Nigeria is currently grappling with a budding unemployment crisis. The most recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics reveal that nearly 14% of the labour force is unemployed, meaning that over 11 million Nigerians willing and able to work are out of jobs. And as national unemployment has been on a steady rise for the last two years, the distribution of unemployment has grown ever more uneven.

In fact, unemployment is highest for the 15-24 and 25-34 age groups – the youth population. Incredibly, the unemployment rate for this group (19%) is over twice as high as for the non-youth population (9%). The raw figures are even more potent – almost 8 million Nigerian youths were out of a job and actively seeking one in the third quarter of 2016.


Rise of the machines 

All of this paints a scary future for Nigeria as the future of the labour market is distinctly uncertain. The uncomfortable reality is that many jobs, including low-skilled manufacturing and services jobs, are fast fading away. Technological advances mean that robots and software have begun replacing low-skilled labour in the value creation process and it is likely that automation will render certain groups of workers redundant in the coming decades. Already, jobs like factory workers, clerical officers, etc. are gradually being replaced. With the advent of self-driving cars, it may be a matter of time before even driving jobs become extinct. Beyond economics, the social and cultural impact of such changes could be far-reaching. 

Most jobs for the future will be created and filled by those who possess specific technical or soft skills. For example, the specialised areas of computing, mathematics, and engineering will be sufficiently buffered against technological redundancies. The World Economic Forum expects the safest jobs to be those which have an essential element of human input or creativity, as well as those that involve complicated social interaction. New types of human resources and organisational development specialists; engineering professionals in fields such as materials, biochemicals, nanotech and robotics; geospatial information systems experts; and commercial and industrial designers will be in high demand over the coming decades.

Unfortunately, these are fields where relatively few Nigerians specialise. On the other hand, jobs in areas currently regarded as the most desirable in Nigeria are at risk of being replaced. Jobs in sectors such as energy, financial services, professional services, customer service and office and administrative functions are poised for significant changes.

Moreover, disruptive changes to industries and business models will also affect the quality, requirements, and experience of most jobs. Overall, the rise of in-demand jobs is expected to continue, driven by growth in the gig economy and companies like Uber. These companies’ business and employment models exemplify what is likely to be prevalent in the future. Already, a gradual shift to flexible working can be observed in more advanced economies.

As this scene unfolds –  perhaps inevitably – it behooves us to react quickly to the trend in order to propel our own development.


Failing to teach a man to fish

To do so, one barrier that must be overcome is the challenge of education. For one, the chronic youth unemployment in the country can be traced back to failures in the education system. Low-quality public education has denied many Nigerian youths the opportunity to evenly compete in a saturated labour market – whether as a job seeker or as a job creator. 

Political neglect has fanned these flames as the education sector has suffered from perpetual underinvestment. In 2016, a mere ₦37 billion was budgeted by the Federal Government as capital expenditure for the Ministry of Education. This is abject for a country with over half of its population under the age of 19. In fact, per several reports, between 8 and 10 million Nigerian children between the ages of 7 and 14 are not in school at all. Put simply, we are currently preparing an entire generation of Nigerians for a lifetime of underclass and inferiority.

Considering the mix of high youth unemployment, low spending on education, and rising automation, the future looks very bleak.  


Preparing for the future 

The Nigerian education system is in dire need of a redesign. Nigeria needs to develop a forward-looking education system, with a focus on ensuring that future generations possess the necessary technical and soft skills to succeed in an evolving world. The complexity of the task ahead necessitates a collaborative approach. Cross-industry and public-private collaboration could be a way of facilitating this redesign.

Complementary investments and partnerships which leverage the strengths of both public institutions and private operators can help to develop scalable solutions to education and unemployment challenges. Furthermore, there is a need for bolder leadership and strategic action within companies and across industries, including partnerships with public institutions and the private sector. These efforts will need to be complemented by policy reform on the part of governments.

Relevant stakeholders must urgently commence efforts to fix these issues; otherwise, the prediction of a bleak future might turn out to be the least of our fears. The future started yesterday, and we are already late.

The time to work is now. 


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