By Ozioma J. Okey-Kalu
I have heard so much about how graduates burn midnight candles and end up unemployed or underemployed after graduation. Blames have been placed on the bad economic situation of the country, corruption, tribalism, favouritism and so on. I have also heard people blame our education system, which they said is the major reason Nigerian graduates are unemployable. Ok, so all these factors and more contribute to the increase in the number of unemployed graduates in Nigeria today, but is that all there is to it? Has anyone realised that most of these graduates don’t even know the profession they want. All they need is a job that will pay their bills. Now, let me share a little insight into my own career journey. Hopefully, that will tell us what most Nigerian graduates are facing today.
While I was in secondary school I didn’t know what I wanted to be in life. All I know is that I want to be rich and important (now, now, don’t laugh, this is serious). How I was going to achieve my dream I didn’t know. I only have a few ideas of what career is all about. But my school (St. John of God Secondary School, Awka) had a guidance and counseling unit. The Guidance Counsellors always organised Career Day once a year for the senior students. They usually invite resource persons from any of these five professions – medical, law, accountancy, education and engineering. This means that we always have lawyers, doctors, teachers, accountants and engineers (their areas never bothered us then) as our resource persons during the yearly career day. These resource persons will just tell us how wonderful and prestigious their professions are, how we need to work hard and then the subjects we need to pass, at the credit level, in our WAEC so we can study them in the university.
They never bothered telling us how we can start up private organisations based on these courses of study, nor the different sections in their professions. In fact, Career Day then was never interesting – there were nothing new, nothing invigorating and nothing captivating. To me it was just an event where some ‘big’ people speak ‘big grammar’ to us. Don’t get me wrong. The Guidance Counsellors gave their best shot, at least the much they can afford, but they couldn’t capture all the students, including me. Well, with the help of these Guidance Counsellors (my mother was one of them though), some students were able to choose the subjects they could comfortably write and make their grades in WAEC. So, here I was, busy studying for my WAEC without knowing what I will do with it except that I will go into the university to study…. I actually couldn’t say what I wanted to study.
I bought JAMB form and filled. I chose Law as first and second choice (Of course if you are in Arts, and you are not good in Maths, you should go for Law, right?). I wrote my JAMB and got a score that was 10 marks lower than UNIZIK ‘merit list’ cutoff mark for Law. Alright, so Law profession is out of the way because no one would do the ‘running around’ for the Supplementary List for me. Finally, the school offered me English. I took it (Do I even know what I wanted before other than going into the university?) and found out I love the course. By 200 level, a window was opened for students that would like to change over to Law. I was qualified to do that but I didn’t want to for personal reasons (I didn’t like their black and white ‘uniform’ – can you imagine this?). So, as far as I was concerned, Law profession has been buried. But then, another challenge came up – what will I do with the English certificate when I graduate? Nobody could supply me an answer to this question.
I graduated, did my one year NYSC in Zamfara State, came back home and met the monster called ‘Job Hunt’. I spent all my NYSC savings on jumping from one test or interview venue to another. I passed through a lot trying to land a job. I was literally applying to any job I see on the newspaper or job sites and writing most of their tests. I usually got invited for interviews after the written tests, but the story always ends there. One interviewer was kind enough to tell me that I was overqualified for the position I applied for and that I should be on the lookout for when there will be opening for people of my cadre.
Honestly, as I looked back to my journey in the job market, I found out I was going for jobs that I wasn’t qualified for; jobs not meant for people with my certificates; jobs I couldn’t even do well if they were offered to me. I found out where I truly belonged when I landed a job in a school – I actually love being in the midst of intellectuals, where I can bring up ideas and have them argued, analysed and appreciated. I discovered where my talents and interests fit in. And I have been developing and growing in this area.
Now, let’s look at what some Nigerian graduates are encountering in their career pursuit. If most of them are in the same situation I described above, then know it that JAMB, university authorities, parents, peers, relatives and society chose their courses of study for them. How many Nigerian graduates decided on their own to go into their current fields? How many studied their courses because of the occupation they targeted? How many Nigerians know what they wanted to be before they went into the university? How many of them even know what they wanted now? Ok, let’s stop speculating.
Make out time to visit a nearby primary or secondary school and ask the students questions on different occupations they know and the one they want to go into. The truth is, the problem of unemployed and underemployed graduates could be traced to the mismanagement of their talents and interests at the foundation level – that is nursery, primary and junior secondary schools. The only thing we tell our young ones is to go to school and study. Study for what, exactly? They need to know what they are going to school for. Therefore, we all have works to do.
There are needs for the interests, talents and aspirations of children to be discovered as early as possible – I will recommend from their nursery school days. Let us stop saying that these children are too young to know what they want. I know from experience that at this early stage, when these children are still free from the influence of the society, their talents can easily be discovered. For example, my first son loves cars, dancing and constructing toys from any materials he could lay his hands on. I noticed this about him before he was old enough to start school. He has not changed even though he is already 8 years old. At least I know what my first son wants but the second one is confusing me. He’s giving me the impression that he’s going to end up like me – you know, not knowing exactly what I wanted.
However, I am beginning to see some traces of public speaking in him, so maybe he will end up in academics like me. So I always ask myself – What if we capture these children on time and help them excel in their best areas, wouldn’t we be making them better adults? Wouldn’t the problem of unemployment be reduced? At least, among the graduates. I don’t want to call government into this because we know how that system works. Let us encourage private sectors to take up these tasks. I believe private school owners can look for experts that can do this. Individuals and organisations that are good in this should meet schools and sell their ideas to them.
Then, Entrepreneurship and Business Education should be introduced as subjects in primary schools. Pre-Vocational Studies (Agricultural Science and Home Economics combined) is not enough. Yes, the pupils will learn how to farm and all but then, they will not be taught how to set up agro businesses, manage them and expand them from the subject. They need to start early to learn about the business world – it is never too early to start that.
The students in secondary school should be conversant with the areas they want to go into if their nursery and primary schools prepared them well enough. Their interest this time should be how to perfect the basic skills in their desired profession. It is good that WAEC has introduced more vocational and technical subjects into the system, but this shouldn’t be just for senior secondary; let it be extended to junior classes as well. By so doing, these students will be going to higher institutions with a clear vision of what they need and not just to make good grades, then come out and hover around looking for employment.
As for students in the higher institutions, make good use of the resources at your disposal. Find out different job opportunities open to people in your field of study, and their basic required skills. This will enable you to focus and to plan ahead on how to acquire and develop these skills. Lecturers should also help out here. Nobody told us where we will drop our applications during our university days, so we came out of school lost. Let lecturers, and teachers too, be the guide these students need.
For unemployed and underemployed graduates, I will say, “Stop jumping into every test and interview centre you see. Take your time to find out what it is you truly want. Then ask yourself what it will take you to get there. Draw a road map of the way to your goal. By the time you have done these, pick up a job your see to act as a source for sponsoring your way towards your dream job or business.” As I always say, once you are looking for something, you will surely get it. When and how is what I can’t say. So, let’s keep searching, we will all get there. Remember, the hustle is real.