‘We ’re committed to helping undergraduates transition from school to work’
Eyitayo Ogunmola is the Country Director of Utiva, a social enterprise with commitment to helping college students and recent graduates transition from school to work. As a Lean VI Sigma certified professional and certified Project Manager with vast expertise in project execution garnered from six countries including United States (Washinhton DC), Zambia, El-Salvador, Honduras, Tanzania and Indonesia, he is divided between two missions — business and social impact. He has in the course of his social mission implemented government institutional strengthening programmes, international development frameworks, TVET and tech projects. He spoke to DANIEL ANAZIA. Excerpt
What is Utiva all about?
Utiva is a social enterprise that is committed to helping college students and recent graduates transition from school to work. The core of our work is first to help these young people develop skills and competencies that make them relevant to the job market, and secondly, help fast-rising companies in Nigeria find these talents. For us in Utiva, we believe that the only way Africa businesses can compete globally is if there is a consistent supply of highly skilled and competent labour and workforce to these businesses.
Hence, our work is structured to help undergraduates develop the top eight leading skills, which includes: sales and marketing, workplace communication skills, design thinking and iteration,financial analysis and valuation, fundamentals of business research, professional development and leadership skils, project and time management, and web-base collaboration tools that every global employer wants to see in a young graduate. We sit between the fast-growing employers and skilled (Utivans) recent graduates. Put in another word, Utivan means increased productivity to the Sub-Saharan African economy. We aim to bridge the gap between qualification and employment, which has, for so long, been a leading factor in the high unemployment rate of youth all over Sub-Saharan Africa.
There are so many human capital development centres in the country, what stands Utiva out, thus making it the sought after place for young people?
At Utiva, we combine online learning experiences with traditional classroom training to deliver value to our students (Utivans), using soft-touch technology and social learning tools. Basic platforms that most of the students have access to include job opportunities, venture creation, social entreprenuership, one year business case review and attitudinal change. Our work helps these students and young graduates to acquire skills that every employer out there want to employ a young graduate for. In 2016, we were a part of a research on the future of work where we interviewed more than 5000 employers across Nigeria. We realised that most employers are clamoring for a more skillful and ready to work young graduate. So, we started to deliver our training to speak to the top skills these undergraduates need to acquire for the job market. We have tailored it to eight major skills. So, our physical training in all the schools where we operate majorly covers the core of the skills and the other learning structure for them help augment the learning. Also, we have started to experiment with connecting these students to opportunities they can leverage on. It’s important that I also mention that we do not want to recruit for organisations; we just want to improve access to talents. That is our model for now.
The level of unemployment in the country is very high following the economic meltdown. What in your professional perspective are the problems aand how can this be tackled?
The problems we see are faced by two major sets of people. First are the companies and organisations in Nigeria that are relying strongly on graduates to do their work. We are working with students in the universities who will afterwards transition into the job market. Unemployment in Nigeria (and Sub-Saharan Africa) currently affects over 25 million youths and has crept to dominate most countries in the Sub-Saharan part of the continent. The challenge with unemployment in this part of the world isn’t just limited to joblessness but ‘skillslessness’ because corporates already find it difficult to fill in roles. To be fair, it will be wrong to assume that the Nigerian institutions are not training these undergraduates well; it’s just unfortunate that about 88 percent of employers interviewed by PwC in Nigeria affirm that young graduates lack basic skills to get them in the job environment. To be modest, young men and women today, face increasing uncertainty in their hopes of undergoing a satisfactory transition in the labour market. This uncertainty and disillusionment can, in turn, have damaging effects on individuals, communities, economies and society at large.
Unemployed or underemployed youth are less able to contribute effectively to national development and have fewer opportunities to exercise their rights as citizens. They have less to spend as consumers, less to invest as savers and often have no ‘voice’ to bring about change in their lives and comm nities. Widespread youth-unemployment and underemployment also prevents companies and countries from innovating and developing competitive advantages based on human capital investment, thus undermining future prospects. Unemployment is a key measure to monitor whether a country is on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. The other end of the challenge is that the fast rising Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria also do not find it easy to fill critical roles because young people leaving schools are not prepared for work. One would assume that because Nigeria has about 33 million SMEs, unemployment should be impossible, but evidence shows that young people do not access jobs because they lack the skills and capacity to function in those roles. Being in school in Nigeria doesn’t necessarily commensurate to acquiring job and employer centric skills. The schools in Nigeria have no connect to the employers whatsoever.
How long have Utiva been in operations
We have been around since 2014 as Human Capital Development Centre but we recently changed the entire organisational structure, our model, our operations but the same target market and mission.
You have constantly mentioned undergraduates, are they the only target group?
We are focused on two major type of people — the young undergraduates and college graduates, and this constitute the first set of our major beneficiaries. Here, we work with an average of 300 to 500 students per school and we are working closely with about 25 universities across the country. Our model allows us to bring an average of 150 students into one bootcamp. Within one year, we worked with about 6000 students and 17 percent of them are today budding entrepreneurs. However, we are launching a new programme for the graduates and those already working and desire to improve their skills. This will coming on stream in some weeks time.
How has your training and programmes impacted the economy?
One of the things we have seen happen is that small businesses have started to reach out to us for human capital and talents because they trust the Utiva product. In February, we had about 15 companies reach out to us for talents. But the reality is that we can increase this to 1500 companies. So many of our students are breaking grounds and doing exciting things. For instance, more than a 200 of our students reached out that they received opportunities to intern and many of them got jobs. One of the many things we are teaching our students is how to get through small companies and work with them. It’s a new set of values.