Under the sun and in the rain. Another batch posting is here again and one can easily figure the many thoughts, expectations, and plans running through those young minds as they obey the clarion call away from their comfort zone.
In a bid to reconcile, rehabilitate and rebuild the country after the travails of the Nigerian Civil War from 1969-1972, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which was established in May 1973 remains one of the most enduring public institutions ever created in Nigeria with commendable attainments. A close look at the objectives of the scheme, conceived some 46 years ago, shows a deliberate effort at encouraging and inculcating in Nigerian youth the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness among Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.
But what happens after removing hair dress one last time as a corps member? Each year, the NYSC enlists about 180,000 graduates to serve the nation at different capacities. However, the end of the mandatory program is usually the beginning of the Nigerian graduates’ struggle to get a decent job and start a life. While there has been intensified efforts by some calling for the scrapping of NYSC, others believe that the scheme should rather be optimized and be put into a more beneficial use as a means to effectively empower the Nigerian youth. Of the differing views, one thing holds true – NYSC needs reforming.
As a nation, we are currently facing a war different from that of 1969 – unemployment and underdevelopment are eating deep into our national fabric. Though various programmes have been implemented over the years with slight statistically significant impacts recorded. Intensity and scale are key in ensuring real systemic growth. However, most programmes are too small to show changes. We need to increase the intensity and scale of youth empowerment programmes and the NYSC provides a huge opportunity for scale as no other institution can match the spread.
The Proposed NYSC 2.0 Format
What if the NYSC program is redesigned to serve as an incubator to prepare the teeming youth population to take on present and future challenges? How about running the program in this format:
Three-Week Orientation Program: This is important to take Potential Corps Members (PCMs) through the various stages of the year-long program.
Two-Month Workplace Readiness: Owing to the wide skill gap that exists in the Nigerian talent pool, it is imperative to upgrade the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) program of the NYSC. Beyond learning shoemaking and catering, Nigerian graduates need to develop skills such as cognitive flexibility, presentation, analytical and problem solving, negotiation, and creativity in order to stay relevant in the workplace. As new jobs are created, the repertoire of soft and hard skills required in the workplace will change. While technical skills such as software development, and data analytics will remain highly sought after, multiple research outcomes show that soft skills top the list of those most important for employees of the future.
Six-Month Workplace Traineeship: To be undertaken at establishments and sectors that are pivotal to actualizing the strategic and economic growth plan of the government at federal, state and local level.
Three-Month Community Development Service: Serving corps members engage on group basis, on social impact projects that are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their various communities of primary assignment. Afterwards, they will present a report at the local government level through the Local Government Inspector (LGI).
The potential opportunities for economic prosperity, national progress and individual flourishing in the future world of work are enormous. Yet, these depend crucially on the ability of all concerned stakeholders to fully understand the implications or changes that are already underway in Nigerian workplaces, and to be proactive in ensuring that the benefits and opportunities that arise from these changes are available to all citizens. If the promise of a better Nigeria is to be realised, it is important to build the critical skills and competencies to meet the demands of a growing and evolving economy. My hope is that this proposition creates a basis for discussion among policymakers, non-governmental organizations, businesses, academic institutions and individuals and to support preparation for the anticipated changes in the future of work.