Few topics in today Nigeria deserve more attention than the pressing issue of youth employment. As economic problems lead to social tensions, it is youth that are the most powerful conduit of discontent. Disillusionment in the face of joblessness is all the greater when one has never had a job before, and the search for a job seems hopeless. Not having the chance to take one‘s place in society leads to deep disenchantment with that society – and with its governing structures. We know that unemployed youth can be a destabilizing factor within fragile societies, and we can see – from far away Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, and to the Niger Delta – how finely balanced social stability is when society‘s economic values are threatened. No value can be more important than a job.
Youth unemployment in Nigeria is more of a demand side problem. There are not enough jobs to go around. The key problem is not that today‘s youth are poorly educated, have poor skills that are not in great demand, or are ill-equipped for the workforce. Indeed, today‘s youth cohort is healthier and better educated than ever before. However, while these gains must be protected and built upon, they have not been enough to cut youth unemployment for one major reason: there are not enough jobs being created.
This Africa-wide problem is also reflected in Nigeria. In fact, Nigeria‘s youth unemployment situation is particularly serious. A recent survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that overall unemployment rate stood at 25.7% of total labor Force in March 2014, indicating a sharp increase from 14.9% in March 2009. When disaggregated by sector, gave 19.2% for urban and 19.8% for the rural. The young make up 37% of the working-age population in Africa, but 60% of the unemployed. If employment is unavailable there is a chance that disaffected youth will quickly turn to crime and violence in order to survive.
However, there are four sectors that have been identified as youth intensive, and so have particular potential for addressing youth unemployment. They include; ICT, Entertainment, Agri-business, and Hospitality (Tourism and Restaurants):
ICT: Starting from a very small base a little more than 10 years ago, India has managed to develop its IT and IT-enabled services into a $100bn per year business that continues to grow at 30 percent per annum. Call center operations are being established in South Africa, Egypt and Ghana. Crucially, for our topic, they mainly employ school leavers and young graduates. In a typical call center operation about 50 percent of the workers hired will be starting their first jobs.
Entertainment: Music and films are again heavily dominated by youth cohorts both on the production and consumption sides. This is an area that has not traditionally been seen as a growth industry by government officials. However, Hollywood represents the second largest component of American exports. Some African countries could begin to emulate this success, especially Nigeria whose film industry, known as Nollywood, is the most prolific in the world producing no fewer than 40 movies per week. The value of the Nigerian film industry is estimated to be $250 million per annum.
Hospitality (Tourism and Restaurants): Countries that can attract international tourists can earn foreign exchange; provide young people with jobs and exposure to international best practices in services, marketing and sales and management. The private sector needs to mobilize for product delivery (a good tourism product requires several players coming together such as museums, attractions, shops and restaurants) service standards (establishing the star rating system) and package deals as well as joint marketing and promotion. This is not something that can happen spontaneously as there are too many stakeholders to coordinate.
Agribusiness: Agribusiness is also a youth based sector. Agriculture accounts for the bulk of GDP in Nigeria, and probably employs a higher absolute number of youth than any other sector. However, its full potential is rarely exploited. In much of Nigeria agricultural land lies fallow due to restrictions on land titling, state ownership of productive land and lack of incentives. The high amount of un- and under-utilized land, and the scope for technological development, suggests a strong potential for employment creation.
In concluding, though, Nigeria‘s vision 20:2020 sets an ambitious target to become one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020, attaining this goal would not only require uninterrupted growth of 13.8% per year, but will also demand citizens with globally competitive skills. The foundation of all of this is the commitment of government to build consensus on how to tackle what we have identified as the two chief enemies facing the country‘s development: poverty and corruption. In this regard, the vision 20:2020 has been designed to look at two broad objectives over the medium to long term: optimize the Nation‘s human and natural resource potential to achieve rapid and sustained economic growth; and to translate economic growth into equitable social development that guarantees a dignified and meaningful existence for all her citizens.