NIGERIA: Banks reject university graduates

Banks in Nigeria, hit hard by the recession, have been rationalising staff and telling graduates to accept a pay cut or be replaced. They have begun recruiting non-university graduates, especially holders of polytechnic diplomas, but trade unions have threatened industrial action if graduate salaries are reduced.

Many graduates during their compulsory one-year national youth service apply to banks for employment. Some posted to banks take advantage to scout for permanent jobs but this tradition has been affected by the economic and financial crisis, with banks no longer recruiting graduates.

Many banks are downsizing because foreign investors - including foreign banks - are withdrawing their investments because of the banking crisis in Europe and the Americas. Also, the volume of export of Nigerian raw materials has drastically fallen, shrinking foreign currency for banks. Consequently, banks have been substantially reducing costs and one way is to cut the pay of graduates.

"At the headquarters of my bank, the managing director called an emergency meeting of all employers and announced he was going to cut by half the salaries of graduates," said graduate Rebecca Steven. "He added that those who did not want a pay cut would be given all entitlements and sent away."

Most banks simultaneously advertised vacancies for holders of Ordinary National Diplomas, or ONDs, from polytechnics. Sources revealed the move was an attempt to reduce the salary bill given that the banks did not advertise for graduates.

"We did carry out an experiment on the level of efficiency and productivity of OND holders. Our employment consultants were of the opinion that these non-graduates are capable, for less pay, of handling most of the responsibilities undertaken by graduates," said Abu Musa, a bank branch manager.

Another advantage of polytechnic graduates is their knowledge of information technology. Some graduates have to undertake computer literacy training for weeks, paid for by banks - an additional financial burden. Non-graduates also appear less likely to change jobs whereas graduates, especially brilliant ones, tend to move quickly to other companies with higher pay and additional benefits.

"We don't experience with non-graduates this tendency to leave our bank for other jobs. Non-graduates tend to stay longer in banks," remarked Ebirima Wilson, a banker in the oil city of Port Harcourt.

Tunde Lemo, deputy governor of operations at the Central Bank of Nigeria, declared he was not opposed to banks employing non-graduates.

"There is nothing wrong in employing OND graduates to process cash transactions in banks. When you go to banks abroad, most of the people you see in a typical branch of a bank undertaking cash transactions are not graduates," Lemo said. "You don't need a graduate to do that kind of job."

It all boils down to question of productivity. If the university graduates are doing jobs OND holders can do, then what is the rationale for employing them in the first place? It is a matter of being over-educated and less qualified.

The root cause, I think, is the university system that produces graduates without regard for labour market demands.

Joseph Ogunbiyi