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Our youths are not developed to meet global employment demand—Ogunmola

By Moses Nosike

Eyitayo Ogunmola is the Country Director, Utiva, a social entrepreneur, project manager with special interest in projects developments. He had worked in the United States, South Africa and had supported more than 20 projects across 4 countries, also implemented government institutional strengthening programmes, international development frameworks, TVET and tech projects.

In this interview with Nosike Moses, he said how Utiva is connected to youth community, helping young people in our tertiary institutions to transit from school to jobs. Excepts:

What is the mission of Utiva in Nigerian economic environment?

Honestly, this is an exciting time to work in Nigeria and also a good time to be part of the social impact investing community. If you are not part of the change, you may need to be changed. We are connected to the youth community, and our work is to help young people in our tertiary institutions transition from school to jobs. If you think about the number of students in Nigerian tertiary institutions today and the rate of graduation, you’d understand why we do what we do. If you look at the numbers, you’d be amazed.

The first problem we are solving is the disconnect between the tertiary institutions and the job market. I was a part of a research in 2016 on the future of work in Sub-Saharan Africa, and there is a component of the research outcome that is quite amazing: 96% of Nigeria educational institutions believe they prepare students for work, yet only 9% of Nigeria business leaders say today’s college graduates are prepared for work. So, our work is quite focused on redeveloping the students for the job market.

We are so connected to the job market and we also understand what the needs are. We currently have 20 leading entrepreneurs and HR managers on our practice leadership and a faculty of about 60 people who are HR managers, professionals, entrepreneurs etc.

So, our core is to develop young people for jobs. We have a 1 year and 4 months learning pedagogy and approach. All focused on one thing; which is to rebuild the competence of these young people for the future of work. And our approach is to help our students acquire the top 8 skills that employers globally want to recruit for.

As the Country Director of Utiva, how do you see Nigerian business climate?

To be honest, this is a harsh environment. Those operating in this climate can attest to it. But to be less emotional about this, I also think the Ease of Doing Business ranking says it all. We are ranked 145th of 190 participating countries in the world. So, you know how we are ranked globally. In Sub-Saharan Africa, we are number 21 of 48. And Rwanda is second, Kenya is third and South Africa is 5th.

So, to be modest, we are an emerging economy with some basic things to figure out. One of the  challenges is access to talent in Nigeria. Of course, there are other factors like  inconsistent policies, access to electricity and bad roads. Yet, I like to think that business is about 3 fundamentals: Product, People, and Processes.

Most entrepreneurs have good products and processes, but access to good people is quite a challenge. There is human capital shortage in Nigeria. You think I am wrong? Talk to Human Resource managers. And that is what I care so much about. How do we help more young people become competent for the job market.

Is education in Nigeria today truly an all round development for Nigerians?

Let’s say a few things at this point. It’s also important to see education a bit differently from academics or schooling! When you go to school to study Chemistry, you are in school for the academics. But when you develop your character, leadership, morals, ability to work with others, ability to debate, think critically and analyse social situations etc, you are in education. So, education is developing your innate capacity to solve social and societal challenges. Now, the reality here is the Nigerian educational system doesn’t develop us for that space.

We did a little study among 1500 students and 82% agreed that their lecturers come late to class and yet do not apologise for doing so. So what do we have here? We have students graduating from schools where their tutors and role models get late to classes and meetings, and yet take no responsibility. You now know where our lack of character and attitude come from. This is just a little component of those problems. There must be an intervention. And that is what we represent.

What do you think of the unemployment rate in the country today?

Yes, unemployment rate in Nigeria is quite high. Depending on the figure and the source you are quoting from, though. Most of the figures out there are scary. Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) pegs the unemployment rate at 14.2%( 2016 last quarter). The rate increased to 18.80 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from 16.20 in the previous quarter. So, we are currently playing around 18.80%. The numbers keep rising! It’s like yeast.

I like to think about this in some basic way. Do we have challenges in Nigeria that businesses need to solve? Yes. Do we have business opportunities here in Nigeria? Yes. How many Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises do we have in Nigeria? According to the Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), we have about 33 million MSMEs in this country. The next question is how many young people are skilled and competent to help these businesses grow? How many small companies out there can boast of employing a young graduate with top skills to support their growth? What values does a graduate of Botany bring to the job market? We need to retrain!

Do you think the average Nigerian graduate is employable?

No! The answer is quite easy to jump at. Majority of young graduates in Nigeria are not employable. It’s that simple! It’s either we accept it or not. I work with students in schools and I see the gap. They are not developed for the job market. And I often debate that the reason we have the universities and polytechnics is because of the job market. Final!!! These institutions are built to help people get a life after school. It’s either you want to get a life as an employee of a value driven enterprise, or you want to create one. Unfortunately, we are training people who will fear the lecturers, memorize old text books and follow music stars on instagram. We need to get it right before 2025 otherwise we will be less competitive as a nation.

We were a part of a research that engaged about 5000 employers in 2016 and we discovered that employers of labor want to recruit for 8 major skills. So, our reality is that regardless of what you study in school, you must have these skills as values you are bringing to the company.

What solutions would you proffer to the issue above?

Whatever solution we are proposing, it must be holistic and multi-faceted. So, I will mention a few here. First, we need to reconstruct the institutions so that it has a big connect and relationship to the job market. Again, I must re-emphasise the need for the universities to communicate with the job market to understand what they want. That is one thing we have been able to figure out. Our practice leads are leading entrepreneurs and professionals in the job market. We always try to understand what they want.  Second, we need to reconstruct our learning approaches and curriculum to speak to what is valuable. It’s no use teaching someone what is never going to be valuable! We need to identify the gap and train to fill those.


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