Expert caution against excessive focus on paper qualification: advocates inclusion of skills in education policies at all levels

An entrepreneurship development specialist, Dr. Hilary Owamah has harped on the need for Nigerian undergraduates to acquire useful vocational and or technical skills alongside their quest for tertiary institution certificates.

Owamah, who is an Associate Professor and Acting Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Delta State University, Abraka, Oleh Campus and President, Academic Research and Entrepreneurship Development (A-RED) Initiative made this known during his presentation at a one day workshop on “Even a professor needs a skill”.

The event which held at the Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, Delta State on the 26th of February, 2020 was co-organized by Comrade Ezekiel Okoh and Comrade Ossai Ovie who are respectively, the Special Assistants to the Delta State Governor on Students Affairs, and Special Duties (Media).

The special guest of honour and Governor of Delta State, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa was represented by his Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof. Patrick Muoboghare. The Chief Host and Rector of the Polytechnic, Prof. Akpodiete J was also present with other top dignitaries and government officials.

Owamah in his introduction said “the labour market in Nigeria is characterized by a significant mismatch between skills demanded by employers and those possessed by the young prospective workers”.

He further noted that graduates remain unemployed for up to five years after graduation, partly because they lack market-relevant skills and job creation being unable to measure up with increase in the young adult population.

According to the guest speaker, the Federal Government has projected that Nigeria’s unemployment rate could reach 33.5% by 2020 which would translate to 69 million people, equivalent of the population of 9 West African Countries; Senegal 16m, Guinea 13m, Benin 12m, Togo 8m, Sierra Leone 7m, Liberia 5m, Mauritania 4m, Gambia 2m, Guinea-Bissau 1.9m.

The Associate Professor and Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Environmental Engineers (NIEE), Asaba Chapter further informed the participants, mainly students of the polytechnic and political stakeholders that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) placed the number of unemployed youths as 33.1% of total unemployed Nigerians. He noted that such percentage gave a rough estimate of 22.8 million unemployed youths and represents the largest unemployed age group.
“It is quite unfortunate that while the graduate manufacturing ‘industry’ continues to expand, the employing counterpart continues to shrink”——Dr Owamah.

The university don also informed the participants that the 134 recognised Polytechnics and 174 Universities in Nigeria have an enrolment population of about 2 million and produce about 600,000 graduates yearly. He further said that in the next five years, the number of degree awarding institutions may double, and up to 1million graduates added to the employment queue annually.

Narrating the ordeal of employment in Nigeria, Dr Owamah mentioned that in 2014, 520,000 Nigerian jobless graduates reportedly applied for 4,000 advertised vacant positions in the Nigeria Immigration Service and at least 16 people reportedly died in the ensuing stampede. He further said that while the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) early in 2018, reported that a staggering 700,000 graduates applied for 500 advertised positions with 2,000 having first-class degrees, in September 2018, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) announced it received 324,000 applications to fill 4,000 advertised vacancies.

Expert caution against excessive focus on paper qualification:  advocates inclusion of skills in education policies at all levels

In the view of the guest speaker, the Nigerian graduates seem to have entered a ‘one chance’ scenario, as yearly, students graduate and sprint into the country’s bulged labour base and overwhelmed labour market. Dr Owamah however told the audience that the job scarcity is just one side of the problem. The other side, the bigger problem, is that while graduates lament paucity of job opportunities, the employers bitterly complain that the graduates are unemployable. This he said is invariably, an indictment on the nation’s education policies, programs and processes.

He requested that the education policies and programmes from primary to tertiary level should advocate skills over mere qualifications.

One thing is certain, most employers are not looking for the person with highest grade. They value skill, teamwork and creativity. This is what will bring jobs to the door of a young graduate, not any paper that claims he/she has been certified both in “character and learning” ……….Dr Owamah.

The guest speaker listed some of the effects of youth unemployment as fueling of crime due to idleness, frustration, increase in diseases and preventable deaths due to cash flow limitations, increase in birth because of idleness, prostitution, yahoo yahoo internet fraud and other criminalities, poverty, low self-esteem, boosts insurgency and promotes low educational attainment.

Many new generation graduates are products of examination malpractices in the WASSCE and gained admission through JAMB special centres where cheating is official and officials are cheats. In the tertiary institutions, the cheating continues through plagiarised term papers and thesis, poorly motivated lecturers, sex scandalised examinations”…….Dr Owamah.

The guest speaker educated the audience to know that skills could be hard or soft and that any of them however, could make one self-employed, an entrepreneur or a highly rated employee of an organization. He listed a couple of trending information technology and vocational skills and added that Communication, Leadership, Creative and Organization skills can also help one in great ways. He advised the students to know that every holiday is an opportunity to acquire new skills and experience. Our undergraduates should be encouraged to go to nearby organizations and offer to work for FREE during holidays in order to acquire skills and experience as it’s no longer news that your university/polytechnic is not going to give you everything you need to get a job after graduation.

Students must therefore grow beyond the proclivity for grades and ensure that their theoretical education finds expression in practical application to life issues”………………Dr Owamah.

Dr Owamah then appreciated the efforts of the current Delta State Governor Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa at making our youths decently engaged through the establishment of job and wealth creation scheme coordinated by a Chief Job Creation Officer. Through the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP), Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP), Development of Agro-Industries, and Extension of Microcredit, Sen. Dr. Okowa has been transforming the lives of thousands of unemployed youths in the state.

According to Dr Owamah, the State Governor recently carved out a new Ministry christened Ministry of Vocational and Technical Education with a core mandate of ensuring that many technical colleges in the state are functional and effective.

To further motivate the audience, he mentioned some successful young Nigerian entrepreneurs such as Uche Pedro, founder and CEO of BellaNaija; Linda Ikeji, founder Linda Ikeji Blog; Etop Ikpe , founder and executive officer of Nigeria’s first and largest auto tech trading platform; Onyeka Akumah, founder of farmcrowdy; Abubakar Falalu, founder of Falgates and Seun Osewa, Nigerian internet entrepreneur and founder of the popular conversation-like platform, Nairaland. Dr Owamah concluded by proposing that the undergraduates urgently shift their mentality from certificate to ‘sabificate’. According to him, certificate is good but ‘sabificate is better’.

Expert caution against excessive focus on paper qualification:  advocates inclusion of skills in education policies at all levels