Mbadiwe: Charting career path for young professionals
With his eyes set on making Nigerian graduates and professionals compete favourably in the global job market, Chief Executive Officer of Almond Group of Companies, Henry Ifeanyi Mbadiwe, is reinventing the careers of many through his training outfit, Almond Careers.
When Henry Ifeanyi Mbadiwe left Nigeria in 2006 to study Computer Science at the University of Greenwich in London, United Kingdom (UK), he was obsessed with the hope of landing a good job on graduation. As such, he burnt the midnight oil to ensure he graduated with an excellent grade. His efforts paid off, but that did not guarantee him a decent job, as most UK employers with job vacancies required people with previous job experiences, which he did not have.
“You apply for a job and they say they want reference. They want you to have worked somewhere before; they want experience. But you see, somebody needed to give me this experience in the first place, so that I can have an experience to show my next employer,” recounted Mbadiwe. He got his first job by providence, because the recruiter just saw him and called him up, helped him with his curriculum vitae, prepared him for the interview and so he got the job, by sheer grace.
“When I started the job, I didn’t know how to do anything and my manager didn’t want to fire me. It was a two-month contract job and he just asked me to carry on. The project was extended for another two months and after four months, he said to me, ‘Henry, when you started with us, I was surprised how we hired somebody who knew nothing, but in the last four months, you have done a lot. You have learnt a lot, you have contributed a lot and I am so happy.”
So, he was recommended to his next role, where he went on to be a Project Support Officer for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He worked there for nine months, during which he grew a lot and became a project manager for Daily Mail later.
Mbadiwe stated that following the pains he passed through as a job seeker without requisite experience, he resolved to come up with an initiative to assist fresh graduates overcome the hurdle. Today, he is the Chief Executive Officer of Almond Group of Companies, which currently comprises businesses in technology, hospitality, retail and education.
Under the conglomerate are Almond Careers, through which he seeks to open up new opportunities to people by providing role-based training, using practical methods, and Almond Media, which gives practical work experience to trainees through contracts it executes for establishments.
The two companies started off in the UK, but have extended their services to Nigeria since 2017 in a bid to make Nigerian graduates and professionals competitive in the global job market. “I felt that if I guide others the way my first employer guided me, many people will be able to secure better jobs. So, I started Almond Careers in early 2013, six months after I got my first job. I started my training in a small room in the University of Greenwich on what I knew about project management at the time. I was helping them to work on project and after that, they will go and get jobs. That was how the company started growing.
“After a year, we opened our own office in London and about two years later, we opened another branch in Manchester and overtime, the company grew. Now, we have about 26 staff in Nigeria, London and Manchester. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has also accredited us.
“We then created Almond Media, with which we get contract from companies, such as Ericsson, BBC, Tesco, Sky, Audi, Volkswagen Group and Virgin Holidays, among others. We get projects into Almond Media, involve the students in our Almond Careers training programme, because they need a way to practicalise all the theories we have been teaching them in class. We do that so they can gain experience.
“With this in mind, they now have the skill set; so it’s not just about taking note in class. The experience will be part of their curriculum vitae and help them to realise their dreams. That was what we started doing in UK and Nigeria in 2017. “I had to bring the trainings to Nigeria, because I have worked for Microsoft, Samsung and other reputable companies that determine how we live our lives and have seen them hiring people from India and Pakistan, preparing their visas and sending them across. This is just because they understand project management methodology and frameworks. I believe Nigerians can also secure such jobs if given the requisite training,” he stated.
From his interactions with participants in the company’s programmes, Mbadiwe has discovered that the non-employability of Nigerian graduates was as a result of defects in the educational system, which he said calls for change, adding: “The idea is that when you go to the university, you get a degree and then come out to the world and become relevant.
“That applies for some courses, such as Medicine, Law and Pharmacy. When you look at Medicine, for instance, at some point, they will start going to the hospitals. So, they do classroom work and get hospital experience, and they do that for years before they graduate. So, they get that hands-on experience while still in the university.
“For all other professions, you tell the students to go and do six months or one year internship, but most of them just go to a company, sit in the office and run errands for their bosses for most of the period.
“So, I feel the educational system itself should do a lot to integrate companies into the classes. Do not just teach them in class alone; let their four-year degree programme be intertwined with working for a company that government would support for taking them.
“For instance, if I am studying Accounting, on Mondays and Tuesday, I should be in the class, but on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I should be in a relevant office, working. I should continue that, maybe from my second year till the final year. With that, that individual is being prepared for real life.
“So, if our educational system doesn’t integrate practical work experience or make it an integral part of learning, not just six months or one year internship, then we will miss out on preparing the younger generation for what is ahead.“I read a recent article which stated clearly that for 60 per cent of the students going into the university today, the jobs that they will get into does not exist yet. Technology is changing and things are also changing all the time. So, government needs to make sure that our school system works concurrently with real life working companies.
