Navigating the non-existent employment prospects for the Nigerian college graduate

Student looking at camera while sitting in the library.

By Akpobome Okotete

A Nigerian college graduate has undergone at least 16 years of formal education: six years of primary school, six years of secondary school, and four years of college. Even with more than a decade of formal education, both from private and public institutions, Nigerian college graduates barely have jobs waiting for them.

How unemployed are Nigerian college graduates?

According to the Labor Survey of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in Q2 2020, the Nigerian youth are more unemployed than the older Nigerians. About 35% of the Nigerian population are aged between 25 and 34, one of the largest youth populations in the world. The youth unemployment level of the Nigerian youth is as thus: 41% unemployment rate for those between 15 and 24 and 31% unemployment rate for those between 25 and 34.

When the unemployment rate was considered according to the level of education, the survey showed that about 41% of Nigerian college graduates with a bachelor’s degree are unemployed. The survey further showed that about 23% of master’s and PhD degree holders, respectively, are unemployed.

The state of education in Nigeria

The Nigerian public education sector is grossly underfunded. UNESCO recommends the allocation of between 15% and 26% of the national budget to education. In 2018, only about 8% of the Nigerian budget was allocated to education. In 2020, it further dropped to 6.7%. In the 2021 budget, only 5.6% of the Nigerian budget was allocated to education, the lowest in ten years.

At the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, Nigeria uses outdated curricula that don’t equip students with 21st-century knowledge and skills. 

Corruption also plagues the education sector. Examination malpractice, sexual harassment, and extortion are commonplace in Nigerian colleges.

Over time, the different factors highlighted above have greatly impacted the quality of education negatively. The low quality of education in Nigeria is one of the biggest factors that hinder Nigerian graduates from finding good jobs.

Basic education in Nigeria takes nine years: six years of elementary education and three years of junior secondary education. A basic level of education is supposed to equip learners with important skills for becoming agents of social and economic change. In Nigeria, this is not the case. Nigerians with tertiary education hardly find suitable jobs to support themselves. The educational system of Nigeria can be said to have failed in delivering its expected value. 

Nigerian college graduates lack essential skills that are highly in demand in the labour market. Communication skills are one of these top lacking skills. Nigerian universities constantly churn out unemployable graduates, about 600,000 of them yearly, because of the low quality of education offered. Apart from the essential written and oral communication skills, Nigerian college graduates commonly lack critical thinking skills.

Along with general soft skills; such as communication, collaboration, and people management skills; technical skills, which can be sector-specific like coding and programming for the IT sector, are commonly lacking in Nigerian graduates. The universities lack the required facilities and personnel for equipping students with 21st-century technical skills.

Nigeria has 43 federal universities, 48 state universities, and 79 private universities. The cost of education in the public system is much lower than that of the private system. The average cost of public tertiary education is about one-tenth of that of private tertiary education in Nigeria. Thus, a majority of the populace opts for public education. The gross underfunding of the sector makes public college education the lowest quality of tertiary education. Even the private universities, which are out of the reach of the average Nigerian, still lack the capacity to equip students to compete with their counterparts globally.

Lack of support from colleges in navigating the labour market

Education in Nigeria concept, 3D rendering isolated on white background

A major indication of the failure of the Nigerian educational system, especially at the college level, is the lack of support for navigating the labour market. Graduates are essentially thrown into the labour market without the required skills and any form of support.

Nigerian public universities do not routinely organize regular job fairs or create opportunities that serve as a bridge between knowledge and practical applications in industries. Typically, the schools do not maintain strategic partnerships with industries to guide the smooth transition of students into the workplace. These activities are more commonly organized by private colleges or foreign colleges. 

Industrial development in Nigeria

Nigeria consumes much more than it produces, with a low level of industrialization. In September 2020, 3.4 USD bn was spent on imports. The oil and gas sector makes up about 95% of the GDP, with the manufacturing sector making up just about 4%. Countries with a low level of industrialization are bound to have a high unemployment rate. This is exactly the case in Nigeria.

Since the discovery of the abundance of crude oil, it has been the major contributor to the GDP of Nigeria, leaving the industrial sector largely underdeveloped. With the crude oil boom, Nigeria also failed to focus on the agricultural sector, another driver of economic growth.

In recent times, with the underperformance of the crude oil market and the low level of industrialization, Nigeria has found itself in a critical situation that has been reflected in the high level of unemployment.

There are not enough industries to employ the able-bodied populace. During the 2016 economic recession, about 350,000 jobs were lost. The youth population is expanding with few jobs being created to this expansion. Education, which offers the promise of a better life and future, hardly fulfils its promises because of its low quality.

What the future holds

The 2021 Nigerian budget had the lowest allocation in ten years for education. This means that the public education sector is going to still churn out low-quality graduates in the nearest future. Apart from the low industrial development level and availability of jobs, the skill gap significantly impacts the employment prospects of the average Nigerian graduate.

We could describe the nonexistent employment prospects of the Nigerian college graduate as a two-part problem caused by the skill gap and the low industrial development. Both aspects of the problem require government intervention. The combination of dwindling crude oil reserves and foreign reserves, corruption, and low investment and industrial development makes government intervention far-fetched.

A focus on bridging the skills gap is thus the way forward for this problem. Nigerian graduates can work towards improving their skills through cost-effective skill acquisition measures. Since the public educational system, which is accessible to a large proportion of the populace, offers little value as regards employability, it is important that Nigerian graduates begin to seek ways to acquire the required skills outside the system.

YouTube is a readily available and easily accessible resource for acquiring skills across all sectors. It is also cost-effective. Since the inadequacies of the Nigerian education sector have been well established, students and the general youth populace can embrace YouTube as a learning tool. They can also acquire skills from internships, certifications, and work-study opportunities. One can steadily acquire skills and build careers from free resources like YouTube and other free industry-specific resources. Codecademy, for example, is a free platform for learning how to code. 

Dedicated learning platforms for acquiring new skills that are highly in demand abound. Coursera, EdX, and Udemy are some of the largest platforms available. Although these are typically paid learning platforms, scholarships and opportunities to audit courses for free could be available.  

Blockchain, cloud computing, translation, and artificial intelligence are some of the top skills currently in demand. These skills could be acquired through courses taken completely online. Nigerian graduates can actively seek cost-effective measures of acquiring these skills.

Even though there are not enough jobs for the teeming Nigerian youth population, becoming employable significantly improves the employment prospects of the Nigerian youth. The advent of remote learning and work also opens up new opportunities for the Nigerian youth. A young Nigerian can acquire skills through low-cost opportunities and sell those skills on a global labour market.

Traditional formal education has failed the average Nigerian youth because of its low quality and inability to equip students with 21st-century skills. Instead of relying on this system, they can maximize the budding and easily accessible “informal” education system to acquire essential skills. The tech and creative sectors, two of the best-performing sectors in the country, have specifically benefitted from the decentralized acquisition of skills.

The future holds better employment prospects for Nigerian college graduates that can acquire employability skills outside the traditional formal education system.

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