By Anayo Mbah
What is your trade, not your qualification is a question that will determine who can get employed or have a productive opportunity in Nigeria going forward. This underscores the need for university graduates and other school leavers to keep their qualifications aside and begin early enough to learn a trade. This is considered to be the critical step forward in dealing with the unemployment problem facing the nation, which Enugu State has now taken the lead to shed the light. Last week, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor of Enugu State took a strategic step that has placed on the front burner the critical importance of specialized knowledge in the functioning of the Nigerian economy. The governor’s development master plan for Enugu State contains an elaborate programme of entrenching entrepreneurial culture among the youth in the state. This is considered to be a fundamental approach to addressing the problem of high rate of unemployment facing Nigeria today and the consequential social evils arising from a jobless life after school.Enugu State has created a State Youth Enterprise Support Scheme under which it hosted State Youth Enterprise Day last week. This stands out as a demonstration of the governor’s commitment to giving the youth the opportunity of fulfilling their dreams in life, which has been lacking in the present economic situation facing the nation. Ugwuanyi’s entrepreneurial development strategy is targeting developing a new generation of inspired, self-confident, talented and enterprising youth who are expected to find and lead dynamic new ventures capable of transforming any organization they join or manage. Statistical data from the Bureau of Statistics show clearly to the nation that unemployment and under employment constitute a danger to social and economic stability in this country. Government officials merely use these worrisome data for reference purposes and often forget they need to respond appropriately to correct the ugly picture on the board. What Enugu State is doing presently is an appropriate response in the right direction and must be commended and embraced by other states of the federation. According to the governor, his administration deemed it necessary to launch the State Youth Enterprise Support Scheme in response to the statistical evidence that most young graduates lack the necessary skills required to compete in the saturated labour market. He therefore considers the programme a huge opportunity for young people in Enugu State to excel in enterprise development and venturing. Under the programme, he is expecting to accomplish for his state a dual purpose of developing a new crop of self-reliant youth as well as activate the wealth creation chain.For this country to move forward, it has to move with the youth. For it to move with the youth, it has to give them jobs that place them above the poverty line. In order to accomplish that, it has to first give them the appropriate skills that are lacking in the qualifications they obtain from schools. While Nigeria is considered blessed with human resources, the quality of its population is undermined by lack of appropriate skills.Creating wealth requires people with specialized knowledge and employers of labour are always out looking for such people. This is where the school system has a big shortfall. While the schools are providing people with specific educational background, the business community is looking for people who have specialized knowledge in their fields. While people go to school to acquire knowledge they cannot apply on their own for productive purpose, employers are looking for people who have an edge over the strictly academic person. A lot of economic opportunities are also waiting to be exploited by people who have relevant entrepreneurial skills. It behooves the government to take the appropriate steps to bridge the gap between the school system and the labour market. The school system does not organise the knowledge it imparts for direct application into a definite purpose. While people acquire general knowledge in the schools, they come out without any practical idea for its use in creating value. This is exactly what Ugwuanyi wants to change in Enugu State. His strategy is to impart vocational training to those churned out of unspecialized academic curriculum. He expects to use the programme to transform young people in the state from job seekers to job creators gradually but progressively.If there is any pressing need on the part of the present government at both state and federal levels now, it is to rescue the fading future of the youth in this country. A keen observer in the capacity of Prof Monsignor Obiora Ike, parish priest, St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Enugu, considers the conditions of the youth as deserving an urgent rescue mission indeed. He was therefore quick in commending the Enugu State government for what he called bringing the youth back to the system by promoting youth entrepreneurial culture. The youth are reckoned to constitute 80% of the world population and any society in which this great human force is relegated to the background, is a society that is headed for catastrophe. While Nigeria has achieved strong economic growth for several years, it was purely a jobless growth. The economy has been growing without developing. It offered no reasonable place for the youth in it. This situation has a lot of explanation to offer for what Nigeria and the rest of the world are going through at the moment. Ike considered this situation and said the result is restiveness, drug addiction and other attendant vices that are confronting society today.In order to reinforce the role that government is being called on to play in developing entrepreneurial skills among the youth, the time has come also for the school system to accept greater responsibility for vocational guidance. Our tertiary institutions should recognise and respond appropriately to the fact that all professions and occupations now demand specialized knowledge and skills.General knowledge used to be accepted in the past when the business sector was growing ahead of manpower supplies. This is no longer the case now that the table has turned and the deficiency in the schools system has become quite obvious. The school system is still creating general academic knowledge while the labour market is looking for specialized skills. The high rate of unemployment in the country is a clear demonstration that the labour market has no need for the bulk of the unspecialized stuff the schools are rolling out.Training needs to be strictly directed by the purpose for which it is being sought, which is what the government of Enugu State is set out to accomplish. This is in line with the view of Napoleon Hill that knowledge has no value except that which can be gained from its application towards some worthy course. The situation requires a shift by government from creating jobs to creating the people. It calls for a change of the school curricula from creating general knowledge to developing specific skills.
*Mbah, a young entrepreneur, writes from Enugu.