The Vanguard news of 22rd August, caught my attention with this opening statement” PREGNANT Women, nursing mothers, physically challenged persons and university graduates were among the nine thousand applicants who, Saturday morning, thronged the U.J Esuene Sports Stadium to compete for one thousand job placements in the green state Police scheduled to oversee the state’s forests”.
A similar enthusiasm was expressed August 8th, when I published an article on “little things that matters” where I wrote about job creation through exporting Benne seeds and palm kernel shells.
On that faithful day, I received over 20 calls from Cross River indigenes in Nigeria, Dubai, South Africa and even from Russia.
Within 24 hours of that initial article, my email and text messages were overstretched with messages. To summarize all the messages and questions in a single sentence, the burden was, where and how do we start this business?
Now, If pregnant and nursing mothers could throng the stadium in search for green police recruitment, a job that would be ideal for young boys and girls probably at most with a secondary school certificate, then we cannot pretend that all is well.
Unemployment remains the biggest monster facing the state and the nation at this very moment.
The main question that bothers us all: Why is unemployment still a problem? Or are we faced with underemployment in the guise of unemployment? What has other climes done to address unemployment and why can’t we follow suit?
What are policy options if any to address the unemployment crisis in Nigeria and Cross River state once and for all, and does the government have the political will and determination to drive job creation as a policy preference?
In answering these questions, I would rather argue that the bulk of the problem in Cross River State today is underemployment and not unemployment.
What this means is that most people that actually need a means of sustenance, have no skills and as such are unemployable.
The second category have skills but have no resources to apply their skills to meaningful ventures.
The third category have skills and limited resources, but have no entrepreneurship drive to convert their skills and resources to productive wealth. So they still brand themselves unemployed looking for white collar offers.
The final category are those who graduated from Universities, but a smart SS3 student is more useful than them in the workplace.
Being able to breakdown our unemployed population to these categories is the first step to designing a public policy on job creation that would cover all the categories involved.
To those without skills but unemployed, training programs can be organized to help them learn tailoring and apply same to the proposed garment factory, but for this sector to be successful, the proposed garment factory has to be developed to a garment industry with limitless opportunities.
So within the garment industry we can build a structure that would absorb unskilled labor to productive ventures on the long-term.
The second group have skills but no resources to apply their skills. To this group, the state should help them secure micro credit facilities. This can be done through cooperative formations as I have argued previously.
With Micro credit, these group of unemployed can engage in fish farming, agricultural export trades, small scale mining and several other private ventures, which will apart from helping them become self-reliant, they would end up becoming employers of labor.
The third group have skills and limited resources, but have no entrepreneurial drive. The problem with this group is that they really do not know the right sector to invest their resources.
This group are those seeking avenues to engage either in international trade, but really do not know how. To this group, the state should be able to engage the right type of professionals to help them.
The final group are those I will call too qualified but not really educated. This group are those that are becoming a big problem to our labor force. They include graduates whose only asset is the paper they hold called certificates, looking for white collar jobs, but have nothing to contribute or bring on board to help build the industry.
A few years ago, I conducted some interviews in Nigeria to recruit some fresh graduates for a program. The interview was simple, with a few questions like these: What did you study? What was your project topic? What was the problem or puzzle or addition to literature you addressed in your project? What research method did you apply in your study?
While there were some smart and intelligent fellows that expressed intelligence and competence, a larger percentage in the interview could only say their project topics, but had no idea what is a research problem talk more research methods.
Part of the problem is that majority of the applicants just copied other people’s projects and submitted, they were graded and graduated.
Now as an employer, how do you hire someone who claims to be educated but cannot really be of help?
How do you hire someone who bought his degree? If you ask this same people to resort to farming, they will tell you they are graduates. To this group, I would advocate retraining and new skill development to get them gainfully engaged.
This brings us to available opportunities and how most of our people have been left behind over the years.
How many indigenes of Cross River State have any idea of the Bank of Industry and her products?
Through the Nigerian bank of Industry, there are various loan programs that our people can engage. This include The Central bank SME intervention fund, The cassava bread fund, The Cottage fund, NEEDEP fund, NPFS food security fund, Rice and cassava intervention fund, sugar development council fund, Dangote fund for small businesses and NAC fund.
For most of these funds, if Cross Riverians are better enlightened and properly organized with unique business concepts, they can apply for some of these funds to start small businesses. However, most of these funds have basic requirements some of which include the submission of business plans and feasibility studies.
The question arises, how do you expect an applicant who copied someone else’s project to know how to write a business plan or conduct a feasibility study on a business concept?
So unemployment today is not just the absence of jobs, unemployment to a large extent is the excessive presence of underemployment among our graduates.
Everyone has some blame in today’s unemployment crisis. From the students who copy projects, to the lecturers who approve this projects without due diligence, to incidence of poverty that makes students to skip classes, to man know man and connections to secure jobs. We are all victims.
1. The state government should create an unemployment data base to better appreciate the nature of the problem and how best to address it. With such a database, the state can regulate how many unemployed youths have been gainfully employed in a month, areas where skills are available and how to apply them.
2. The state should organize youth cooperatives on trade and professional lines and assist them with micro credit facilities or provide soft guarantees to enable our unemployed youths access business loans without need for collaterals.
3. The state government should embark on a 10 year plan that would transform the garment factory to a full garment industry for international export to compete favorably on international platforms.
4. The state government should consider the creation of a job readiness department whose primary function would be to provide training in entrepreneurship, business plans and feasibility studies, help Cross Riverians access opportunities scattered in Nigeria and overseas, and finally help indigenes access international markets and trade platforms to effectively engage international business.
5. Most importantly, the state should enforce higher educational standards in all state sponsored schools, Vice Chancellors and Rectors should ensure we produce graduates that can defend their degrees, for unless we tackle unemployment as a security threat with at least a 10 year workable plan, we may experience an unemployed people revolution comparable to the French labor revolution in no distant time.
While I commend Ben Ayade for the job openings in the green police, I would respectfully appeal for a long-term job creation plan, based on an exceptionable policy framework, to address the different unemployed categories we have in the pool today.
We should always remember, for every unemployed adult, there is a child who may not have school supplies depending on him, an aged mother who needs medication depending on him, a landlord whose rent has not been paid for months, and a father who sold all his assert to send a child to school who has turned out a liability.
A problem identified is half solved. With good long term economic planning, we can address unemployment and underemployment among our teeming youths in no distant time.
Princewill odidi is a development consultant residing in Atlanta USA (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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