Revving up efforts to solve problem of unemployable graduates

_Prof.-Olugbemiro-JegedeFor sometimes now, postgraduate institutions, and employers of labour, especially in the private sector, have decried the sub-optimal quality of some Nigerian graduates. As the trend assumes a worrisome dimension, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), has joined the fight to curb the rising cases of unemployable graduates. A recently commissioned survey, fingered the misalignment between the output of the educational system and the skills set required by the industry as one of the problems. It also suggests redesigning the nation’s education curriculum to stem unemployment, as well as placing less emphasis on paper qualification, as some steps that could stem the ugly tide. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY writes.

Frederick Idemudia (not real name) is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Now in the twilight of his glittering career, the legal luminary is perturbed by the quality of law graduates being introduced into the profession in recent times.

Most times, he wonders whether the new wigs-as those recently called to Bar are referred to, actually took the same route he and a host of his peers took to end up in the profession.

The sexagenarian is not alone in this bewilderment. A good number of senior lawyers are also in a quandary and have consequently introduced a series of tests/interviews, which the new wigs must pass before they are offered employments in established chambers.

In some of these chambers, having a law degree is not the only prerequisite for employment. The degree holder must have graduated in the first class division, or at worst, second-class upper division.

These tests/interviews ensure that the luminaries do not end up with a fait accompli, or hiring those they have to spoon-feed as against mentoring.

The proliferation of unemployable graduates is not the lot of the legal profession alone. Joseph Akah, owns a chain of stores that deals in assorted materials used majorly in the hospitality industry. He is alarmed that his newly employed store manager, a graduate of Business and Administrative Studies, finds it Herculean to put up a simple, four-paragraph internal memo, detailing items that need to be re-stocked.

This is happening after Udochukwu laid off the last manager over a similar inadequacy, including his inability to correctly spell names of goods he regularly supplies.

It is common knowledge that many professions in the country are grappling with the scarcity of adequate work-ready graduates. This development, some stakeholders opine, is as a result of the absence of a synergy between tertiary institutions and the end-users of their products- the labour market, as well as the obsolete curricula in use in the country.

At a recent career and entrepreneurship summit in Lagos, where the innumerable unpleasant consequences of the rising tide of unemployable graduates were enumerated, the issue elicited immense reactions from speakers.

Not too long ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria said in a report, that 80 per cent of Nigerian youths were without employment, while the International Labour Organisation (ILO) put its own estimate of unemployed Nigerians at 60 per cent, majorly between ages 17 and 25.

Even though experts are of the view that it is safe to settle for the median, or average of both figures, what is more worrisome in the scenario is the fact that in the midst of this swelling pool of unemployed youths, some graduates that consider themselves ready for employment are actually unemployable. This brings to the fore, the need to establish a nexus between what the labour market wants and what contemporary graduates lack.

Founding vice chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede, who spoke at the recent summit in Lagos, which had as its theme, “Curriculum Re-Examination, Skills Opportunities and the Dilemma of Academic Ambitions” said, “One of the current weaknesses in our educational system is the obsolete curricula being used in training students at the various levels of education, especially the tertiary education level.”

In his keynote address titled, “Curriculum Misfits, Reform Perspectives and Strategic Imperatives,” Jegede stressed that, “Our review of the various curricula being used at our institutions of higher learning has not kept pace with global development, research outcomes and current societal needs,” adding that, “It does appear as if we still use analogue thinking to solve current issues, which have gone digital.”

He lamented that, “Tertiary institutions are still producing graduates for the labour market without constant reviews of what the market requires. Industry therefore thinks that it has nothing to gain from the tertiary institutions. The curriculum review must aim for fit-for-purpose personnel to avoid wastage in resources and industry retraining graduates they hire from the tertiary institutions.”

The immediate past Secretary General and Chief Executive of the Association of African Universities said, “There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between academia and industry so that teaching, learning and research being done at the institutions match what is required by the action-oriented industry, driven by target and return on investment.”

While shedding light on steps to take to remedy the situation, and bridge the yawning skills gap in the society, Jegede had pointed out that, “More often than not, the skills required to function effectively in industry and the society are not taught at the tertiary level… There must be industry-ready collaborative partnership programmes with tertiary educational institutions to bridge the skills gap. The skills needed by graduates to function in the outside world and industries are not taught to graduates in our institutions that are increasingly becoming too theoretical. A number of things must be done to drive skills development and they consist of the following components: link with the labour market; public-private partnership; creativity and critical thinking; participation to engage stakeholders to develop strong education models; evidence-based programmes with built-in impact evaluation component to ensure that they are results-oriented and focused on quality and learning outcomes and, ICT-based to produce high-quality education and tap into new learning technologies.”

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), not only also saw things through Jegede’s prism, but also favourably disposed to curricula review, as a way of focusing on the development needs of the country.

In a paper titled, “Nations Are Built By Skills,” Officer in Charge (Regional Office), of the organisation, Dr. Chuma Ezedinma, said for the country to confront the current unemployment crisis, emphasis must be placed on education that support the development of technical and entrepreneurial skills and competencies. In this respect, there is need to re-align the schools curricula to focus on the development needs of the country. One important area is the re-alignment of the curricula to highlight the importance of skills training and entrepreneurship. In this respect, there is need to involve industries and strengthen public-private partnership in education. Improving employability requires closing the gap between the education and work worlds.

