Graduated, but lacking in the skills the economy needs

High unemployment in Nigeria, especially among the youth, has become a worrisome trend that raises concern over the employability of thousands of graduates produced by the country’s higher educational institutions annually.

With an estimated population of 200 million, Nigeria’s overall official unemployment rate is 33.3%, but the figure for young people was 42.5% in 2020, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Although the NBS has yet to release new figures on unemployment since the last quarter of 2020, economists and political leaders have projected that the numbers would have shot up, given the worsening economic hardship in the country.

In its 2021 labour market survey, a pan-African credit rating agency, Agusto & Co, disclosed that joblessness in Nigeria – Africa’s largest economy – had hit 35%, a local newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, top government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu and, most recently, also a federal lawmaker and former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, have raised the alarm because most graduates are deemed to be unemployable and lack the requisite skills needed in the ever-changing labour market.

Kalu, who is also chief whip of the Nigerian senate, said recently at a graduate skills training programme in Abuja: “We should not blame President Muhammadu Buhari or the National Assembly over the high rate of unemployment in the country which is causing insecurity.

“Most of our graduates are not properly trained for the jobs. That’s why there is insecurity. Everything is not on Buhari or the National Assembly. It is because most people are not groomed properly for leadership.”

Higher education’s failure?

The crisis has been traced largely to the failure of the higher educational institutions, particularly universities, to continually integrate the dynamics of the labour market into the curriculum.

Keziah Achuonye, professor of educational technology and curriculum studies at the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said the curriculum must directly reflect the needs of society and shift away from paying heavy attention to teaching theories to the detriment of practical aspects.

“Our curriculum […] is not in consonance with the societal needs which change from time to time,” Achuonye told University World News, noting that a regular needs assessment of the labour market is crucial to curriculum development.

“We should go to industries to know what they need, or else universities will continue to produce graduates the labour market doesn’t need. Some of our local factories employ expatriates to manage their equipment because there are no capable hands locally.

“There must be a strong linkage between the university community and industries. So, updating the curriculum should not be every 10 years, for instance. It can be spontaneous.

“The rigid curriculum is harming us, and we have a lot to do to make our graduates employable. Most teachers are still living in the past, teaching students with lesson notes that are as old as 30 years.”

Achuonye blamed skills gaps occasioned by substandard curricula on “the questionable merits” of professionals who developed them and urged the government not to play politics with education.

She said, aside from designing curricula that reflect industrial needs, academics should be exposed to rigorous, well-planned, continuous teacher development programmes, while their classrooms should be well equipped.

“Teachers must also be highly motivated for effective learning to take place. Imagine a professor being paid a peanut while politicians go home with millions of naira. When we implement all these things, our graduates will come out well trained,” Achuonye added.

Catching up with evolution in ICT

Dr Muda Yusuf, the chief executive officer at the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, said the economic space is dynamic, citing rapid technological evolution in the manufacturing sector as one of the areas with a noticeable dearth of in-demand skills.

He says most modern technologies in industries are not known to lecturers who are expected to train students to be skilled in them.

Yusuf, the immediate past president of the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called for a mutual interface between the academic community and industry, saying this will ensure a regular survey of skill gaps across all the economic sectors to shape the curriculum.

He said: “The rate at which ICT is evolving is far ahead of the curriculum of many of our schools. We can’t have a static curriculum in an economy that is dynamic; that is a mismatch. And, to make matters worse, many of the lecturers have been teaching for 20 to 30 years relying on past knowledge, whereas things are changing outside the classrooms and you can’t give what you don’t have. That is why, after leaving the school, graduates go elsewhere to acquire additional skills to catch up.

“There should be a scheme that will regularly bring lecturers up to speed, particularly those who are in science and technology. The pace of evolution is very fast in these areas.

Our schools also need to be equipped with modern technologies so that lecturers don’t teach students archaic stuff and then, when they graduate, they will be useless because they are not in tune with current developments.

Universities should be able to produce graduates who can think critically, develop ideas and personality and build self-confidence to function effectively in the labour market.”

Professor Michael Ajisafe, a specialist in curriculum development and former vice-chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, also acknowledged deficiencies in the higher education curriculum. However, he said the issue is not limited to the curriculum.

“We need to go back to the root because a lot of things are going wrong. It starts with the parents. They are not giving out the best of training to the children. In many homes, children are lacking in value systems.

“Of course, curriculum experts have to check what it presents to the society in terms of quality contents and what should be incorporated with regard to the needs in the labour market, but we need to right the wrongs at home,” he said.