Technical Education For Youth Unemployment

Posted: September 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Guardian Editorial

The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s report to the effect that unemployment among youth globally has shown no sign of improvement for three years now is alarming. As a country, Nigeria needs no warning from the organisation to appreciate the problem. The ILO report, however, provides an opportunity to ponder the relationship between policy, youth employment and economic growth in Nigeria. More focused attention on technical attention will be a critical part of the solution to the problem of youth employment.

In its publication, the Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012, ILO emphasised that youth unemployment remains as high as it was during the peak of the global financial crisis in 2008/2009 and is likely to remain stuck at this level until at least 2016. In 2012, 12.7 per cent of young people looking for jobs cannot find any. The figure for Sub-Saharan Africa, at 11.5 %, is lower on account of the area’s limited links to global networks of investment, production and trade, which are currently undergoing stress. The ILO report noted that global youth unemployment would be as high as 13.7% if youths who have decided to stay longer in education or not to look for jobs as a result of the tight employment market are considered. It notes that youth unemployment can be reduced only if it becomes a key priority in policy-making.

Unemployment in Nigeria currently stands at about 23.9 % with youth unemployment accounting for over 50%. The scourge is structural in nature, owing more to a host of policy distortions and problems of political governance than to temporary disruptions in the domestic or international economy. For instance, Nigeria is over-administered; billions are spent on political appointees and civil servants in 36 States, 774 local governments and countless federal ministries, and agencies that duplicate one another’s function. Jobs will be created by using funds spent on administration for instance to employ agriculture extension workers whose work actually lead to a boost in the production of food and cash crops. Nevertheless, the problem of youth unemployment requires specific solutions, which lie principally in changing the structure of and the incentives embedded in the education system.

It used to be the case that Nigerian university graduates could pick up jobs and a car loan in the public service or at a private company almost immediately after graduation. The personal return to an investment in a university degree was not this generous in many other countries. That was why Asians flocked to Nigeria to work. University education for many guaranteed a means of securing a comfortable life rather than impart skills required for the nation’s economic advancement. Nigeria, like most African countries, trained the wrong mix of graduates, having only 23 science and engineering graduates per 100,000 people in 1985 compared with 306 in Latin America. Artificial growth in the private sector employment was driven by unsustainable government expenditure and high exchange rates, which enabled industries to procure inputs that could have been developed locally.

The economy can be made more efficient; and more jobs and income generated if the authorities train young people in accordance with what the economy needs and can afford. There are too many young people in too many universities studying too many courses with little relevance to the requirements of the society. The World Bank issued an alert on this problem in the 1980s, a warning that was erroneously interpreted as being anti-education investment. It is distressing that governments continue to promise and establish new universities without addressing this discrepancy. Where are the jobs for the thousands of graduates every year? Many of them are only interested in white-collar jobs?

While thousands of young Nigerians chase degrees the economy cannot generate jobs for, oil and gas companies have to hire welders and other technicians from abroad. Many industries cannot find skilled employees; good carpenters and tile installers are being sourced from neighbouring countries, while companies have to retrain graduates to make them employable. Many graduates are satisfied with being underemployed, doing jobs that do not necessarily require university training to be performed well. The prevailing situation presents waste, and imposes costs on everyone, including government’s subsidy on educational institutions.

Nigeria needs to develop a system of technical-vocational education that will train young people to become proficient in the skills the economy requires: carpentry, wielding, accounting, auto mechanics, fashion design, photography, plumbing etc. The training should cover students with primary school qualification and those who would otherwise seek admission into universities. Regulation would be required to ensure that only graduates of this system can be hired for or offer most services designated as technical; and they should be remunerated appropriately. Government should implement initiatives to make technical education rewarding and attractive to the young. Elite schools can be established with apprenticeships arranged in leading firms as part of the course. Government contracts could be given to only companies who employ graduates of the technical schools.

University education needs to be much more about quality than quantity. The best graduates should be encouraged to lecture. Poor but highly talented students should get scholarships, including for the humanities. Structural reforms are required to significantly reduce youth and overall unemployment in Nigeria. But to specifically address youth employment also requires deep structural changes to the country’s education policies, which need to be backed by regulations by the Ministry of Trade and Commerce. The Ministry should work closely with existing artisanal and trade associations. The concerned agencies should face the challenge of planning, and the flexibility to design the policies, as well as coordinate with each other to achieve maximum employment.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s