A unique solution to mass graduate unemployment in Nigeria
Graduate unemployment has become an issue of national concern because of the threat it poses to the economy as well as causing retardation of the country's economic growth. Large numbers of graduates are turned out every year from the nation's tertiary institutions to join the already saturated labour market.
According to This Day Newspaper of 15 November, 2012, 60% of Nigerian graduates are unemployed. The Director General of the National Centre for Technological Management, Dr Willie Siyanbola was quoted in the same story as saying "There will be no solution to unemployment in the country unless all the graduates embark on entrepreneurship. It is the only solution to unemployment in Nigeria. There are over 4.5 million unemployed people in the country and I doubt if any government can cater for such number of people."
The government in recent times has embarked on various measures to solve the problem by providing skills acquisition centres to teach artisan skills to people including unemployed graduates. It is expected that this will help such graduates start businesses of their own thereafter and earn a living. The government has also made loans and grants available to aid young, enterprising graduates set up their businesses. But I have a different view of the subject matter. The steps taken by the government seem to be a fire-brigade approach because it appears to be late for graduates to acquire skills or learn to do business after graduation.
Most graduates finish school between ages 21-25 at their primes. At this time, graduates are ready to start living lives of their dreams; start earning, get married, start a family, take care of dependants or even go for further studies. It is not the time to start all over to look for a means of livelihood having spent all their lives in school preparing to earn after graduation. The real solution is to incorporate entrepreneurship into every course on campus in order to prepare them to take the leap into business.
In fact, they should be made to take on entrepreneurship projects while in school so as to have real life experience of the business world. They should start new businesses and also revive existing but ailing ones and nurture them back to health. All the while, these undergraduate entrepreneurs should be supervised by very successful business owners as mentors. Working with and learning from successful business owners is the best way to learn the game of business as opposed to theoretical business lessons given by lecturers who have never run a business and have no idea what it takes to succeed in business.
The businesses embarked on by these undergraduate entrepreneurs can be about anything they choose based on their interests, passion, talents and abilities. There are courses in tertiary institutions that have to do with artisan skills like dress making, furniture making, bag making, decorating, shoe making, culinary classes, interior designing etc.
Undergraduates in these areas should be made to set up businesses selling goods and services in these skills both as start ups as well as growing businesses selling same. Their mentors should give them necessary business know-how to succeed. Other courses like medicine, accounting, engineering, ICT, architecture, education, law etc should be tailored towards entrepreneurship so that graduates are not necessarily looking for employment after graduation but are able to establish their training as businesses such as private hospitals, private schools, engineering firms, architectural firms, accounting firms etc.
The business projects thus embarked upon by undergraduates while in school allow them to test the waters of the business world and evaluate their business knowledge. Some of the businesses started will definitely succeed, allowing their owners to start earning while still in school.
These successful undergraduate entrepreneurs can decide to keep running their businesses and studying or even drop out of school to face their businesses full time like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs etc. Such successful businesses could be kept by their owners for as long as they please or sold for a nice chunk of cash to start another.
Undergraduates whose businesses might not have succeeded have the opportunity of learning from their mistakes and even from their successful colleagues and move on. Two or more undergraduates with different skill sets needed for business can partner to run and build a business together which is a different kind of business structure than sole proprietorship.
With this kind of background and preparation, student entrepreneurs become used to the world, language and game of business. They are already making money, hiring and firing staff, and all other duties of business. They will most likely continue in business after graduation rather than applying for jobs!
This will drastically reduce the number of graduates looking for employment after school. The Nigerian economy will be revived and crime rates reduced. The idea of encouraging graduates who know nothing about the business world and who have been programmed all their lives to be employees to become entrepreneurs suddenly after graduation will just not cut it.
It is a sort of set-back for graduates at such a time to start learning a skill when they are ready to earn. Provision of loans or even grants to start businesses they were never prepared for is sheer waste of resources.
Let the Nigerian government get it right and prepare our undergraduates to become successful entrepreneurs while they are still in school instead of after graduation. Let the entrepreneurial spirit be ingrained into students from school and entrepreneurship built into all courses on campus as much as possible. This will make graduates come out as job providers and not job seekers. A stitch on time saves nine, so the adage goes.