NYSC and Nigeria’s economic development plan: A human resources perspective

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), mobilized approximately 300,000 graduates in 2017. The federal budget allocation for the scheme in 2017 was 83.9 billion Naira (N105 billion in 2018). The cost for each NYSC graduate in 2017 could be estimated at N280, 000. This is the learning, development and skills acquisition budget for each graduate funded by the Nigerian government.

In 2017, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning issued the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), a medium-term plan for 2017 – 2020, which was developed to restore the country’s economic growth. The ERGP was built on existing sectorial strategies and other plans such as the National Industrial Revolution Plan. It seeks to focus on six (6) priority sectors to push Nigeria’s economic growth – Agriculture, Power/Utilities, Manufacturing, Solid Minerals, Oil & Gas and Services sectors (including construction, telecommunications, financial services, information technology, education and health.

The ERGP encourages investment in Nigerians by increasing social inclusion, creating jobs and improving the human capital base of the economy. It identifies the need to leverage science, technology and innovation to build a knowledge-based economy, while recognizing the current shortage of requisite skills in the various sectors. The ERGP aims to build a globally competitive economy by promoting digital-led growth and building skills in information technology, software development, programming, network development and cyber security, to name a few.

The Plan also highlights that Nigerian youths account for a majority of the unemployed and underemployed populace, a situation likely to get worse as population continues to grow. In view of this, how then does the current NYSC scheme feed into Nigeria’s economic development plans? With more than 10 million young Nigerians unemployed, NYSC caters for only about 250,000 to 300,000 graduates annually. At this level of operations, what transformative impact does the scheme have on our national and economic development, given an annual investment of billions of Naira by the federal government?

One of the objectives of NYSC is to contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy. Therefore, if skills and talents are the engine of Nigeria’s economic growth, how well has the NYSC fulfilled this objective? Given our youth population, considered one of the highest in the world, the inadequate and irrelevant skills and expertise of young Nigerians can therefore, be partially responsible for Nigeria’s slow growth rate and achievements. NYSC could therefore be the appropriate vehicle for retooling and retraining our graduates to better prepare them to contribute to the needs of the economy.

According to the NYSC policy, the Directorate is to deploy graduates for service to organizations in states (other than their own) for their primary assignments and recommends that posting should be based on area of expertise and available vacancies. Today, owing to the huge number of corps members and the dearth of suitable organizations, the postings have become very challenging. This is mainly because, corps members with the right connection and financial capacity buy their way into the choicest places while majority of the unlucky corps members, face unbearable situations as they are posted to ill-equipped farms, dilapidated schools and run down government agencies without recourse to their areas of expertise, interests or career aspirations. Notwithstanding the current challenges being faced by the service corps, it should not be allowed to erode its enormous benefits, as it is one of the agencies of government in Nigeria that has significant potential to be relevant in the national quest for economic development.

Naturally these suboptimal conditions impact on the ability of the NYSC to contribute effectively to our human capital development with dire short and long-term consequences and raises several pertinent questions. Are there other ways to achieve the objectives of NYSC in such a way that maximum participation is encouraged and it is beneficial to the corps members and the nation? Is it possible for NYSC to restructure its approach with less emphasis on military related activities and focus more on the acquisition of skills relevant to our economic growth and areas of competitive advantage? Is it possible to invest more of the annual allocation to provide quality training and development for our graduates interested in teaching before placing them in the classroom? Is it possible to provide a year of vocational skills training in construction related activities? Is it possible to retool our graduates and equip them with modern technological knowledge and skills in the agricultural sector? Is it possible to teach and train some graduates in coding, programming and technology related skills needed to build the digital economy?

