Why small skilled labour must be professionalised

SKill---CopyMORE than 40 per cent of the unemployed and underemployed in Nigeria engage in small-skilled labour or what some term as unskilled or hard labour and these people are potentially vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, discriminations, and seldom used to perpetuate crimes.

Heroes are also those young people who reject the myth of their generation apathy, and endure all the hardships to earn their living legally. Refusing to take shortcuts, and remain contented with their little income.

When I look at these brave young people, I do not only see bricklayers, labourers, plumbers, electricians, commercial motorcyclists, security guards, and pushers of wheelbarrow, etc. what I see are nation builders, service providers, highly-skilled labourers and movers of the economy.

Some might consider them as unskilled or semi-skilled labourers, but the nation will realise how inelastic their services are, when these groups of small-skilled labourers organise themselves and go for a month’s strike; it is then we will realise that we cannot build the houses we live in, we can’t fix electric issues in our houses, we can’t push our loads in the parks or market places, and we can’t do the hard labour in other construction works.  Then the whole country will stand still. That is the least you can imagine how important these small-skilled labourers are. 

Imagine a young man spending 30 years doing hard labour, many times underpaid and exploited, and yet he endures. This same young man will build tenths of houses, offices and roads, and when he gets old and is no longer having the strength to do these jobs, he gets nothing to feed himself and his family, and he eventually resorts to begging to sustain his life.

His greatest asset, his strength, is exhausted.  Why can’t he receive pension allowances in appreciation for his service to the nation? I think some of these young men deserve better pension scheme and wage package than some of the negligent government workers and politicians.  

In some developed countries, small-skilled labourers earn high pay. In those places their services are appreciated and recognised. For example, in the United Kingdom, the wage for every handyman is regulated and standardised according to locations. A bricklayer gets about N100 per brick laid, and handyman doing odd jobs gets N5,600 per hour, gas heating boiler services are paid N16,800 etc. 

These are regulated for London location, therefore, clients cannot cheat or exploit their service providers, and vice versa. This also helps in predicting cost of production. These are usually reviewed timely to accommodate market changes. By regulating and standardising small-skilled jobs, unemployed young graduates will then start estimating how much they would be losing for every one hour lost doing nothing.

They would then realise that, they only need a particular skill to earn certain amount of money in one hour or per load of work/service. This will attract young people to learn skills despite the tonnes of their educational certificates. 

Therefore, regulating and standardising the wages for small skilled labourers as well as creation of their unique health and pension scheme will motivate young people to engage in skills acquisitions. These hard labour or small-skilled jobs should be professionalised, someone who spent three years working as a plumber or electrician should be considered as having a professional work experience for three years.

He can add that to his CV. They should be encouraged to set up an organisation, which will register all members engaged in these types of jobs. Their organisation will be protecting and advocating for their interests, and will provide frequent trainings and ensure improvement of quality of their work/services. 

Their organisation will receive certain incentives to subsidise their work and to help reduce charge rates. These incentives will be shared among its members. The government will set requirements for every small-skilled workers’ association, which might include significance, charge rate, quality of work, decency of the workers, compliance to standard and regulations etc. 

If young people engaged in these small-skilled jobs are recognised as professionals and they receive attractive wages, the percentage of youth unemployed will be reduced by at least 20 per cent. Therefore, in an effort to reduce unemployment and poverty, small-skilled labour should be professionalised.

Educational institutional curriculum should also provide a wide range of vocational and technical skills, so that young graduates may not have to learn these skills after their education, they can automatically start providing services immediately after their studies, and they do not have to wait for government jobs.

• Adamu is an economist and chairperson, Commonwealth Youth Council.

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