Director-General, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Dr Timothy Olawale, in this interview with ’FEMI ASU, speaks on the high rate of unemployment in the country; the gap between the academia and the industry; the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and how to boost job creation
The National Bureau of Statistics said last year that the unemployment rate in Nigeria rose to 27.1 per cent in the second quarter, while underemployment increased to 28.6 per cent. How will you describe this challenge facing the country?
The high unemployment rate can be described as precarious, because of the numerous negative consequences. With a highly active young population, the social, security and economic consequences can only be imagined. The myriads of insecurity issues such as kidnapping, armed robbery and other vices could, in some instances, be attributed to unemployment. With the right policies by the government and a more focused collaboration with the organised private sector, the nation can turn its high youth population into a blessing.
What do you think are the root causes of unemployment in the country?
Unemployment is a global challenge, and it is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. The International Labour Organisation in its World Economic and Social Outlook Report 2020 stated that close to one billion people globally were facing the risk of unemployment. The root causes could be attributed to the following, among others: economic policies that do not promote job creation and entrepreneurship; rapidly increasing population rate; general skills mismatch; inadequate skills by applicants; slow or low economic growth; and sometimes misplaced priorities. These factors, coupled with the global meltdown as a result of the pandemic, exacerbated the unemployment rate, particularly in developing countries like Nigeria, where the rate of unemployment had been high before the pandemic struck.
What are the major challenges members of NECA have when looking for workers to employ in the Nigerian labour market?
The major challenge for employers remains the availability of quality and employable manpower. Skill is fundamental for the efficient operation of an enterprise. Thus, businesses require skilled and competent individuals to fill relevant roles and functions in the business. The mismatch between our academic curriculum and industrial needs could be said to broaden the challenges.
More so, due to the rate of unemployment in the country, organisations are faced with multiple applications for the very few advertised positions. Thus, it becomes a lengthy and rigorous recruitment process than necessary and sometimes, it gulps more time and resources.
Some people have said that many Nigerian graduates are unemployed because they are unemployable. Do you think there is a gap between academia and industry, and, if there is, how wide is it?
The controversy on the employability or non-employability of Nigerian graduates has raged for a long time. While the argument and actual measure of the gap can be relative, the fact remains that the current academic curriculum in most Nigerian tertiary institutions does not align with the critical skills needed by the industry. There is an urgent need for tertiary education to be industry-focused in order to enhance the quality of graduates and increase their opportunities for quick absorption into industries. We have situations where institutions are still using the same curricula that have been used for decades, while the world of work keeps evolving with new trends and skills.
What can be done to bridge the gap?
There’s a need for a total review of the academic curriculum to be driven by industrial demands. This should be driven by the government’s willingness and relevant stakeholders should be part of the review process. There is also a need to avoid and/or reduce industrial actions in the tertiary institutions to ensure proper transfer of knowledge. Also, a deepened collaboration between the gown and the industry will help to further bridge the gap.
Furthermore, there is a need to strengthen the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme/industrial training programmes of institutions and take internship programmes for undergraduates more seriously.
Why is it that even graduates, who studied science and engineering courses that the country desperately needs for development, also find it difficult to get jobs?
There is a need for the country to define its developmental policies and align its education priorities to them. Deliberate efforts will be needed to hinge our national development on industrial growth rather than on the current focus on crude oil. Without this major step, the challenge will remain. Again, the science and engineering professions are more practical in nature. It, therefore, becomes a challenge where institutions are not properly funded and equipped with the necessary tools for learning and transfer of knowledge.
What should the government do to encourage creation of more jobs by the private sector in the country?
The government should make the business environment more hospitable. Necessary support should be provided to make the private sector competitive and sustainable. A friendly and investment-focused regulatory environment with necessary infrastructure will go a long way in helping the private sector to fulfil its potential. It is instructive to note that nine out of every 10 jobs are created by the private sector, thus greater efforts should be made to promote the sector.
Government’s policies should be business-friendly and targeted at ensuring the continuous existence of businesses and creation of jobs, among others. Necessary financial support will also aid in the creation of more jobs.
Can private universities solve the problem of unemployment?
Universities can either contribute to the supply of employable graduates or embark on research that will drive economic growth. Inherently, they are not positioned to solve unemployment challenges.
How has the COVID-19 affected your members’ businesses and their ability to create more jobs?
The pandemic has affected all facets of our national life and disrupted the global value-chain. The total lockdown and subsequent partial lifting of the lockdown, coupled with the negative global effect of the pandemic created shocks, which led to business closures, loss of profit due to inability to produce, and increased cost of operation due to raw materials, amongst many other negative consequences. As businesses struggle to stay afloat, their ability to keep current employees and employ more becomes challenging.
Our members in some sectors like hospitality, aviation etc. were severely affected and are still confronted with huge responsibilities to clients, staff, creditors, government, shareholders, etc. This led to several companies closing shop.