It is no secret or hidden fact that there is a serious lack of jobs in Nigeria. Even though the official unemployment rate is put at 18%, there is no doubt that it could be as much as double this rate, not to mention those who are under-employed, which includes almost all those who are employed gainfully.
I’ve severally written on this blog that one of the major causes of this situation is not just the fact that our economy is in dire straits, but also that our educational system is in tatters. We go through school to become job-seekers, most times, cramming our way to a degree certificate. We are neither taught to be problem-solvers nor job-creators. This is despite the fact that there are problems constantly bedeviling us daily, and desperately seeking solutions to it.
For example, in this article by Bobby Udoh, he quoted statistics that showed that despite Nigeria being the largest producers of cassava in the world, we account for zero percent of trade in cassava value-added products, or processed cassava. On the other hand, Thailand with only 10% of production accounts for 80% of the trade in processed cassava. Also, in an article by British magazine, The Economist last year about Nigerian economy, they pointed out that 30% of farm produce in Nigeria is lost due to poor storage facilities. Or what about the fact that despite the fact that we produce palm oil, we still import highly refined palm olein from Malaysia, neatly packaged and branded as ‘Vegetable Oil’? I am sure that a lot of graduates in Agriculture would read this, and yet, not get the spark to create solutions to these contemporary problems using the knowledge they gained in school. Rather, they would be expecting government to solve these problems, and also give them a job.
But what has led to this mindset being formed? Besides the fact that our tertiary education system being very poor in teaching kids to apply their knowledge to create solutions to problems in their environment, we also have a societal mindset that encourages kids to go for certain ‘marketable’ courses, graduate at the top of their classes and look for jobs. This mindset formed when Nigeria was quite in its infancy and anyone with a degree or a diploma could automatically get a job in government or the few private establishments. As the economy grew worse, the conventional thinking then became to go for certain courses, which by their nature of being in demand, are considered marketable. These courses, such as Medicine, Law, Engineering, Accounting and a few others were seen as the Holy Grail of education. Once one graduated from these courses, it was glory all the way: a good, high-paying job and all its perks and life had to get better as you climbed up the ladder. However, if you were ‘unlucky’ to be given admission into an ‘unmarketable’ course, you just had to make do with whatever life threw at you and job you got.
This is what created the destination mindset that Mr Udoh talked about in his articles: where the emphasis was not on using the education to provide practical solutions of value to contemporary problems, but on studying certain disciplines in school and getting a job and you had arrived. This thinking defined success as a destination, rather than as a journey.
Unless we change this thinking as a society and at the same time, upgrade our tertiary institutions to polish students into problem-solvers and job-creators, we might likely always deal with the fact that a bulk of our skilled graduates are jobless. We do not need our school curricula to be at par with the best schools in Europe and the USA before we are able to produce graduates that will be churning out ideas to solve the problems of Nigeria, and by extension, create jobs. After all, the knowledge and technology that will process cassava and palm oil will never come from the labs of American and European institutions, but from our own schools. We must use the knowledge we have at present to work for us. Let us start from teaching students how to combine what they are taught in their classrooms with the local knowledge of their environments to create solutions to the problems around them.
And lastly, for the students and graduates, we have to keep in mind that government and the big, established companies cannot provide all the jobs needed. As a matter of fact, I’m not a big fan of government jobs, considering the fact that the civil service is even bloated presently, and will only lead you to being redundant at a desk and not harness your intelligence and creativity. You have to think about creating your own jobs.
I know that thought sounds scary, and it definitely is, especially considering the fact that the risks involved in doing your own thing are way higher than in being employed by someone else. But rather than sit around in wait for that job, for which at least, about 5000 other Nigerians are applying for, creating a job for yourself is worth a try.
Start with creating a solution to a problem in your environment, maybe that problem or a set of interconnected problems that bother you the most. Let a desire to solve the problem(s) consume you that you will stop at nothing to see it solved. Make sure that that solution is one that adds value. Then, monetize the value. I believe that as long as whatever you do is of value, people will always be willing to pay you for it.
Let us turn our youthful vigor, boldness and creativity into changing the society around us by our value-adding activities, using our knowledge gained from school. With that, we can create jobs for ourselves, and even for others; jobs that will grow and sustain livelihoods.
It is Possible!!