Vocational and technical training has been placed at the centre of education policy, with Muhammadu Buhari, the president of Nigeria, emphasising the need to revive vocational training centres and put relevant skill development at the heart of tertiary education. In October 2015 the president announced that Nigeria must follow the global trend of fostering a knowledge-based economy by focusing on the improvement of education. “This will also help impact necessary skills and competencies, leading to the production of artisans, technicians and technologists, who will be enterprising and self-reliant, thus having the greatest potential to generate employment and reduce poverty in our society,” the president said.
The current administration’s emphasis on trades and technical competencies is hardly surprising. Youth unemployment in Nigeria is as high as 50%, according to consultancy McKinsey, with graduates of tertiary institutions making up a fifth of all unemployed youth, according to the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research. This issue is not unique to Nigeria. Economies as diverse as India and Saudi Arabia are also attempting to tackle youth unemployment problems.
One of the biggest challenges across these economies is matching the expectations of universities with those of potential future employers. According to surveys conducted by McKinsey, three-quarters of university professors believe they are adequately preparing young people for the labour market, while only 40% of employers feel the same way.
Supply & Demand
Nigeria’s government is working to close the gap between the education system and the workplace by introducing incentives to increase the uptake of science and technology subjects at the tertiary level. In line with this, it has set a target of producing 60% science graduates and 40% in the humanities and social sciences. As part of this process, the government is also focusing on vocational training. However, funding in this segment is likely to fall more on the private sector in future years, following President Buhari’s announcement in October 2015 that the government will not be able to meet the requirements of tertiary education by itself.
Indeed, there is a possibility that the federal government might cut off all funding to the country’s polytechnics – which traditionally provide practical training – by 2018. “The level of budgetary allocations to the polytechnics has dwindled drastically over the years, and unless the institutions are proactive to look for alternative funding and use their resources, they may not be able to survive,” Ekpeyong Ekpeyong, director of Physical Planning and Development at the National Board for Technical Education, told local press in early 2016. He argued, however, that the reduction in funding offered an opportunity for institutions to find new means of generating revenue and remaining competitive in the marketplace.
The government’s main focus has been on facilitating the transition from the education system to the workplace. The leading tool in this regard is the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme. Established in 2012, the scheme takes funds generated from a reduction in the country’s fuel subsidy and redirects them to youth employment initiatives, ranging from graduate internships and community service to vocational training schemes. In 2014-15, 100,000 young people participated in the Graduate Internship Scheme, which offered incentives, including tax rebates, to participating companies. Another programme, Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria, supports entrepreneurship and in 2015 set a target of creating 50,000 jobs through new graduate businesses.
It is hoped that such programmes will begin to reduce the country’s sizeable youth unemployment level. However, solving the issue is likely to require greater financial intervention in the coming years.