(By Ayanate Roberts)
“How far we as Nigerians can grow and boost our economy depends on how fast we let go of our previous conceptions of the definition of a job. As technology gets more advanced and automatons replace human jobs, joblessness will continue to prevail; no matter how many grand proclamations about job creation we get from the powers that be. In order to stimulate economic growth and actually create new jobs, the public and private agencies involved in this task must now realise that the whole traditional idea of jobs; the definition and the inequities involved in them have drastically changed“.
IN September this year, President Goodluck Jonathan announced that the Federal Government was going to provide three million jobs to stem the rising unemployment situation in the country. To further enhance this declaration and thus bring it to life, he inaugurated a Presidential Jobs Board to adequately facilitate the job creation procedure. He even went further to charge the governmental skill training agencies to ensure that they do not just train people for jobs, but ensure the trainees be assisted to be self employed or gainfully employed. This quote in particular was interesting: “There is a missing link, because there is a difference between training people to acquire skills and job creation.”
Fact: Several reports put Nigeria’s unemployment rate at 24 per cent at least. Bearing in mind that 60 per cent of the country’s population are youths, this in turn translates to the fact that eighty million Nigerian youths are jobless. That’s a whopping 50 per cent of the working population unemployed in Nigeria.
It is a commendable gesture that I’m sure warmed the hearts of many Nigerians. But let’s be realistic, if some urgent basic things are not fixed, then this idea will continue to remain abstract and eventually become political fodder or cannon depending on which side of the table the combatants are in the next general elections.
The huge question is how to make this pronouncement achievable: The most basic answer is that we need to go back to the drawing board.
Fact: The old job creation model is broken. We need to create a new one, a model that embraces dynamic growth, technology and innovation. We must learn how to actively create new income sources. Policy makers must get serious, now, about generating decent employment opportunities and not play politics with the issue.
How far we as Nigerians can grow and boost our economy depends on how fast we let go of our previous conceptions of the definition of a job. As technology gets more advanced and automatons replace human jobs, joblessness will continue to prevail; no matter how many grand proclamations about job creation we get from the powers that be. In order to stimulate economic growth and actually create new jobs, the public and private agencies involved in this task must now realise that the whole traditional idea of jobs; the definition and the inequities involved in them have drastically changed. Take the manufacturing industry, a lot of hue has been raised on reviving the industry: unsteady power supply being touted as the main defaulter; but let’s be honest, even if we do have steady power, what can we say we want to produce? Does anyone have a feasible blueprint, a business plan for the manufacturing industry? No! We just revel in plenty words and no action. It becomes disheartening to watch after a while.
In simple terms, traditional jobs have now become extinct and redundant. And a new job paradigm is being created especially with the advance of technology. To make sure that the economy provides space for relevant members of the society to make their contribution to society, we must revisit our educational and socio-economic models and make adequate adjustments. We place so much value on some industries, and neglect the rest; forgetting that the system is interconnected and is only as strong as the weakest link.
Let’s ask ourselves this question: Are our occupational evaluation systems being updated to current employment trends, or are we still using job models that are circa post-colonial industrial era? The world changes every day, so if we are to remain relevant and must survive these economic upheavals, we must change our attitude to work. Do the policy makers in charge of creating jobs have any relevant idea of the new industries and career paths that are created every day or are we still going to push people into the agricultural, industrial and manufacturing route that seems to be the de facto when we talk about job creation? Or will they dust up the “be an entrepreneur manual” and shove down the throats of the jobless Nigerian youth. Before I get crucified for slandering the entrepreneurial spirit of the nation, let me ask a simple question: How many unemployed people truly have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? I’m not talking about pushing manuals and small business loans to applicants and creating statistics; but I’m asking of unemployed people who want to build empires by their own sweat. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur; we need people who actually can be employees too. We need to educate people that there is no instant fix-it to sustainable wealth creation. But I digress.
Back to my key conundrum; creating employment for the sake of employment instead of creating value has infested our job system for too long and now is clearly unsustainable. Our economy is propped up by jobs that are non-productive and in many cases even destructive. We are still living a system where productivity and innovation are no longer the goals, instead employment is. And the end of this trend is a nation that keeps mortgaging its future to live in the past/present.
How then can we create jobs in a seemingly over saturated job market: Adopt a new job paradigm. Simply put, we should have an idea of our current economic needs and create value driven opportunities in them. And then create jobs around them. And not the other way round; forcing people into farms, offices, industries and entrepreneurial ventures that cannot be sustained by the public and private sector. It is tantamount to slavery and will fail down the line.
We have to create a new economy, sector by sector, gradually building it up by focusing on catalytic innovations that create entirely new industries. List each industry, sector by sector, in existence now, write up their merits and demerits, and come up with the ‘jugaad’ method on how to fix them. How long are we going to keep riding the car without maintaining it?
Let’s stop paying lip service to reducing employment and creating new jobs. It’s a serious issue that needs to be tackled adequately, and not just through the press. Sadly enough, the old tools we usually use in taming the lion of employment are no longer effective, because the lion has learned new skills. Let’s not shove a whole lot of people into jobs they do not want just because they do not have a choice. The drain on economic, political and personal manpower will be too much for us to bear. Let’s create renewable, organic jobs that give birth to even more opportunities, are self sustaining and innovative.
It’s more than just words now; we need to put theory into practice contextually. Providing three million jobs within a year, is very possible, if only we know what we want, and how to get what we want; instead of the wishful thinking we often involve ourselves in, wasting so much resources that are not accounted for: bad debt indeed!
Till I see a blue print that actually shows some creative thinking about tackling the unemployment issue, putting the right people in the right positions to do their job without spending time politicking, I’m going to view all job creation announcements in Nigeria by the government in power with a very jaundiced eye.
• Roberts is a consultant reward and conflict management.
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