priority areas that include financial inclusion, digitization, international trade & investment, regionalization and sustainability. YOE is a programme under talent and sustainability.

EnterpriseNGR was formally launched in October 2021, what is the organization all about and how different is it from the rest?

EnterpriseNGR is a professional advocacy group representing Nigeria’s FPS sector. We are a member-led and member-funded private sector initiative with an ecosystem that includes all operators in the financial services industry including banking, insurance, asset management, FinTech, private equity etc. and professional firms that support the financial services sector such as Law, Accounting, Consulting.

Our core objective is to promote the growth and development of Nigeria’s FPS sector, with a view to transforming Nigeria into Africa’s premier financial services center.

We believe that when we succeed in this mission, we would have achieved our vision of being a leading voice and champion for the development and transformation of Nigeria! Our focus areas in carrying out our mandate include Financial Inclusion, Digitization, Trade and Investment, Regionalisation, Sustainability, Talent and Standards.

We are different in that we have a laser focus on the issues of the FPS sector, working to unite the currently fragmented voice of the sector with a view to effectively advocating for an enabling policy environment for the development of the sector which is a major contributor to the overall economic growth of Nigeria.

One of your core missions is to improve financial literacy and inclusion. Do you see these two, if complemented together achieving inclusive growth and development in Nigeria?

As you have rightly noted, financial inclusion is at the core of our mandate and we believe financial inclusion and literacy are intertwined. Financial inclusion is an international policy agenda and can be achieved through financially literate people, who can make informed financial decisions and improve their individual well-being. It has been identified as an enabler for 7 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the World Bank Group considers financial inclusion a key enabler to reduce extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. So yes, financial literacy and inclusion will definitely help achieve inclusive growth and development in Nigeria.

What should the country expect from EnterpriseNGR in five years’ time?

In five years, we want to have positioned Nigeria’s FPS sector in its rightful place as the major driver of the economy and help Nigeria to be well on its way to being recognized as the leading financial center on the continent.

To achieve this ambition, we must gain traction on our five focus areas as earlier mentioned and also address the major issues facing the sector. We will leverage our strong convening power to engage closely with regulators and lawmakers to proactively advocate for the right kind of policies/laws to ensure advancement of the sector.

We will also partner with all relevant stakeholders to boost trade and investment in the FPS sector and the economy at large.

We are already partnering with relevant organisations like TheCityUK, the leading UK based advocacy group that EnterpriseNGR is modelled after and the World Alliance for International Financial Centers (WAIFC) with a view to advancing our cause via positive association with leading global players. All our activities are backed by our strong research capability that provides us with an evidence base for action.

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