The print, electronic and social media have made the issue of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, a focus of every government across the globe today. It became so serious after the “Arab Spring” which was a reaction against regimes and governments that have perpetuated themselves against the wish of the people, and were insensitive to the astronomical rise in the number of unemployed youths and its negative consequences. Today, nations and governments are being called upon to make drastic decisions to initiate, implement, monitor, evaluate and scale up effective public policies and programmes with the aim of reducing the rate of unemployment especially among young graduates.
But what are the causes of unemployment, especially graduate unemployment, in a country like Nigeria? And what can be done to reduce, if not eliminate, graduate unemployment in the country.
A research paper titled, “Graduate Unemployment in Nigeria: Causes, Effects and Remedies”, written by Dr. Oluseyi a. Shadare and Elegbede Sikirulalu Tunde, of the Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, published by the British Journal of Arts and Social Sciences in 2012, and available on http://www.bjournal.co.uk/BJASS.aspx, revealed, based on a study conducted by Fajana (2000), that the following factors were identified as the major causes of unemployment in Nigeria: 1) the long period of initial unemployment among university graduates in Nigeria; 2) faulty manpower planning and expansion of educational facilities that have unduly raised the expectations of Nigerian youths; 3) the economic recession; 4) continued proportionality of expatriates in employment; 5) the institution of NYSC; 6) the collective bargaining process; 7) graduate attitude to some type of jobs, attitude to jobs in other location as well as search behaviour of employers and job seekers; 8) use of capital intensive technology; 9) wide rural- urban migration; 10) formal – informal sectors differentials.
Considering carefully the above “assertion” by the authors, from a personal point of view, some of the factors listed above are symptoms of an ageing and declining educational system that is inconsistent with present realities; and inadequate efforts of the government in the areas of policies and programmes targeted at achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth and full employment. Therefore, it is obvious that the government and the higher-education institutions (HEIs) are responsible for the rise in graduate unemployment in the country. The individual unemployed graduates also share in the blame. Most of them were never responsible for their learning thus limiting their chances to secure decent and sustainable jobs after graduation.
A Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Secretary to the Benue State Government, a couple of years ago, told us that education in Nigeria was designed to develop graduates needed in public employments to assist the government in the day-to-day running of government ministries, agencies and departments. Little or nothing was done to prepare graduates for private sector employment and entrepreneurship. It was out of place to think of educating young people to become entrepreneurs and self-employed and to function effectively in private workplaces. Higher-education institutions were less concerned about improving their curricula and staff capacity in research and development especially in the area of science and technology. Courses offered in HEIs were mostly in administration, social sciences, humanities, and some non-technical courses. And even till date, the trend has not really changed. There are no information relating to changes in curricular contents and courses offered in HEIs in the country, and reports of investment in Research and Development, especially in the field of science and technology in relation to GDP are scarce. How can HEI graduates secure decent and sustainable jobs months after graduation with such an education? The education system is rigid and resistant to change. Preparing graduates for public jobs alone is a fault, especially in this 21st Century where knowledge and skills are rendered obsolete at the speed of light.
A look at the methods of teaching and assessment/evaluation of students shows a great biasness against the students. Teaching and assessment of students are not student-centered, and lectures are taken under poor conditions and in crowed lecture-rooms. Most lecturers monopolize and hoard vital information from students. Little or no discussions are permitted during lectures and, in some cases, questions are disallowed. Participatory, collaborative and entrepreneurial learning are highly prohibited.
What are the “qualifications” of the lecturers today? Employments in most of the HEIs are based on political affiliations and paper qualifications. Individuals that have no business in any classrooms are occupants of classes beyond the level of undergraduate. Some do not know that the employability of graduates under their tutelage is a reflection of their performance and productivity.
Higher-education institutions are like factories. They are expected to produce quality products or risk closure. The output of any factory in the form of products and/or services is determined by the quality and quantity of input combination. When products and/or services fall short of the required standard, people are held accountable. It suffices to say that if majority of HEI graduates in Nigeria cannot find decent and sustainable jobs after few months of graduation on the bases of skills and competencies gained then the schools should be held responsible.
The employability of graduates from HEIs in Nigeria should serve as a measure of the quality of educational services offered by the schools. Take a survey of HEIs, both public and private, in the country and it will surprise you to note that none of them have up-to-date records of their graduates’ employment status.
Funding may be a challenge for most of the schools but it should not be an excuse for poor performance. The schools should know their carrying capacities, and any plans to increase the number of courses and students should be matched with equivalent expansion in both human and material resources.
Full employment, or anything near it, is a product of deliberate planning by the government. National policies and progrmmes of government in Nigeria do not make room enough to absorb the growing supply of graduates from HEIs in the country. Public policies and programmes are not designed to generate adequate economic opportunities capable of mopping up excess supply of graduates in the labour market. Expansion of educational facilities is not a cause of graduate unemployment at all. The expansion of educational facilities across the country can only become a problem, if such an expansion is not backed by equivalent increase in human and material resources. There should be a “Total Quality Assurance” mechanism in place to check the activities of HEIs in the country. The National University Commission, NUC, and similar establishments should be saddled with the responsibility to monitor, evaluate and approve the services of HEIs to ensure compliance with current international standards.
