Repositioning Nigeria as global hub for talent sourcing
With the unveiling of the National Talent Export Programme (NATEP) to shore up Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and position the country as a hub for talent sourcing, stakeholders have said until the Federal Government invests more in education, objectives of the scheme would continue to be a mirage, TOBI AWODIPE and GLORIA NWAFOR report.
At the launch of NATEP on the sideline of the just-concluded 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in New York, the Federal Government said the move sought to emulate the likes of India, Bangladesh, Mexico and the Philippines, who are currently making waves as leaders in talent exports.
Reports indicate that the global talent-sourcing industry was valued at $620 billion in 2020 and could hit $904 billion by 2027.
With a youth population and over 1.7 million graduates from higher educational institutions joining the workforce each year, Nigeria has the potential to provide high-quality talent for the global export and outsourcing industry.
At the launch by President Bola Tinubu in the presence of several dignitaries from multilateral institutions, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and global tech giants, the President noted that NATEP was an important national initiative that would serve as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to position Nigeria as a leading global hub for service exports, talent sourcing and talent exports.
Tinubu, who was represented by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Doris Uzoka-Anite, said the initiative was designed to create at least one million jobs in the next five years.
The initiative, according to her, is in line with Tinubu’s agenda to diversify the economy, create sustainability opportunities and generate about 50 million jobs for the youth.
NATEP, she also said, would serve as a dedicated entity to address the unique challenges faced by the talent and service export industry, with special emphasis on enhancing competitiveness, fostering innovation and driving sustainable growth.
“This initiative will do three things for us as a country. One, it will create millions of jobs for our young people over the next five years and beyond. Secondly, it will bring in foreign exchange that our economy needs through remittances from talents that will be exported abroad and those that will be living in Nigeria and working remotely for organisations outside Nigeria. Thirdly, it will generate huge tax income for state governments,” Uzoka-Anite said.
While many lauded the initiative, there are fears that unless the government invests heavily in education, the aims of the initiative may not be met.
Managing Director of WEF, Saadia Zahidi, who was at the launch, said NATEP was a timely initiative aimed at addressing the very important areas of skills and jobs for Nigeria and the world, saying: “This is an important programme that is coming at the right time. We at WEF stand ready to work with the Nigerian government on this great initiative.”
The Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Bosun Tijani, who praised her counterpart for spearheading the NATEP initiative, said his ministry would collaborate and support the programme to ensure it delivers on the set objectives.
Tijani explained the importance of talents and in-demand workforce as critical parts of the global economic structure, saying such is the reason why leading countries across the world are intentional about attracting and retaining top talents.
However, Assistant General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Chris Onyeka, who noted that Nigerians are already exporting their talents themselves, said what the government needed was to invest in education.
According to him, that is where the capacity and talents are developed and honed.
Listing what countries like India have done with talent export, he said it invested heavily in education.
“Today they are benefiting from it. The Nigerian government must learn to place the horse before the cart. You must train and build capacities. Let there be massive investment in education. If you invest massively in qualitative education, talents will develop and they will move and we will make money, because diaspora remittances constitute the largest chunk of foreign exchange inflow into Nigeria. Talents move on their own,” he said.
He criticised the government for exporting talent, alleging that once the government gets involved and passes a law they would begin to restrict the tech space.
“Recall when they passed a law to restrict the movement of doctors abroad. They will bring more trouble. Are they the ones exporting footballers, and artists in the entertainment industry? Once the government gets involved they will bring more trouble. Nigerians are already exporting their talents themselves. When they pass a vote now, they will begin to restrict people,” he said.
In his submission, the immediate past President, Association of Outsourcing Professionals of Nigeria (AOPN), Dr Obiora Madu, said Nigeria has so many advantages in terms of services, with the sector, which contributes about 55 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
However, noting that there is a lot of work to do, he said Nigeria needed to invest more in the sector by building capacity, stating that is where soft skills are groomed
He lamented that the country’s deficiency in soft skills is quite high, reason; the nation’s service orientation is backward.
