Obviously, there exists a large army of unemployed youths in our country. According to a latest National Bureau of Statistics report, the country’s unemployment rate is 14.2%. But this number still did not include about 40 million Nigerian youths captured in World Bank statistics in 2009. By implication, it means that if Nigeria’s population is 180 million, then 50% of Nigerians are unemployed, or worse still, at least 71% of Nigerian youths are unemployed. This is particularly disturbing.
Since Lagos State is home to about 21million Nigerians, it is safe to affirm that the State, which is the fifth largest economy in Africa, feels the brunt of the menace of youth employment the most. That Lagos alone accounts for over 70% of national industrial investments makes it attractive to job seekers from all across the country.
In Lagos, unemployed youths fall into various categories viz employable and unemployable degree holders, medium level education certificate holders, school certificate holders and drop outs and those who never made it beyond primary schools. Stark illiterates also swam on the State on a daily basis, seeking jobs.
In order to frontally address the State’s peculiar unemployment question, the State government has put in place several new initiatives alongside existing ones. For instance, to prepare graduates for life after school, Ready-Set-Work was launched. It is an entrepreneurial and employability training programme aimed at ensuring that every student who graduates from any tertiary institution in Lagos has knowledge, skills, and attitude required to gain employment upon graduation.
The 13-week training programme prepares final year students for immediate entry into the workforce as employees and employers of labour by equipping them with market- aligned soft skills, business tools, and a mindset re-orientation to the world of work. Since its inception in 2016, 12,500 students have benefitted from the programme.
Another fresh strategy being deployed to tackle unemployment in the State is the revamp of technical education. Technical education is the form of education that prepares people for specific trades, crafts and careers at various levels. As our country aspires to diversify its economy; it is evident that a vital instrument needed for attaining such height is skilled manpower development and a competent workforce. It is in order to address this need that the State government has been boosting technical education in the State.
The collapse of many industries and the limited capacity of government at various levels to employ the teeming population have made white collar jobs practically non-existent. However, there exists job opportunities in other areas that our youths need to be sufficiently equipped to exploit. In the construction industry, for instance, there abounds limitless opportunities for youths with relevant skills for gainful employment. Sadly, this is not being fully exploited because of lack required competence. Thus, to get the needed good hands, property entrepreneurs go to neighbouring Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and Cameroon.
Presently, the Lagos State government is laying great emphasis on technical education to reverse the trend. Hence, the 5 Technical and Vocational Colleges in the State have been rehabilitated and properly equipped while advocacy campaigns have been stepped up to get more students enroll into the colleges. Steadily, the efforts are paying off as enrolment into the colleges has increased by 120%, a situation that has spurred approval for the establishment of 3 additional Technical Colleges in the State.
The State government is equally partnering with several firms to further develop technical education through the setting up of Academies within the Colleges. Notable among these are Samsung (Engineering Academy), Electrical Power Engineering (Power Academy), Automechatronics (Automotive Academy) and Julius Berger (Construction Academy). The good thing about this development is that some of them provide instant employment for grandaunts of these colleges since they can vouch for their competence. For instance, 26 graduates of the State’s Technical Colleges were recently recruited by Dangote Groups as Technician Trainees at Dangote Academy, Obajana while 115 Graduates in Electrical Installation were recruited by Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company.
To further exploit the current momentum, the Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board has collaborated with General Electric for the training of students and Instructors on 3D Printing Technology and Kansai Plascon on Human Capacity Development for fifteen (15) Instructors in Painting and Decorating. The quality of training has also led to the employment of some graduates of the colleges while many have equally become self- employed.
In order sustain existing progress in terms of enhanced job opportunities, the agriculture and agro business sector, with huge capacity for mass employment, is equally being creatively explored. Thus, the Agric Yes programme is being vigorously pursued to train students, school leavers and graduates in Agro related enterprises at Araga in Epe. Upon completion of training, land, accommodation and other vital tools needed to start off are provided for those who choose to stay back in the Farm Settlement while those willing to practice elsewhere are equally supported to stand on their own.
Also, in order to really catch in on the job creation potentials of ICT, the State government introduced Code Lagos, an initiative aimed at teaching 1 million Lagos residents to code by 2020. In May 2017, the programme launched a successful pilot phase with 67 schools, comprising both public and private schools, which exposed over 5464 students to the Code Lagos Coding Framework.
According to ICT experts, knowledge of coding is important not only to individual students’ future career prospects, but also for their countries’ economic competitiveness as well as the ability of technology industry to unearth qualified personnel. In our technologically enhanced world, people with excellent ICT skills stand better chance of being self reliant entrepreneurs. Currently, Code Lagos has trained over 31,000 Lagosians to code while 364 Coding Centres have also been set up in 352 primary and secondary schools as well 12 Out-of-School Centres located in Yaba, Ikorodu, Meiran, Surulere, Ipaja, Ilupeju, Isolo, Onikan, Ikeja and Fadeyi. By June, 2018 another set of 1,260 Lagos residents will commence coding classes in the 12 Out-of-School Centres.
Plans are currently underway to expand the programme to run in 1500 primary and secondary schools as well as 50 Out-of-school Centres across the State by the end of this year. The goal is to ensure that 100,000 Lagosians are trained by September 2018 and 150,000 by December 2018. Once the Code Lagos initiative has been sparked there is no telling where it may end. Founders of Microsoft and Facebook had good technical skill and programming ability as well as many other skills. These and few other well known personalities can be cited in computer coding classes to encourage more youths to take keen interests in ICT.
No doubt, with the conception and execution of more strategic plans, it is envisioned that unemployment will considerably reduce in Lagos. It is, however, important to stress that we need to alter the curriculum of our tertiary education to embrace courses that fit into current socio-economic reality. Indeed, more emphasis must now be placed on technical education and skill acquisition.
Ogundeji is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Alausa, Ikeja