New government scheme tackles graduate unemployment

Worried about the growing rate of graduate joblessness, the Nigerian government – in partnership with the private sector – is financing a scheme under which graduates will learn to eventually become employers. Some 850,000 graduates have reportedly already registered for training placements in reputable companies.

The project has been applauded as one way of resolving graduate unemployment. But some experts feel an alternative would be to restructure university curricula to include vocational courses, and compel industries to play their role as employers of graduates.

At a meeting of the Federal Executive Council presided over by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a comprehensive paper on graduate unemployment was presented by a group of lecturers from the department of educational management at University of Lagos.

The paper’s findings, that about 24% of the country’s graduates were unemployed, jolted all of those present. Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics corroborated the figures.

The authors wrote: “Graduate unemployment has become a national concern as unemployed youths are more anxious, depressed and unhappy, with attendant sleeplessness, than those with jobs. This not only poses a challenge to the economy, but has also retarded the country’s economic growth.

“The unemployment is attributable to employees’ education and skills being inadequate to meet the needs of modern day jobs.”

Reacting to the report Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, devised a plan to tackle graduate unemployment.

Graduate Internship Scheme

Called the Graduate Internship Scheme or GIS, and unanimously approved by the Federal Executive Council, it will be funded by a dedicated account called the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (Sure-P), which was created after last year’s controversial and astronomical increases in the price of petroleum products.

Peter Papka, GIS project director, said its aim was to post graduates to reputable firms and organisations, with a view to them learning skills and techniques required as potential managers and future employers of labour.

“The government pays for the project so there are no financial implications for these companies. Their role is to train the graduates as future captains of industries. At the end of their internship, the organisations are not bound to employ the retrained graduates,” he said.

Firms that undertake to train the graduates have very strict guidelines. They are to inculcate them with certain attributes and skills, including verbal and written communication competence, analytical and investigative abilities, entrepreneurship and managerial competence, teamwork, computer skills, time management, drive and flexibility.

“In other words, the role of GIS is to enhance employability of graduates,” Papka said.

According to the GIS Road Map brochure, about 500,000 graduates will benefit from the scheme before the end of 2013. Initially, about 1,000 beneficiaries would come from each state, and in the next phase, 100,000 per state.

The scheme has taken off in Abuja and Lagos, the political and economic capitals, respectively. Fifty firms in Abuja and 60 companies in Lagos have been licensed to admit graduates for the pilot project.

“At the orientation meeting of stakeholders with some participating graduates and relevant organisations, we found that more than 850,000 graduates have already registered for the project,” revealed Papka.


Sherifat Ibrahim, an industrial relations consultant in Lagos, welcomed the initiative – but also advised the government to make available soft loans to graduates wanting to opt for the status of employer of labour after completing their participation in GIS .

She said it was obvious there was an urgent need to completely restructure the university curricular to conform to the dynamics of the labour market. Only those countries that invested in information technologies in their higher education sector could cope and reap the potential of this century, she added.

“Our universities must change and integrate skill acquisitions programmes, making them mandatory for all students so they can be employable and also create jobs after graduation,” she said.

Stella Akin, an aeronautical engineer, said graduates needed to change their orientation and worldviews. Many university students had been falsely fed with the illusion that they would get “good jobs and fat salaries as managerial staff of any organisation”.

“Unbeknown to them, the labour market has changed. Machines have taken over, as in the 19th century, in many jobs traditionally reserved for human beings. Engineers who built these machines are now unemployed because these same machines have taken over the jobs of these graduate engineers. More machines will take jobs meant for graduates. Where do we go from here?” she said.

She also observed that there was a worrisome dearth of middle-skill manpower in Nigeria, and an urgent need to train new carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers etc.

“One of the best ways to solve graduate unemployment is for authorities to organise and fund crash-skill acquisition programmes for students before they graduate. They should be trained in computer proficiency with a view to handling computerised gadgets and tools used by artisans in the labour sector. Most tools used by artisans are now computerised.

“There are hundreds of thousands of job opportunities in this sector. Will these young boys and girls drop their fantasies of becoming managers and instead roll up their sleeves and enter the job market after graduation as artisans?”