According to him, “Our major challenge is our integrity quotient in the international market. We have to prove that we are a reliable service destination to gain traction. Government needs to declare that sector important. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are beginning to gain a whole lot in services. We need to build capacity and infrastructure as well as market Nigeria as a service destination.”
Former chairperson of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Frank Onyebu, said over the years, successive administrations had launched different initiatives on job creation, which started and ended with the launch.
“Nothing comes out of them because there were no long-term plans and structures with the initiatives,” he said.
He added that the job initiatives are often greeted with plenty of fanfare but die out quietly, noting that this should be different and properly structured. He said if the initiative is successful, Nigeria would be emulating India, which exports a lot of talent to other countries.
He said: “However, India didn’t just make announcements and celebrate, a lot of thoughts and work went into making it a reality. They started with improving education and putting the right structures in place. We cannot just wake up one morning and announce that we want to export talent without making deliberate and painstaking efforts. We need to start by rejigging our curriculum and start teaching in-demand jobs in schools. Our curriculum is what it used to be about 50 years ago. There have been little improvements over the years. Is this the talent we intend to export to the world?”
Advising the government to go beyond rhetoric and grand gestures toward achieving the goal, he advised that challenges affecting local talents be fixed first before thinking of exporting human capital.
Adding that the real sector can turn the economy around significantly if properly harnessed and nurtured, Onyebu said the agricultural sector could also do this but that it has been left to rot away by successive administrations.
He told the government to fix the sector by improving power supply, tackling insecurity, reducing multiple taxations, eliminating corruption in FX sourcing and creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
“We need to attract people to this sector. We have no business exporting talents when our industries are suffering and lying fallow. We have no business exporting raw materials when we do not have enough to use here. Government must provide incentives for manufacturers and I don’t mean financial incentives alone.
“Look at China, they have a huge population but still have an over-employment issue in some industries as there are many manufacturers and companies. This is something that can work for us here, we have the population. We just need more companies and an enabling environment for them to thrive,” he said.
Director of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr Muda Yusuf, said the intervention is different from the previous ones in the sense that it focuses on exporting services. He added that many young people have been leaving the country on their own to ‘hustle’.
“If we look at diaspora remittances, it is currently worth over 20 billion dollars, second only to oil revenue. Nigeria has a lot of young people and this is where we have an advantage. Many countries export talents, look at the Filipinos who export caregivers and nannies. They are trained and exported to different countries and they send money back home. Rather than leave young people to struggle on their own, they can be properly trained and sent to work in other countries. There must be frameworks in place to support them. There is a demand for workers in other countries and if we can fill this gap to our advantage, why not?”
Yusuf said if well structured, the workers would send FX back home to boost the country’s resources. He said a well-laid-out programme that would package, train and make young people available officially to different countries is not a bad idea and should involve the diaspora commission.
“This, I believe, is different from YouWin, TraderMoni, N-Power, NJFP and all such similar initiatives in the past. But it needs a proper framework so that our people are not exploited on the one hand and that they don’t abscond on the other hand. I am not against exporting talents, there is a lot of money to be made from that and I am in support of it. Let us market our talents to the world,” he said.
For Dr Percy Chukwuka-David, an economist, implementation remains Nigeria’s problems and not ideas.
“We always have good ideas but implementation is where we always fail because we don’t have people with integrity and as long as this remains, we will continue to face issues with achieving goals. So far politicians are the ones in charge. We would keep getting the same results as we did in the past with similar job-creation initiatives. I want to be optimistic but I am not holding out hope that this will be successful either,” he said.
He advised the government to engage actively with the organised private sector on how best to run the economy and provide jobs as over 80 per cent of the country’s GDP is from the private sector.
“The organised private sector has the solutions to most of the issues we are facing in Nigeria today, especially the economic challenges. Manufacturers need to be incentivised rather than being over-taxed and overburdened with all kinds of obstacles. This sector can provide millions of job opportunities if allowed to thrive well and many youths will be gainfully employed. We have not made use of our talents locally yet but talking about exporting them. We cannot give out what we don’t have really and the government knows this if it wants to be sincere,” he explained.
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