When we had Youth Round Table Discussion with the Nigerian Senate President in October 2017, I made some comments regarding unemployment, which I would like to expatiate below.
As at last quarter of 2016, the Nigerian unemployment rate was 14.2%, which means in every 100 Nigerians at least 14 of them are unemployed, which means they are capable and willing to get a job, but they cannot get one. Policy makers and commentators usually rely on this misleading indicator, which is why most of unemployment policies do not work. The reported unemployment rate is discriminating, misleading, and conservative, because, it left out large number of other people who do not have job.
There are people who are willing to get job, but they are not capable to get one, there are others who are not capable and not willing to get job due to some conditions, and there are others who have a job that is equivalent to none. These set of people could be a liability to the economy and detrimental to the overall welfare of the economy, but many times they are excluded in designing and implementing policies or programmes in addressing unemployment. They need intervention too, and if they are not considered, the resultant negativity from their conditions will outweigh the resultant benefits of the interventions on the narrowed targeted unemployed. And that is why unemployment has continued to be an issue for every administration. Accounting for these three missing set of people, real unemployment rate in Nigeria can reach up to 60%.
Let us start with the first excluded set of people- Those that are willing to get job, but are not capable or qualified to get job. Due to change in structure of the economy and fast paced civilisation and technology, many Jobs became outdated and no longer required, while new jobs suitable for new opportunities have emerged, but due to unreflective school curriculums and lack of willingness to learn, many job opportunities cannot be explored or acquired. The skills mismatch created unnecessary unemployment. So, failure to track structural change or labour market demand has made many employment creation policies unproductive. Therefore, policies must be framed to activate those latent job opportunities.
The second set of people are those that due to their background or societal expectations, they are not willing, neither capable to get a job. These exclude children, but include people like street beggars, widows, elderly people, sick people, physically challenged people, hopeless people etc. These set of people require strategic and special intervention, and they should not be excluded in designing policies or programmes. And this is why many employment policies have not been very effective, because it was not inclusive.
The last discriminated group are those people that have a job that is equivalent to nothing, because, they earn so little that they cannot sustain themselves for a week with their income. When you see these people, they would not look much different from the previous two groups. As inflation increases, these people become poorer due to their static income, as such policies should be in place to accommodate these set of semi-unemployed people. Wages should be proportionate to inflation, and by years spent on a job. Alternatively, these set of people can fall under interventions that prepare them for much more competitive jobs.
In addressing unemployment, we have to look into the root cause of it. Increasing unproductive and inefficient population can make all employment policies ineffective. What economy wants is additional capable and quality population. Adding low quality population will add more burden to the economy. It is important to revisit how we manage our abundant and ever increasing population strategically; otherwise Law of diminishing return will apply or is applicable in Nigeria. To put it into perspective, it is like a manufacturing company employing and paying for labourers that can barely produce one product in a month. The company will soon become bankrupt.
In addition to the growing unproductive population, most people wait and expect from government to fix their problems or provide solutions to their unemployment. Failure of people to take responsibility of their situations made it impossible for government to fix everybody. Therefore, policies must be in place to enforce learning and self responsibility. People must create vision and commit to becoming self reliant, and this can only be possible if people are willing to learn and acquire knowledge and skills. This does not mean acquiring certificates, but relevant information and capacity to make them productive or employable.
Emphasis on certificates when it comes to recruitment in public and private sectors is what led to the chronic and rising unemployment in Nigeria. The competition should be on skills and ability, not just on a paper. People do not carry papers along; they carry their brains and hands. So, invest and appreciate brains and hands, not papers. Leaders and employers should be rewarding skills not just qualification, we shall be asking what can we do, not what qualification we have. How much we receive as income should be based on what we can do, not the degrees we have.
This brings the need for changing values especially among young Nigerians. The young generation should focus on value addition and improving their personal capacity and skills, not chasing for wealth at all cost. If we do that, we will improve the quality of our lives, create jobs and the wealth will come naturally. We will have to go out of our comfort zone, get rid of egoism, take menial jobs, learn little skills, and be willing to acquire relevant education and skills.
Education budgets are also discriminating, because it targets only those that go to school, while education funds are supposed to be for all including non-schooling population. This is the genesis of rising unemployment, knowledge acquisition is for all, and once some groups are excluded from education, they are then prepared for unemployment. Similarly, educational curriculums have been outdated, and schools now produce graduates for the jobs that no longer exist. So, there is need for review of curriculums and a shift from theory based teaching to skills and practical based teaching approaches.
Finally, empowerment programmes should not be discriminated too, they should not be limited to only those with certificates or ability to write convincing language, but to those that have genuine ideas and skills even if they cannot access internet or write an application. Poor infrastructure, especially lack of stable electricity supply will continue to hinder any employment policy. Small skilled labour should be professionalized, so that when people engage in such small skill labour work, it will be counted as part of their professional work experience, and the wages for small skill labour should be standardised and regulated. Most importantly, every individual must commit to work on his/her personal development and improving his/her capacities and capabilities, without this, no policy or intervention will make difference in the lives of the people.
Dr. Ahmed Adamu
University Lecturer (Economics), Umaru Musa Yar’adua University Katsina,
Development Expert, Leadership and Personal Development Coach,
First Elected Global President of Commonwealth Youth Council,