Educated Nigerians are becoming unemployed at an alarming rate. According to the recent unemployment report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment among people with post-secondary school education has almost tripled within three years—from 12% in 2015 to 30% in 2018. Even the most academically qualified Nigerian workers are struggling with unemployment: nearly 10,000 PhD holders are currently unemployed.
When you consider that the national unemployment rate is at 23%, you realise that an educated Nigerian is more likely to be unemployed than the average Nigerian. In short, the likelihood that you have a job is lower if you have gone to university. Education no longer provides the assurance of getting a job and this has many implications for parents striving to put their children through school, students extending themselves to get a degree, and the government that intends to build the economy on the back of a productive workforce.
Part of the problem lies with the slow rate at which the Nigerian economy is creating formal jobs. For instance, in 2015 alone, about 251,000 formal jobs were created whereas popular estimates show that Nigerian universities produce 500,000 graduates annually. At the same time, key sectors are shedding jobs. About 350,000 jobs were lost in the petroleum downstream oil sector following the 2016 economic recession.
A young and growing population does not help matters. Essentially, too many people are chasing too few jobs. While Nigeria’s labour force grew by nearly 4% between 2010 and 2017, jobs grew at a rate of just 1.6% in the same period. The future remains bleak for graduates if formal jobs are not created at a considerably faster rate considering that the country has a young population and many people still in school.
Another reason why Nigeria has so many educated and jobless people is that there is a mismatch between the skills that workers have and the skills needed in the jobs available. Many educated people are not trained to suit the demand of employers. This is attributed to the poor alignment between labour market needs and the curriculum the education system teaches. There is a wide gap between theory and practice in universities, such that it becomes difficult to apply taught courses to real-world issues. Instances have been given of people who graduate with a degree in computer engineering but still have never used a computer.
Even worse, local employers have said that many graduates cannot read and write, and do not have adequate numeracy skills. On the other hand, labour market entrants have criticised employers for expecting an unreasonable level of work experience with no opportunities for mentoring at the beginning phase of the job.
As a way to solve the unemployment crisis, the Federal Government started the N-Power programme to empower and upskill young graduates by providing them with short-term job opportunities in agriculture, schools, health centres and tax administration departments. The programme already has 200,000 beneficiaries and aims to cater to 300,000 more at completion. The private sector has also facilitated job creation through innovation centres where emerging entrepreneurs benefit from mentorship and funding. Co-Creation Hub, one of Nigeria’s foremost innovation centres, has helped many start-ups—such as BudgIT and LifeBank—to scale. Civil society organisations have also attempted to alleviate the situation by training job seekers on necessary competencies and connecting them with employers. The West African Vocational Education (WAVE) Academy is active in this space. As at the end of 2017, the academy was training 2,000 youths on basic work competencies.
Despite these interventions, the livelihoods of many educated Nigerians are threatened. With no national safety net system in place, many cannot afford to be unemployed and have to make do with low-productivity and low-paying jobs that underutilise their skills, time and educational qualification. Unsurprisingly, underemployment within this group is 14%, pointing to a relatively high number settling with part-time work. It is now common for many skilled Nigerians to have multiple jobs or side hustles to maintain an adequate living standard. The high proportion of educated unemployed has also created a perverse trend: a slow transition from school to work. Although Nigerians have a flair for education, many have cited the lack of jobs as the reason for going for another degree.
On the bright side, the lack of jobs for educated Nigerians is fostering a sizeable entrepreneurial class, with roughly four out of five employed Nigerians working for themselves, according to the World Bank. However, the quality of these entrepreneurs is highly questionable, and many are mere imitators and are unlikely to become engines of economic growth or job creation. Moreover, not everybody—Your Nigerian Economist included—wants to run a business. Some of us want to be job takers and should have the opportunity to do so. Education should remain the gateway to our kind of success: Go to school, get a degree and get a job.