Several other countries around the world, like Turkey and Greece, have existing mandatory service programs for their youth (both graduate and non-graduates) between the ages of 18 and 45. The main objective being for nation building and increasingly for national defense. Turkish and Greek military forces are made up of 70% and 77% conscript respectively. This military conscription is also seen as a way of educating young citizens, teaching them national and civic values, necessary to foster nation building. As a way of reforming the service in these countries, there are options for paid exemption for resident and non-resident citizens and the funds generated are used to boost the economy and strengthen the defense industry. In Mexico, for example, students enrolled in higher education are required to engage in mandatory 480 hours of work over a period of six to twelve months.  It is estimated that approximately 780,000 higher education students complete more than 374.4 million hours of service every year.

In Ghana, the National Service Scheme (NSS) has progressed beyond merely dispersing graduates to public institutions and establishments. Whilst still principally providing manpower to the established institutions of the national economy, the NSS is also engaged in searching for answers to the teething questions surrounding the strategies of development in various aspects of national life. Currently, the scheme effectively deploys personnel from both public and private tertiary institutions across the country. The NSS collaborates with user agencies to ensure that rural communities derive maximum benefits from the expertise of young engineers, doctors, social scientist, lawyers, artisans, accountants, nurses and educators, amongst others who constitute the core of human resources deployed annually by the scheme.

The impact of technological advancement on the future of work is a major concern for many business leaders. In today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, many organizations are faced with very complex and unpredictable competitive landscapes and disruptors, who are creating new industries and business models and destroying old ones. According to the Future of Work Report by Deloitte, 57% of jobs globally are vulnerable to automation. As the world of work changes, there will be greater demands for cognitive, creative and problem-solving skills. Therefore, it is essential for Nigerian youths to be globally relevant in the future; they will need to reskill for this new reality. To avoid us training for jobs that may soon be extinct and prepare our youths for new evolving skillsets, a future-focused NYSC can be at the fore of reimagining and building a workforce for tomorrow; youths who can adapt and learn quickly in a dynamic and constantly changing environment.

Competition for top talent within organizations remains intense as the average timeframe to hire good, skilled personnel is between 90 to180 days for most organizations. Therefore, in the interest of business continuity, it is natural for many organizations, in search of a “quick fix,” to rely on imported skills and the use of expatriation to close this looming gap. In the last 10 to 15 years, with the advent of targeted career fairs and social media recruiting, Nigerians in the diaspora have provided succor for businesses looking to attract and recruit top talent. With many in the diaspora looking to return to Nigeria and contribute to society, several companies have been quick to capitalize on this interest by offering attractive resettlement packages.  For many potential ‘returnees,’ the NYSC year is often a deterrent and, in several cases, these plans fall through in the interest of legal compliance on the part of the company and the inability of the returnee to navigate the inflexibility of our systems. The requirement for Nigerians in the diaspora to return home to build the critical sectors of our economy cannot be achieved successfully given the current requirements stipulated in the NYSC regulations. A deliberate effort by NYSC to make reintegration into the country easier for these returnees will go a long way in complimenting the investment businesses are already making.

So perhaps NYSC needs to be more flexible in its operations and management and be more responsive to the outcry made by the public and be more flexible in executing their mandate. Whatever the case, it makes sense, with the prevailing reality to reform the NYSC scheme to make it beneficial to both resident and non-resident Nigerians who can return home and imminently supplement our human capital. We believe it starts with redefining the vision and objectives of NYSC, as well as its mode of execution, so it clearly addresses Nigeria’s human capital development needs. The NYSC needs to fully embrace technology in order to lead us effectively on this journey. Technological advancement gives the organization an opportunity to revamp the entire program, giving it a holistic reform so it can meet the challenges of recent times and ideally help it to be more efficient, productive and properly positioned to function as a tool for economic development.

An increase in the development and implementation of community projects is an effective way for graduates to acquire new skills as it creates employment opportunities, instills self-esteem and positive character development. It is worth noting that a significant number of youth corpers who pass through the program are “Generation Z.” Born in the 1990s, they are by nature entrepreneurs, digital natives who value creativity, meaningful work and want to make a positive impact on society. The NYSC is therefore a great platform for unleashing the potential of our graduates to grow these emerging skills to become the next generation of global leaders and change agents.

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