President Muhammadu Buhari’s comments at 13th Convocation ceremony of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, early last month was spot on, not because they revealed something we don’t already know but because they exposed Nigeria’s inadequacies in a profoundly disturbing way.
The president was quoted as telling Nigerian graduates that earning a university degree was no longer enough to compete in the marketplace and he’s correct. For some time, relatively fresh graduates who are mentally tough have operated by the maxim: ‘go to school, graduate; then drop your certificate and hustle like a dropout’. It looks like that it the new formula for success in Nigeria, and in other parts of the world, I must add. There is already evidence, from other places, that job skills are more relevant than university education in the marketplace. In other words, if you studies Mass Communication, upon graduation you must invest in social media, digital media or digital marketing. If Computer Science, then in coding, cybersecurity or ethical hacking.
The marketplace is much more difficult than it used to be. It used to be the case that multinationals would go to universities looking for fresh graduates. In those days – certainly before I graduated in 1988 – some of those graduates walked into corporate jobs with official cars and other perks to boot. And we’re talking of the likes of Unilever and UACN, some of the best places to work in those days. Those who did not get into those multinationals didn’t do too bad either as a car loan of less than N600 enabled even teachers to own brand new cars. If you graduated around the time I did, things were already changing and it is strange that those have missed those changes. One of the early signs that things were changing, even then, was the fact that I missed the Oyo State bursary enjoyed by some at the University of Ibadan who were only two years ahead of our set. I noted it and made sure that I remembered it.
If our time post-graduation was not as easy as the 60s to 80’s, it certainly wasn’t as bad as it is now. Serving in Kaduna State in 1988 to 1989, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) allowance was only N500 and we all lived on that. In those days, you had to be choosy to not get a job immediately after school. It took me some effort to get into the media but I had a state teaching job, which allowed me time to attend the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) and hunt for job as a reporter. That effort in itself is evidence of the changing times; and I know for a fact that even beginning from then, people were already spending months at home before getting into the workforce. Well, all that was three decades ago and we’re in interesting times indeed, which is why I agree that the president is spot on to advise fresh graduates that their degrees in themselves do not equate to automatic meal tickets.
Today, even for those lucky to get the jobs, entry-level pay is N70,000 or N80,000 in banks, hitherto regarded as one of the best places to work; and you would now in most cases spend 4-5 years on a level before promotion to the next. And many lack the skills and the mental toughness to break out; the system having failed to prepare them for pretty little else. The many cases of suicide, growing incidence of Internet fraud and marketing of flesh on Instagram and other platforms are all suggestive of ill-prepared youths seeking ways to make it in an increasingly tough marketplace.
However, and this is the worrying thing, either because a lot of people have missed the change or misjudged the import of it, what I am seeing is that we are producing graduates who are ill-prepared for the marketplace, and find no support system to acquire the necessary skills. As News Editor, Business Editor and Deputy Editor at the Punch Newspaper in the early 2000s; I was privileged to have been involved in recruitment processes and the experience even then was that many were leaving school without the necessary skills to enable them compete in the market place. I mean, you would have people coming in with 2:1 from good schools, yet did not have the requisite skills.
If the president is correct in his assessment that a university degree no longer offers an automatic meal ticket, I doubt if one can say the same of his comment that university degrees and diplomas equips new graduates with ‘the competence to grapple with the ever-changing challenges of life of which youth unemployment is a vexatious part’. Really? How?
The school system, with the possible exception of a few bright spots, is failing to move with the times. While the workplace is changing, our curricula has failed to keep pace. Figures are difficult to come by but the digital disruption that has shaken up the economy the world over is changing things in Nigeria as well. In the time of this change, it’s amazing that our schools are still offering Classics and Philosophy as undergraduate courses instead of Social Media or Digital Marketing, which are more relevant today. Don’t misunderstand me, South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand also offers an undergraduate Philosophy programme in the Humanities Faculty but the school also offers a BA Digital Arts-Game Design, which prepares students for a career combining art, writing and coding to create actual games; from card and board games all the way through to full video games. Oxford University also offers Philosophy combined with either Computer Science, Mathematics, or politics and economics among others. However, the school’s Internet Institute does offer a course in one of the in-demand areas of today’s economy, Data Science.
