Inoyo: Poorly resourced leaders retarding nation’s growth
President, and Chairman of Council, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), Udom Uko Inoyo, in this interview with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, criticised the process of resourcing people into public service, stressing that meritocracy must be institutionalised and celebrated as this is the quickest way to achieve effective resourcing and management of people. He also said the institute is collaborating with universities to relay to them, what the labour market really needs, as well as the compelling need for the country to embrace technical and vocational education as well as entrepreneurship studies.
• ‘Labour Surplus Economy Like Nigeria Should Never Import Certain Skills’
• Training Should Not Be Welfare Package, Reward For Loyalty, Or An Entitlement
• Mediocrity Thriving In The System, Sycophancy Almost A Way Of Life
• Civil Service Should Be Very Apolitical
As regulator of human resource practice, how bothered is CIPM about rising unemployment in the country?
Unemployment is a critical issue and a big threat to any nation as it affects every aspect of the society and the economy. It leads to increased poverty, high crime rate, social, political and economic instability, and with these, the investment climate is adversely impacted, resulting in reduced investment rate and slow economic growth. Unemployment could also lead to severe mental health conditions amongst the unemployed and even the employed due to general stress, and environmental pressure laced with uncertainties. Unfortunately, mental health is an area, which we pay very little attention to in our clime, even though the consequences are dire. Unemployment should be a thing of concern to everyone because no one is insulated from the fallout. This is what prompted us in 2015, in line with our mandate as the regulatory body on human resource management practice in Nigeria, to conduct a research on unemployment issues in the country. The research was quite successful and we made implementable recommendations to the Federal Government and other stakeholders to help in curbing this menace. We believe that an effective solution to the unemployment challenge would have its multiplier effects on all the factors mentioned above and significantly improve the health of the economy and the society at large.
While there is still a lot to be done, we must commend the Federal Government for some of the positive steps already taken in her job creation efforts, which centres on private sector driven strategy, while government continues to provide an enabling environment with specific focus around a few priority sectors such as agriculture/agro-allied, ICT, construction, renewable energy, and retail trade. It is very important that other stakeholders in the private sector get involved in addressing the current unemployment situation.
Having said this, let me add that it is very worrisome that some offices tend to be manned by people who are unable to perform at the expected level. And even where you have some of our best and brightest, they struggle to deliver, since their efforts are eclipsed by the weaknesses that surround them. The country simply cannot move forward with the wrong people being resourced to take charge. I don’t know how many of you know who our councillors, local government chairmen or state legislators are, and their qualifications/work experience? These are people who are making laws and or governing the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. I don’t know how many of you have accessed a public school recently, to see those who are teaching the majority of Nigerian children.
My point is this: The process of resourcing people into our public service is wrong. There was a time things worked properly in this country. A time when meritocracy was institutionalised and celebrated. A time when you could not be hired for any assignment without going through a competitive process. That era is long gone but must be reclaimed if we need to make progress as a people. And I believe the quickest way to achieve this, is through effective resourcing and management of people. This is where CIPM comes in. As a regulator of the profession that is responsible for people management, we need to partner with government and other stakeholders in supporting processes and programmes leading to a rebirth and drive for national workforce development.
In the Managing National Unemployment Challenge Committee (MNUC) survey, that CIPM commissioned, the sub-optimal quality of graduates tops the list of major causes of the high rate of unemployment. What were some of the major recommendations?
The institute’s research made recommendations on how to manage skills mismatch, and reduce the number of unemployable graduates in the nation. These recommendations range from ensuring an integrated internship between academia and industry; improving the quality and standards of the education curricula; providing policy framework, to funding for development and sustenance of entrepreneurial skills.
However, let me point out that these recommendations are not exhaustive as there are other initiatives that could be explored as options. For example, Reverse sabbatical: This is a programme that provides a platform for industry leaders to go to institutions of higher learning to share industry knowledge and experience with students in those institutions. In the same vein, the academia should also go to industries for their sabbatical. This will boost cross learning and enrich classroom discussions and teaching, as practical cases of knowledge application with results would be shared.
Reintroduction or reinforcement of career counselling in secondary schools: The truth is that most students in our institutions today opted to study the available courses just to gain admission, and this is still the case with prospective new entrants. In most cases, prospective undergraduates accept whatever courses offered to them by the admissions authorities, or suggested by friends and parents, regardless of their areas of interests and passion. Many may not even have prerequisite knowledge about the courses they are admitted to study, and that is why they end up just getting the degree and do nothing with it afterwards. Good career counselling at the secondary school level will give the students some foresight into the courses, helping them to align their interests with available course of study, and probably prepare them for choices and some of the challenges ahead.
Appointment of good course advisers: Part of the responsibilities of academic course advisers is to guide students through their academic challenges. The criteria for the appointment of these course advisers should be clear and should apart from requisite counselling knowledge, include emotional intelligence, patience, and effective listening.
Volunteerism: This is also an option, for unemployed graduates. For instance, I am sure there is always something to be done around The Guardian Newspaper office. So if I were to be a graduate of Mass Communication or Journalism, why would I just stay at home, rather than come here to volunteer my time? There is a lot to be gained from being in a work environment and learning from senior professionals.
Would it not be a nice idea if your institute collaborates with universities to relay to them what the labour market really needs?
We are already engaging different universities on a variety of matters, including how to enhance the employability of Nigerian graduates. We are also already collaborating with a few universities for an inclusive curriculum. Ultimately, the institute is working with the National Universities Commission (NUC), to get some of our recommendations and ideas spread across all universities.
Is there any synergy between the Managing National Unemployment report, and the Federal Government’s agenda on job creation?
