Emmanuel Tamba was a mechanical engineering graduate of University of Jos in Plateau State, North-Central Nigeria. Like numerous other Nigerian graduates who sought phantom employment, he hoped to secure a job one day, having gone for so many interviews where the people who finally got employed did not even participate in the tedious and tortuous processes.
But Tamba finally got notice of an aluminium manufacturing company based in Lagos, South-West, Nigeria, that needed the services of a competent mechanical engineer. Unlike the previous other interviews he had attended, Tamba noticed something different from this one.
‘’Mr Dixon, the chief executive officer, wanted to me to address some mechanical faults in the production department but I could not even press any button,’’ Tamba said, while narrating his disappointment, since he was not found worthy of the position.
Charles Nadner was an American investor who set up a medium-scale beverage manufacturing firm in Ogun State, North-West Nigeria. Due to expansion and increased demand, he wanted to engage a quality control expert, who understood the industry. His job would be focused on ensuring that output quality met international standards.
‘’Unfortunately, I could not find any who understood the job here in Nigeria. I had to quickly address the problem by bringing in someone from India,’’ he said.
Skills shortages in the Nigerian manufacturing sector have posed a serious problem in recent times. The situation has not helped the sector, whose GDP contribution was 3.58 percent by the third quarter of 2013.
Players and analysts are constantly expressing concerns that, with the nature of Nigeria’s education curricula which tend to concentrate on theory rather than practice, both in polytechnics and other higher institutions, the sector’s problems may linger.
‘’Where do we go from here when our schools are theory-based,’’ said Samuel Ugbesia, a manufacturer in Aba, Abia State, South-East Nigeria.
The need to align the Nigerian educational curricula with the demands of modern-day industrial sector has become paramount. According to research, there are many vacancies in many manufacturing concerns that are yet to be occupied, owing to skills mismatch. Manufacturers suffer shortages in those areas or, like Nadner, go as far as bringing in suitable experts from other countries of the world to fill the vacancies, in order not to lose revenue.
African Economic Outlook, an online-based media firm that centres on Africa, recently undertook a study on education and skills mismatch in several African countries. From the research on Nigeria, it was gathered that there were vacancies in some technical areas which could not be filled because no competent person was handy in the labour market.
To analysts, this is an indication that the educational curricula of the country need to be tinkered with.
‘’The curricula of our universities should reflect the needs of the modern-day industries,’’ said Remi Bello, president, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry(LCCI), in an exclusive chat with BusinessDay’s Real Sector Watch.
Industry analysts say the particular area of need is technical-based areas. According to them, graduates employed on the basis of grades could hardly fill in vacancies since many of the situations they would face were not taught them. Others also add that Nigeria’s less interest in technical courses has become a problem in the sector.
‘’A situation where the technical colleges of those days are no more; a situation where skills centres of those days have been phased out, calls for action,’’ Bello added.
But Bello was quick to add that such shortages were often found at the mid-level, insisting that though there were unemployable graduates in the country, manufacturing companies, especially multinationals, should not use that as an excuse not to engage Nigerians.
‘’Let me tell you, you have to place fresh graduates on probation, a period when you train and re-train them. Our graduates excel abroad. Most times people just give a dog a bad name to hang it,’’ he said.
Observers insist that restructuring the Nigerian educational curricula to meet the demands of the ever-changing economy will not only help employers but will also reduce 44 percent youth unemployment rate in the country.
‘’I am convinced that if the curricula are restructured youth unemployment supply will meet employers’ demand,’’ said Justin Onwujekwe, lawyer and industry analyst.
But there are some sections that attribute skills shortages to brain drain. For instance, over 40,000 Nigerian doctors work in the United States, according to reports. Competent engineers in different specialties, technicians, among others have left the country, owing to political and social crises, poor wages and conditions of service, among other issues.
‘’You do not remain in a country where your labour rights are constantly violated, while political and economic climates are cloudy,’’ admitted Egbuna Vincent, a Nigerian engineer based in the United Kingdom.
Nigeria has been named a member of MINTs, involving Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey by Jim O’Neill, former Goldman Sachs economist. These economies are expected to surprise the world in the next twenty years. Some analysts say lack of skills could mar the country’s quest to consolidate this.
“Lack of talent and expertise is one of the key factors that will prevent Nigeria from fulfilling its potential,” said Kevin Korgba, managing director, ETK Group, a United Kingdom-based consultancy group, in a recent chat with African Business Review.
“There needs to be an urgent focus on addressing this through increased access to education and training.
“We would also emphasise the importance of understanding the nuances of local markets,’’ he added.