“As technology changes, some of these companies bring that technology into existence and the students get to learn that. That is what the companies will need to hire graduates in future. But in the university, it is difficult to make a shift because there is a curriculum, which they follow.” He said to change that curriculum, government has to go back to the National Universities Commission (NUC) and different places to get approvals; hence the universities cannot change easily, but to keep them relevant, they need to reduce lecture time and increase working time.
He recalled that to encourage companies to open their doors to students wishing to acquire practical job experience, the British government instituted a policy through which it pays subventions to willing establishments, noting: “What the UK government is doing is that it is paying some companies to take in some individuals wanting to learn how to work.
“For instance, my company doesn’t want to hire anybody, but the government says it will give us £1,500 to take some people into the company, because it wants them to gain experience. The government knows that if they tell me to take that person, I will say no, because I cannot pay another person. Now, they are ready to pay me to take that person, because the person will come out tomorrow and be relevant.
“The minimum wage here is now N30, 000. So, the government can say, ‘look, this person needs experience as part of his/her education. I will pay you N15, 000, but you can pay him/her N5, 000 a month. In the UK, the minimum wage is £8.40 per hour. But when you hire an intern, you can pay the person as low as £3.50 or £4.00 per hour and they can do the same eight hours shift a day and the government will pay you on top of that. This is what we need to begin to think of in Nigeria.”
Mbadiwe, while applauding President Muhammadu Buhari intention to create jobs, which he said is the right thing to do, added: “But you don’t just create jobs on thin air unless you want to create carpenters, plumbers and the like. If you want to create intellectual jobs for our youths, it requires an investment today for tomorrow. We need to have a complete shift, and that is what Almond Careers is trying to achieve. Ninety-five per cent of the people we train in the UK are Nigerians.”
He noted that the company still has a long way to go in achieving its vision of bridging the gap between education and experience, saying: “It is a lot of work and I think we have not even started. We only started in Nigeria in 2017. Statistically speaking, although we have impacted the lives of a lot of people, we haven’t even scratched the surface. That is my pain on this matter. We need to be able to change the system.”
When told that the cost of the training could be exorbitant to the average Nigeria; hence the low impact so far recorded, Mbadiwe explained: “Some of the people in my team are in Nigeria, while others are in the UK. The guys in the UK are paid in pounds; they are not paid in naira. N150, 000, which is the cost of the training, is about £320. That equivalent version of training costs £800 in the UK.
“So, Nigerians are getting the better end of the stick, because my company expenses don’t reduce. I am not charging the real worth of my training here in Nigeria because I feel it is going to be difficult for people to pay. A lot of people cannot afford it and we just need to help as many people as possible to acquire these trainings and experiences.
“Nigeria costs me more money and more work to deal with. So, it is not that one is making money from Nigeria, but I believe with time, the whole thing will pick up and the impact felt. “I was called in by the BBC to work on a technology project to deal with education in secondary schools in 2015, which I finished in 2016. When we finished the project, I told the BBC that we needed to take the project to Nigeria. I convinced them that Nigerian children are smart and that the schools can handle it. It is a technology that trains children on how to code, called the BBC micro: bit. We got their support to bring this technology to Nigeria. Now, we are trying to get secondary schools to use this technology to train their students.
“It is more than just learning how to code; it is about integrating coding into how it works in real life. We gave it to one million children in year seven in the UK. In Nigeria, we have a few schools that have come on board now in Abuja and Lagos, but the traction is not nearly half as it should be.
“Technology is not waiting for anybody any more, we need to start from the secondary schools and cannot be waiting for when they graduate. If you want to change in 10 years from now, start now, because before you know it, 10 years have passed. That is why I was interested in bringing that technology to Nigerian children.”
Mbadiwe spoke glowingly about the future plans of the company in Nigeria, including raising the awareness of true project management skills via experience, not via writing Project Management Professional (PMP) certification examinations. So, he wants to train individuals by experience, getting their hands on the work, so that they understand real time, how the theory applies to the practical.
“Two, we want to be able to place project managers as consultants in other companies. We can deliver a managed service to firms in Nigeria. If you have a contract and you want to deliver it, you bring us in. We will bring our team and help you with the planning, preparation and implementation. We go our way when the project is delivered on time and within budget. We provide this service in the UK and we can do it in Nigeria.
“Thirdly, we want to bring Nigeria to the area of management, where we can compete and relate with every major developed country in the world. Nigeria is like a child you really want to do more for, but is just disappointing you. So, if we can train individuals at their various respective fields and deliver projects properly and practically, both students coming out of school and individuals already in that area, we will get there.
“I believe that looking into the future, we are going to be heavily embedded in Nigeria. We are going to be part of the team that will transform how to deliver projects in Nigeria. I believe that our consultancy services for companies will help them to set up international standards in project delivery practices.”
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