Yes. There is synergy between the recommendations in the institute’s report and the government’s agenda on job creation. For instance, Section 5.4 of the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020 is on Job Creation and Youth Empowerment. Recommendations in our survey report addresses this section of the plan.
While countries are embracing technical and vocational education, as well as, entrepreneurship studies, Nigeria is yet to get serious with this. How long will it take before this neglect begins to hurt us?
The neglect of technical and vocational education is already hurting us. The institute’s study recognises this. Neglecting technical and vocational education is perhaps one of the reasons for the importation of technical skills from neighbouring countries. A labour surplus economy like Nigeria should not have any reason to import certain skills if we are truly monitoring and managing unemployment. For example, if you visit some of the building sites with ongoing construction projects, you will realise that a lot of the workers are from neighbouring countries.
In addition, the shortage of technical expertise is part of the challenges preventing the practical application of Local Content Act 2010 in the country. So we cannot over emphasise the need to revisit and revamp technical and vocational education in Nigeria. I always tell young folks that the era of white shirt and tie is gone. People need to get their hands dirty and take pride in any job that they do. The housing sector is still untapped in Nigeria and yet we are not prepared for the opportunities. Buildings don’t have straight lines, tiling is a problem, painters are in a hurry and plumbers are unavailable. What of the power sector with huge skilled and semi-skilled opportunities?
In what specific ways can a country’s civil service make or mar its developmental efforts and aspirations?
Generally speaking, the success or otherwise of any nation depends on the performance of the people in the civil service, which is why in countries like Australia, United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway, they take recruitment into the civil service very seriously. And it used to be so in Nigeria until, as with most other institutions, we embarked on a journey of decline. When I started my career in the erstwhile Cross River State Civil Service, the onboarding was so professionally done that right from day one, my career trajectory, subject to good performance and ability to pass some important examinations, was predictable. There was meritocracy. But unfortunately, we threw away merit and expected that civil servants will perform optimally. It doesn’t work that way. It’s been 28 years since I joined the private sector, but recent events in the civil service give me some hope. I know that there’s been a couple of reforms targeted at the civil service in the last few decades, but the 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, if allowed to be properly stewarded by the Head of Service of the Federation and her staff, will help uplift the quality of service delivery, which will have significant impact on the development of Nigeria. From my interaction, I believe the Head of Service has what it takes to drive this plan successfully, but she needs the support of all stakeholders.
Another indicator of improvement in the civil service is the recent appointment of almost two dozens of federal permanent secretaries. It is obvious that the process was quite elaborate: a screening process, which included a written examination, computer-based test, and a robust oral interview. At the end, it threw up the best candidates devoid of external interferences. I am encouraged by what Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita is doing and would implore many of us in the private sector to sign up as advocates for the successful implementation of this strategic plan. CIPM will collaborate and help her drive some of her deliverables. Don’t forget that we all gain if the public sector is properly managed.
The Federal Government recently said that training of public servants would no longer be a welfare package used to douse labour tensions, since the government was not getting the true value for the money spent on the exercise, in terms of the quality of output. How can this make a bad situation worse?
That the government is acknowledging this is bad enough, but it is certainly the right call. You only get into this sort of situation, where there is either the absence of a structure (which I am sure is not the case), or a diminishing of the importance of meritocracy. In order not to be misunderstood, let me state upfront that training is good and must be a necessary part of an employee’s career stewardship. But what is equally important is to determine the timing and benefits of such training, either following an established competency assessment model (you need this to equip you for the next level), or a desire to cure a defect (you are weak in this area, so we will help you go and retool). But training should never be a ticket for holidays, or to obtain traveling allowance or used as an incentive to settle labour issues. Just imagine what happens if one is in the wrong training class, and unable to cope?
The embarrassment is ours, as a people. I know most people enjoy going for programmes abroad, but please be sure it is the right one.
Training should not in any way be a welfare package, reward for loyalty or an entitlement. It should be based on the outcome of a thorough Training Need Analysis (TNA), and tailored to the skill and competency gaps identified. Training Need Analysis helps organisations, ministries, departments and agencies determine the areas where training is really required and also highlights the areas where alternative courses of action could be taken to close the skills and competency gaps identified. Lastly, don’t forget there is also need to manage cost, in which case, we can domesticate these training programmes in country, especially given the excellent training facilities we have and the benefits of capturing a lot more participants.
CIPM under your leadership has promised to partner the Federal Government on the best ways to tackle economic and business challenges, using human resource management as a tool for sustainability. How do you intend to go about this?
The partnership has been ongoing and I will only introduce new programmes to sustain the momentum. Our most recent collaborative efforts started with the Lagos State government personnel in the State Civil Service HR and Administration cadre. This set of personnel successfully went through a professional course and certification process with the institute and were duly certified. We intend to replicate this initiative in other states. At the moment, we are engaging three state governors.
We are also leveraging on the initiatives mapped out in the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020, particularly the focus on some key sectors of the economy to drive recovery and establish real growth that will lead to economic development. To further a discourse on this important framework, the Minister of Budget and Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, will be speaking at our annual conference coming up in October.
Given the glaring need for human capacity development across various sectors of the economy, how is the institute positioned to help?
Throughout the year, we provide several fora for national discourse at many levels including at our national conferences, annual public lectures, sectorial fora, stakeholders engagement round-tables, and a host of the CIPM high-profile events. At these events, we engage the public and the government on topical people management issues, by facilitating discussions around these challenges and develop possible solutions from a professional point of view. We plan to make some of these conversations more accessible to a wider audience by leveraging on technology, virtual classrooms and webinars, to deliver them. We believe that the more we pay attention to issues in the work place, the better we will push the envelope on human capital development, whether in the public or private sector.
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