According to findings from the Managing National Unemployment Challenge Committee (MNUC) survey, at the behest of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), the sub-optimal quality of graduates tops the list of major causes of the high rate of unemployment in the country. In fact, on a scale of five, it has an average rating of 3.99, a figure that is considered quite high.

This development, merely confirms what experts have always known to be a key factor responsible for the appalling situation, where unemployable graduates far out number unemployed graduates in the labour market. The finding further notes that even if jobs were to be available, employers’ experience with some of their employees remain sour, as their performances on the job do not justify the qualifications they claim to possess.

Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu

Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu

Emphasis on paper qualification
The survey further revealed that emphasis on paper qualification, with less importance attached to skills acquisition, remains the single biggest factor that has fuelled desperate attempts by youths to pass examinations at all costs, including resorting to examination malpractice, even at primary and secondary school levels.

“Some years back, the issue of examination malpractice was largely a self-sponsored trip by errant students. Today, this highly ignoble exercise has the backing of several school authorities and hordes of parents. These days, morally bankrupt parents go as far as paying mercenaries to write major O’ Level examinations for their wards and children. It is common knowledge that once this caliber of pupils find their way into tertiary institutions, they just step up their games and work out a strategy that would see them graduate without much hassles. This is the category of graduates that go into the labour market brandishing certificates they cannot defend,” a worried stakeholder lamented.

The introduction of the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (post-UTME) by universities, which is now a subject of controversy, was meant to check the inexplicable situation in which people pass the Joint Admission and Matriculations Board (JAMB)-organised examination with high scores, secure admission into universities only to find it difficult, in some cases impossible, to cope with academic work in the universities.

The explains why the stiff resistance to the sustenance of the post-UTME is seen in some quarters as being masterminded by parents that are bent on ensuring their wards continue the passage into, and through the universities, with little or no effort, in terms of academic work.

Encouraging vocational, entrepreneurship education
In the last three or so decades, formulators of the nation’s educational policies have been subjected to severe criticism for deliberately designing educational curriculums for white-collar jobs, to the neglect of vocational training that would equip the youths for the much needed technological development of the country.

With most technical and vocational colleges around the country in comatose condition, the Federal Government’s later day posture of trying to encourage vocational and entrepreneurship education has been largely academic.

The military administration of the then General Olusegun Obasanjo promulgated Decree 33 of 1979 (amended by Decree 5 of 1993), to give legal backing for the establishment of federal polytechnics for the training of middle-level technological manpower for the nation’s industries. As a way of making the polytechnics attractive, the higher national diploma was rated at par with the university degree.

Unfortunately today, a dichotomy exists between university degrees and higher national diplomas, and employers of labour, both in the public and private sectors, are in favour of the former.

This development, the survey observes, has done a lot to drastically reduce the interest of Nigerian youths in polytechnic education. Matters are also not helped when youths perceive white-collar jobs as being more prestigious and therefore more respectable, while technical jobs in the factories are seen as demeaning and for dropouts who couldn’t acquire university education.

In recent times, the dichotomy has become so entrenched that in order to be relevant in the labour market, holders of the higher national diplomas now find it compelling to acquire masters’ degrees, preferably Masters’ of Business Administration, to stand any chance of securing good employment, especially when in contest with their university counterparts.

Righting the wrongs of curriculum design
The MNUC survey findings suggests an outright return to the basics, in other words, a more practical approach to curriculum design in order to impact the output of the educational system in line with industry demands.

This would in turn reduce what it calls structural unemployment, which accounts for a significant portion of the unemployed in the country. Structural unemployment is a situation where unemployment caused by a reduction in demand for goods and services, forces organisations to lay off workers, and the one, which involves workers leave their jobs in search of higher paying and more rewarding jobs, and linger in the labour market for a long time.

According to Emeritus Professor Pai Obanya, there is indeed a need for national and sub-national policy dialogues to develop coherent policy guidelines to ensure that interventions in the out-of-school population really lead to self-actualisation among the beneficiaries.

CIPM's President, Anthony Arabome

CIPM’s President, Anthony Arabome

On the effects of prolonged and increasing unemployment level in the country, he said, “Motivation for education and all self-improvement efforts become very low, with everyone asking the question ‘After schooling, what next.’ This is one explanation for the phenomenon of adolescent boys’ dissatisfaction with schooling, especially in the South East

On why it is important for government policies to address youth unemployment specifically, he said doing so would ultimately prevent the present youth bulge in our population from becoming a time-bomb.”

Asked to proffer solution to the persistent challenge of national unemployment, he said growing the economy is of tremendous importance to solving unemployment just as educating for employability is. This, he said, can be done through inculcating in the youths, the hard and soft skills needed for the world of work, not simply for the job market.

Commenting on the survey, President/Chairman of Governing Council of CIPM, Mr. Anthony Arabome, summarised that the survey findings call for a total overhaul of design and delivery in the nation’s institutions of higher learning.

Doing so, he stressed, would address the problem of misalignment between the output of the educational system, and the skills required by the nation’s industries – a factor that carried an average rating of 4.20 on a scale of five.

Redesigning of the education curriculum, he said, would also include reducing the emphasis on white-collar jobs, especially at a time the country is seeking to diversify its economy, to encourage involvement in such critical sectors such as agriculture and mining, as well as entrepreneurship.

He added that it would also be necessary to design a new curriculum that would give preference to skills acquisition, over paper qualification, as a way of curbing the misnomer of university graduates that cannot defend their certificates.

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