Economic recession and expatriates in employment are issues of national economic policies. They are symptoms of poor economic policies. If sound economic policies are initiated and implemented, economic recessions and expatriates in employment may not result to graduate unemployment in the country. During economic recessions, nations and governments make deliberate efforts to x-ray their economies—sector-by-sector, industry-by-industry—to determine the health of the economies in terms of economic growth and job creation/loss. That, I guarantee, will reduce the impact of economic recession on graduate employment.
The institution of NYSC in 1973 was a good idea aimed at fostering national unity. It was a creation of the government, and is not in any way the cause of graduate unemployment in the country. However, NYSC should evolve, and improve on its services. Mobilizing HEI graduates and deploying them to various government establishments and private organizations for national service is not enough. NYSC should be scaled up. The quasi employments given to corps members by public and private organizations should be recognized and accepted as mentoring and apprenticeship engagements which are meant to prepare them for real employment after service. If NYSC is redesigned to function as a mentorship and apprenticeship scheme, it will increase the chances of graduates to secure decent and sustainable jobs after youth service.
The inclusion of Technical Skills Acquisition disguised as entrepreneurship programme into NYSC scheme reveals the sickly state of HEIs in the country. Where graduates are now subjected to such trainings like bead and soap making, computer training (ICT), tailoring, cloth dying and coloring, welding, animal husbandry, etc, in order to become self-employed speaks ill of our efforts in tackling graduate unemployment. Pushing graduates into self-employment will only amount to a waste of scarce resources.
Self-employment is not entrepreneurship, and acquiring technical skills cannot make one an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship may lead to self-employment but it is not self-employment. So, if NYSC plans to improve graduate employability, it should initiate a “pure” Graduate Entrepreneurship Programme. Graduates should be ‘pulled’ into entrepreneurship and not ‘pushed’.
Graduate attitude to some type of jobs and sometimes their location may lead to unemployment. To minimize graduate unemployment due to the above factor, it is expedient to make entrepreneurship education an integral part of HEIs’ curricula across the nation. And this will positively affect the search behaviour of employers and job seekers in relation to work and business.
Globalization has flattened the world. Big corporations around the world are relying heavily on technology in order to stay and remain competitive in the global marketplace. And this is why HEIs in developed countries are working in collaboration with Multi-national and Transnational Companies to develop graduates through entrepreneurship as a career option which gives them the opportunity to set up enterprises that produce goods and offer services to the public. Nigerian HEIs should learn to collaborate with large companies in the country to enable them develop graduates suitable for the available jobs in such companies. I make bold to say that no matter how important technologies are, the human capital still rank first in the scale of production inputs.
Rural- urban migration is mainly a result of unemployment and less its cause. Lack of adequate physical infrastructural development has affected the economies of most rural communities in the country thus making it difficult for them to create economic opportunities and decent and sustainable employment for the teeming population of HEI graduates. Physical development plans in Nigeria are biased against rural communities. Plans to develop the rural communities are not well articulated. Rural electrification and road construction are not enough to spur real economic activities in the rural communities. Effective rural economic development policies are required to reinvigorate the economies of rural communities in the country. Such economic policies should include rural entrepreneurship development.
Rural-urban migration may only lead to an increase in the number of graduate unemployment and not cause it.
Formal – informal sector differentials may cause graduate unemployment (underemployment), and as well, be a creation of graduate unemployment. There has been an increase in the growth of the informal sector of the Nigerian economy due to massive unemployment amongst the people. Unemployed Nigerians, especially young graduates, are being pushed into self-employment and necessity entrepreneurship which make up the activities in the informal sector of the economy. Economic activities in the informal sector are less regulated and thus cheap to initiate. It is easy for HEI graduates to enter the labour market through the informal sector than it is through the formal. The formal sector loss is the informal sector gain. And these differentials are results of graduate unemployment than the causes.
However, the Nigerian government can reduce the formal-informal sector differentials by initiating policies and programmes aimed at transforming economic activities in the informal sector to the formal through entrepreneurship. Enterprises with potentials for high-growth can be identified and assisted to transit and participate in the formal sector thus creating economic opportunities and hence decent and sustainable jobs for HEI graduates.
Until we deal with the root cause of graduate unemployment in the country, attending to the symptoms will yield no tangible results.
In conclusion, I would like submit that the introduction of entrepreneurship education to graduates as an integral part of their courses will increase their chances in securing decent and sustainable jobs before and immediately after graduation. A “pure” entrepreneurship education will help HEI graduates to become ‘wage-providers’ instead of being ‘wage-takers’. The Nigerian government should promote and encourage entrepreneurship among public servants. Public policies and programmes should be entrepreneurial and innovative. Rural economic development should be promoted, encouraged and supported through entrepreneurship. And a formal-informal sector transit policy should be enacted to minimize the growth of the informal sector in expense of the formal.