Employability and skills mismatch are some of the biggest concerns of employers as they seek an education system that would be flexible and responsive to changing industry and market demands. In this Interview, STEVE OBASOHAN, Deputy General Manager, Human Resources at iSON BPO International Limited, a Customer Experience Management Solutions Provider in Sub Saharan Africa speaks on youth employability rate in Africa and what iSON is doing to curb it. He conversed with STEPHEN ONYEKWELU. Excerpts:
What is your view on the Youth Employability rate in Africa?
Youth employability rate in Africa is not as desired and this is evidenced by the high unemployment and under employment rates. The existence of a youth bulge on the continent can be advantageous and could also have some negative effects too. The effective and productive management of this resource can change the fortunes of the continent. Conversely, the continent would suffer further misfortunes of insecurity, economic downturns and so on if there is no strategy to engage the youth productively.
What is iSON doing to curb the issue of Youth unemployment in Africa?
iSON group is proud of its role in curbing youth unemployment in Africa. With over 12,500 employees across 25 countries iSON Group has an opportunity to play a role in this effort. Majority of our employees are young and recent graduates. Our robust Corporate Social Responsibility of ensuring that 5 percent of employees at the entry level are gotten from youth from marginalised sections of the society. This and much more is what we do.
There is a clear disparity between African young men and women in terms of employment, why the disparity?
I think culture amongst others play a role in this. Early marriages and teenage pregnancy shift the focus of young girls from continuing their education there by significantly reducing their chances of being gainfully employed. The need for girls to get submissive to societal pressures early in their lives also contributes to a truncated education.
Africa’s development is hinged on its youth of today, with the unemployment rates of youths in Africa rising, how will sustainable development in Africa be achieved in future?
It has been established that Africa has a huge youth populace and potential and is considered as the youngest continent in terms of demographics. Governments and the private sector need to take youth employability and employment very seriously to ensure a safe and productive future. This could be done through the creation of conducive environment and incentives to encourage the growth of small and medium scale businesses, which should be complemented by large scale industrial strategies by the government.
Do you think there are now more productive jobs for African youths arising? And is progress being made in your opinion?
I recognise and commend the efforts young people are making on the continent to express their talents in industries like Information Technology (IT) and entertainment especially as most of them do it with little or no support from respective governments. However, a lot more young people do not seem to be ready for the jobs of the future due to reasons earlier mentioned. However, African youths (with help from their governments) can start from areas of their comparative advantages either in the service or manufacturing sectors. They can then proceed to develop their skills to work in more globally competitive sectors.
What do you think is the major cause of the high Youth unemployment rate in Nigeria?
I think there is a plethora of reasons for this which includes chronic poverty, diseases and insecurity challenges, social vices, inadequate skill development for available jobs, unclear and inconsistent employment strategies by successive governments.
Many employers across Africa have been critical of the lack of basic, technical and transferable skills of graduates from the continent. What is your view on this?
I agree that many a time employers complain of the lack or insufficiency of these skills from new hires or recent graduates and blame same on the inadequacy of the exiting educational institutions, I agree to the extent that job applicants need the basic requirement for any job role and institutions play a significant role in this but it is also important to note that the educational system the way it is currently structured cannot catch up with the pace of changes in today’s workplace. It would be very difficult to have a syllabus that quickly.
Hence, applicants shouldn’t rely solely on the classroom to get knowledge about careers they are passionate about. The internet provides a huge array of avenues to learn such as professional/ career chat rooms and communities, online courses, following relevant social media contacts. All these can be complemented by appropriate skill acquisition centers that can be provided by both government and the private sector to enable young people get a much better chance of securing jobs. Moreover, with the support of government if youth are guided and trained to be a skilled workforce possibilities to get placed in relevant industries is higher.