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‘We need to develop our students to feed into our local economies’

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Alofe

Ms. Busola Alofe is the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM). In this interview with GLORIA NWAFOR, she talks about how Nigeria can develop a nexus between principles and practice in educational institutions so as to groom a capable national workforce. She also speaks on what the country’s unemployed graduates can do to enhance their chances of securing gainful employment.

What is your take on the alarming unemployment rate in the country?
I read a report in the Economist that Nigeria’s unemployment rate has risen to 33.3 per cent, the second highest on the global list. This is out of 82 countries monitored by Bloomberg. Namibia leads the list with 33.4 per cent.

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These figures were based on the data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that highlighted that those statistics were as of the fourth quarter of last year. The 33.3 per cent unemployment rate shows a three per cent increase from the previous quarter and that is very worrisome.

With a working age population of 120 million Nigerians, the data also indicate that more than half of the 69.7 million labour force members are unemployed or underemployed and nearly 20 million are underemployed and about 12 million actually had no jobs at all.

With the fact that there was a pandemic last year that impacted lives and livelihoods and there was thunderous pressure due to the attendant decline in oil prices, among other factors, it is very worrisome to have a third of the population of the labour workforce unemployed.

This signifies a huge productivity loss with a negative impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It also portends problems, as people need resources to meet the basic necessities of life.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you have food, shelter, clothing and in today’s digital world, data. How will the citizens survive without the necessary amenities to meet these basic needs and also considering the fact that food prices are rising astronomically month-on-month? Imagine what has happened with food prices and the increase in the cost of product and services while the minimum wage is N30, 000. Right now, I am not sure that N30, 000 minimum wage can go far at all for anybody, because inflation is also now double digits and rising. We have sadly seen how the rate of crime, insecurity and corruption in the nation has continued to rise. Many of the cognitive factors of these are economic crime related. So, I solely concur with the Bloomberg article that the number of people looking for jobs will keep rising as population growth continues to outpace output expansion.

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Nigeria is expected to be the world’s third most populous country by 2050 with over 300 million people, according to the United Nations.

How will this nation be able to take care of its population if population growth continues to rise astronomically? However, the supply-demand imbalance in the gap between the supply of jobs continues to grow as well. Demand will rise as population grows. We are not seeing the attendant rise in the supply of jobs. There is a lot work for everyone to do in order to address the many negative economic and social implications of this situation.

How true is the claim that there are actually job vacancies in the private sector but Nigerian graduates are unemployable?
There are job vacancies both in the private and public sector. People are getting jobs everyday. Several entrepreneurs are springing up in every aspect of life in the country, identifying and addressing both existing and unmet needs of people, businesses and communities as well as creating new opportunities to make an impact and to make money.

I wouldn’t say categorically that Nigerian graduates are unemployable. I do not think that is the correct assertion. While it is true that the quality of education from many of our schools is questionable, as it is the quality of teaching staff and school infrastructure that directly impact the quality of the depth and breadth and skills of students and graduates from these schools, I do believe that everyone has some talents and skills that can be harnessed for creating value for the nation in various ways. What I think needs to get stronger is the focus on diversifying the channels via which these talents and skills are identified, nurtured, run and deployed across the economy. This leads to a holistic structured educational system.

Honestly, Nigeria needs to learn from Finland, which is known as one of the world’s most advanced countries when it comes to the nexus between education and economic growth. They are extremely strategic about what they do in education. We also need to change our mindset as a people.

In my view, not everyone has to go to university; some people can be the very best in skills learnt and become billionaires. Polytechnics, technical schools and internship opportunities are places to venture into and acquire these skills. We have a lot but we do not have the completely correct structures to speed into these different segments of our economy. We need to look at our local economies and develop our students to be able to feed into those local economies. Some educational institutions should focus on theories and principles while others should focus on practice and all of them should find a comfortable nexus to balance the two in order to groom a capable and national workforce.

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What kinds of changes should be made to the curricula to ensure that Nigerian universities produce graduates that know their onions?
Firstly, I will recommend a Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is a model that drives the process and the approach for educational learning and examination. The Nigerian academic curriculum is the one that focuses students on the basics of learning by simply impacting knowledge and understanding according to that taxonomy. For me, understanding is even questionable. We focus on just impacting knowledge and small understanding. Knowing full well that knowledge is power, that knowledge must be applied in order to create value, it is highly critical for us to step up our learning approaches to those that enable students to apply what they learn. Our students must be able to analyse and reason through things. Most Nigerian children grow up not to be critical minded, analytical and not really logical in thinking.

We don’t do enough in helping them reason things out, to draw analogies to form their own opinions about things. We need to teach our children how to break concept dialogue together, to synthesize and evaluate. This will make them unlearn, relearn and make them better as well. They will be able to understand deeply and figure things out themselves and also be able to apply and create new things.

Secondly, we must make digital acumen as a curriculum of learning. COVID-19 pandemic threw us into appreciating digital learning. Our curriculum must start to teach Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education. In the digital world, technical skills are becoming commodities.

Thirdly, there is need to focus on soft skills also called power skills. It includes communication, influencing, social acumen, political savviness and so on. These power skills are important for relationships and connectedness in a digitally able world. We can make a change by being very intentional and deliberate about developing these skills in our students and on adults, who need refreshers and relearning.

What do you think the unemployed graduates should do to enhance their employability?
Young graduates have to do much more while on social media and internet to learn, relearn, unlearn and relearn again. Unemployed graduates need micro sized learning, learning in small bits, so that information gleaned from the learning process can be deployed almost immediately. That is what creates value. We need to learn the knowledge skills and understanding of how to apply those skills of interest.

So, there are lots of jobs our there. People should think about the future and follow global trends on technology. Our unemployed graduates should reduce the amount of time they spend on the internet for things that do not add value to their lives; rather they should look for those they can form connections, networks and alliances with to get into businesses. They should learn and grow leveraging digital. Learn about yourself. Where does your capability, strength lie? There are a lot of opportunities for our unemployed graduates. They should take advantage of institutions where they will get mentored and coached and pitch themselves for certain amount of money to start their own business.

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What advise do you have for the government towards addressing the unemployment problem in the country?
We must build a country that is tied to ethical values of uprightness and integrity. We have lost our moral passion as a nation. Our nation today is where the moral fabric is deep on corruption; the next person wants to scam the next person. It is bad! We can still survive legitimately in this country. Everybody needs to tailor their expectations and recalibrate himself/herself; and rethink about working hard, learning and growing to become rich at a decent time.

The government has a lot of work to do in re-educating and re-entrenching a value-based citizen. Also, government must kill corruption. It is the biggest problem that is killing us and resulting in unemployment. Corruption is killing our country and preventing us from flourishing. Government has to kill corruption and focus on a holistic solution to driving the economy. Power is not working because of corruption. Government must address issues on healthcare, education and employment.

Government must be future oriented and take quantum leap far ahead to the next 25 years. Government needs more of engagement and communication involving all citizens in national development and in a structured way, where we are able to tap it and unleash the value from all of the talents and resources that we have in each state and the Federal Government should then harness all into a holistic system for the betterment of the entire nation. Also, private and public sector partnerships should continue both locally and internationally.

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