Why role-relevant qualifications must be part of Job crisis solution

Aerial view of buildings and markets on Lagos Island.

Nigeria is grappling with a growing jobs crisis, with national unemployment at 14 per cent after rising steadily for the past two years – meaning that over 11 million Nigerians ready and willing to work are jobless.

Unless something changes, this situation looks likely to get worse. Relentless technological advances threaten to render whole groups of workers in the country redundant in the coming years. In April the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, warned that developing countries, including Nigeria, will be badly affected.

Addressing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC in April, Mr Kim said: “We estimate that two-thirds of all jobs that currently exist in developing countries will be wiped out by automation… We have to think very seriously about what investments we need to make right now in order to prepare ourselves for the economy of the future. And for developing countries, definitely one of the most important things is more investment in human capital.”

Unemployment is highest among the young, with over 8 million of the 11 million unemployed in the third quarter of 2016 aged 15 to 34. If the youth of Nigeria are to have any chance of prosperity in the future when they enter the job market, they must urgently acquire role-relevant skills.

In a bid to avert this crisis, the government announced the N-Power Programme last year. N-Power aims at drastically reducing youth unemployment, focusing on providing young people with the skills and tools to enable them to find skilled jobs in a wide range of sectors.

Major corporations have stepped in to assist as well. In February 2017 IBM announced a US$70 million initiative to provide free digital skills training for 25 million African youth over five years, in a bid to create a tech-savvy workforce and nurture innovation on the continent.

The “IBM Digital – Nation Africa” initiative will see free skills training provided over a cloud-based platform offering a range of programmes from basic IT literacy to highly sought-after advanced IT skills including social engagement, digital privacy, and cyber protection.

Google also announced in March that it had reached the one million milestone in its Digital Skills Africa programme–and that 500,000 of those trained in digital skills were young Nigerians.

But whilst ensuring learning is accessible and relevant for young people in the digital age, initiatives such as these will not on their own end the jobs crisis until professionals in mid-level jobs start gaining the training and qualifications they need to get promoted or hired into more senior roles, making way for the younger generation. Careers are no longer linear and re-training in order to compete throughout our working lives is more important than ever.

While arming young people with entry-level skills is a crucial first step, especially in the short term, an important part of the long-term solution must be professional role-relevant training and assessment.

There is clearly a potential solution that had until recently been notably absent from conversations about how to solve the skills crisis: the development of new role-relevant assessments, qualifications and certification.

In other words, the solution may begin rather than end with professional training and role-relevant assessment. There are not enough professional assessment pathways available throughout a career, and of those available–whether locally or globally– there is still an over-reliance on the 2,000-year-old assessment method of pen-and-paper testing when more advanced and flexible assessment methods are now available and could transform professional education in Nigeria.

E-testing offers a flexible model of exam delivery that could make all the difference in Nigeria – a cost-effective and convenient way for busy professionals to get certified and step up the career ladder. Such systems allow the creation of a test centre network across the country, so instead of having to travel to a distant exam hall many miles away on one particular day they can attend a local assessment centre whenever they choose, saving time and money.

This added convenience could tip the balance in persuading busy professionals to get certified and upgrade their credentials.

Certification achieved through assessment can work in a number of ways, including identifying the right candidates during higher education applications and ensuring specific skill sets are relevant to a given industry – allowing for upward career progression, which creates opportunities for potential new employees.

Taking healthcare as an example, validation of skills can mean the difference between life and death – where gaining a certification can prove a surgeon or a doctor has the required skills to save lives and treat serious illnesses.

A survey of 3,000 nurses and managers by the American Board of Nursing Specialties found that certification was highly valued. The driving force for certification was not salary, but recognition and confidence in their ability from peers and patients. It is these factors which form the ultimate argument for workplace accreditation – dispelling a myth among some employers that if staff get certified they will try to find a new job with a higher salary.

As well as confirmation of aptitude and ability, there is a further important role for certification in elevating public protection. This allows the general public to have confidence that professionals performing key tasks across a range of sectors are properly qualified to undertake critical tasks. In the context of a skills crisis and a highly competitive global economy this needs to become more commonplace.

One common misconception is that e-testing means simply transferring a paper-based exam onto a computer screen. But it actually involves creating a complete end-to-end assessment service. This includes developing innovative exam content which is more relevant to real-world business scenarios, delivering the exam in a secure and professional environment and enabling sophisticated and swift exam reporting and analysis.

If the unemployment crisis in Nigeria is to be resolved, role-relevant skill assessment and certification could be part of the solution – allowing employees to boost their career prospects and make way for a new generation of young workers.

Lawanson is Business Development executive, EMEA at Pearson VUE, a global leader in computer-based testing.

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