No disrespect, but some skills are more relevant in the marketplace. I find it interesting that the University of Ghana offers Post Harvest Technology as an undergraduate course, while the University of Ibadan has retained courses like Crop Protection, as well as Agronomy and Horticulture. Why are we not thinking of what to do with the tomatoes, corn, mangoes and other seasonal cash crops to help farmers make more from their produce? It looks to me like others are moving faster than us in terms of designing programmes that better prepare our youths for the marketplace and it’s showing in the courses offered in those schools. If other higher institutions were to start designing programmes like that Pan Atlantic University (PAU), which launched its M.sc in Film Production to produce industry-ready graduates, we should be getting back on track. With the size of our music and film industry, it’s unbelievable that only PAU is offering this sort of programme. To fail to what the marketplace needs is to fall further behind, Imagine a degree in music production or sound engineering! The University of Westminster in London offers Music Business Management and Music: Production, Performance and Enterprise at the graduate level.
We’re heading into the fourth industrial revolution, which will see technology becoming more embedded in our daily lives through new forms of machine intelligence and it’s interesting to imagine where Nigeria would be if it were to continue at the current pace. If we consider programme design in our schools, and the opportunity to learn the skills required in the present marketplace, there’s no doubt we’re way behind other countries even in Africa. Just think about this, if you will, the World Economic Forum (WEF) in a 2006 report found that the most in-demand occupations or specialties in most economies and industries did not exist 10 or even five years before. With the fourth industrial revolution, that pace of change is certain to accelerate, the WEF warned. Some estimates are that that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist. Scary, isn’t it? It won’t be if you were to help the youths and the coming generation learn coding, which is certain to be the language of most of those jobs.
Which is why I said earlier that the Awka comments exposes our inadequacies in profound ways. Yes, the president said the Federal Government remains committed to ‘tackling the challenges of youth unemployment and underemployment through a matrix of initiatives,’ but how really does that change our present approach? I get the sense that others understand this far better than us and therefore are making better preparations. I know the likes of Andela, Microsoft, Google and Facebook have programmes to introduce our youths to coding and the potentials of ICT, but while those are commendable, they are grossly inadequate. Coding being the language of the new economy and of the fourth industrial revolution, I see that South Africa is making better preparations than Nigeria with coding academies available everywhere.
In all campuses, there are even opportunities for free classes, which I find really interesting. Just two other examples, from industries I am presently exploring, to show that youths in other places are better prepared for the marketplace than ours and I’m done. The personal development industry is worth at least $10 billion and is one of the fastest-growing sectors yet you won’t get any formal training anywhere in Nigeria. By contrast, I have found two programmes, one at the South African College of Applied Psychology (PG Diploma in Coaching) and the other at the University of Cape Town (Executive and Management Coaching) that I believe offer those kinds of skills that are needed in the marketplace, and which helps those with the right skills to tap into the $10 billion business. I’m also impressed by the ready availability of free training for forex trading, even inside campuses in South Africa. Considering this is a $5 trillion a day industry, and that you could even trade from an application on your phone and you have to wonder why we’re not guiding our youths in this direction. They are adept with smartphones and social media, why not use it to make money?
All said and done, everyone is responsibility for his or her life, after all that’s the story of Nigeria, where most people are used to building their own house, providing their own water, and in most cases generating their own power. Whatever your industry, getting a job is just the beginning; be sure to reinvent yourself with up-to-date training otherwise the marketplace will punish you. Ensure you’re working more on yourself than you’re working for others by making those investments in training. What this implies is that every parent and guardian owes it a duty to properly advise those over whom they exercise influence on what needs to be done to be prepared for the marketplace. I am doing that with those under my direct influence. Those young folks lose it when they feel they’re not prepared for the marketplace and I am persuaded that this is one reason why we’re hearing of suicides among the young. Nigerian youths are bright but they need to be properly guided for them to flourish. If only they could channel the creativity and energy they deploy to play, to training and preparation for the marketplace, they will end up with better results. And just before you think you’re limited because training costs money, you will get plenty free courses at Coursera
Watching the clip of those two teenagers who called out Chidinma, the upcoming music artiste because she refused them a chance for a selfie, I was impressed. They spoke nicely, were comfortable doing a live video as they walked away from the scene of the incident involving the artiste, but then I thought – what a wasted time and effort? Check, Instagram and you’ll see other Kardashian-wannabes. Why not use that time and effort to learn a new skill?
Indeed, why not?