…Thoughts on employability skills, the job search, and unemployment
Every year, many hopeful and promising students graduate from institutions of higher learning. They are eager to join the workforce, earn a living, and contribute their quota to national development. I stumbled on an online report from allafrica.com that said Nigeria’s tertiary education institutions produce an average of 600,000 graduates annually. This figure will rise as new tertiary institutions are created and more young people enrol for higher education. Many of these new graduates start out being hopeful about their employment prospects but with time, a good number can either not find work or find work commensurate to their qualifications.
The National Bureau of Statistics reported the unemployment rate as of Q4 202 to be approximately 32%, indicating an increase of 6.5% compared with the figures obtained six months before. This was attributed to job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on business during the period. This unemployment rate is unlikely to improve significantly considering the myriad challenges our economy still faces just like many other global economies.
Considering the state of the economy these days, I often think about how new graduates will find work, what kind of work they will find, and when they will find it. When one considers that the number of graduates produced annually will keep increasing, it becomes obvious that the competition for available jobs will continually be quite stiff.
I remember when I completed the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. I was so optimistic about getting into the labour market. I remember my first aptitude test at a renowned consulting firm and how easy I thought it was. I remember being told I was successful and would be called for an interview. I remember waiting for that interview for weeks. I remember finding out that the position had been filled in-house and how devastated I felt.
After that experience, I spread my tentacles as far as I could. I even did aptitude tests and interviews for banks which I had sworn I would never do. I passed some tests and failed some others. I succeeded at some interviews and crashed out at some other ones. I learnt a lot during my job hunting process and was able to refine my approach. I realised that my major issues were not adequately researching opportunities and also not presenting my skills properly. It took about eight months but I eventually got my first proper job at another consulting firm. If I had realised these issues on time, it could have taken me a much shorter time to find work.
Why are many graduates unable to find work? Why do many employers struggle to find employees with basic or required skills? Some would argue that the number of available jobs keeps reducing as many businesses scale down or close shop based on the current state of the economy but is this the reality? Does that mean that very few companies are hiring? I dare say no. Irrespective of the state of the economy (especially as individual sectors respond to the economy differently), there are likely several organisations that are hiring new staff. So what could be the issue?
Employers often complain about the lack/ inadequacy of employable graduates. Many employers insist that the majority of graduates do not possess basic workplace skills and attitudes such as communication skills, analytical ability, and initiative, and in many more cases, the required technical skills. One would have expected graduates to develop many of these skills holding elective positions whilst in school, volunteering, or even working on holiday jobs. The reality, however, is that many students do not have this orientation. Even society may not have helped as the focus has always been on obtaining good grades, forgetting that those grades need to be supported by real-world skills.
Many graduates thus lack the required exposure and are often unable to connect the dots between their academic achievements and the needs of the workplace. They are unable to conduct the research required to identify economic sectors that have employment potential based on their profile. They would rather apply to the dominant and oversaturated sectors, and when they don’t find work, they believe there are no opportunities everywhere.
Of the few graduates who end up getting employed, many are put through various kinds of formal and informal retraining programmes to bring them up to par with organisational skills requirements. Many companies have devoted a lot of resources to reskill their employees.
So, why are many graduates unprepared for the workplace? The reality is that many of our higher institutions (and even secondary schools) do not prepare students for life after school. Many graduates do not also take the initiative to prepare themselves for the workplace. They assume that their basic education is sufficient to get them the jobs they require forgetting that the competition for available jobs is quite stiff.
Students and early graduates must seek out opportunities to develop and enhance the skills they need for life to enhance their employment opportunities. Many people will say it is hard to get the first job that will provide the learning platform but there are also a lot of other opportunities one can take before that. Consider internships, volunteer opportunities, involvement in student bodies and independent projects, etc.
Everyone is opportune to acquire a level of skill in most areas they seek but the reality is that many do not take advantage of the obvious ones around them. For example, if you want to develop your writing skills, write for the campus paper, learn to take minutes of meetings, spend time developing good term papers. If you want to develop organizational skills, plan a project or an event. Most importantly, learn how to use the computer and the internet.
Many job seekers also face the challenge of being idle while job hunting. The beauty of an interview is sharing your story and this can only be developed while engaged in an activity. You must find opportunities to develop and use your skills as the idler one is, the greater the chances of one’s skills diminishing.
As individuals, we have no significant effect on the economy. We can’t influence it by our singular actions and we should not focus on laying blame on it for our unemployed state. If finding work is taking time then volunteer your skills somewhere, learn a vocational skill, or even learn an entirely new skill especially in the tech field. By all means, get busy and take your career into your own hands. This is the way I see things today.
Photo credit: FlexJobs