The World Bank has reported that 50 percent of young Nigerians express a desire to leave their homeland. Similarly, recent findings from a survey conducted by the Africa Polling Institute (API) indicate that seven out of every ten Nigerians are open to the idea of relocating to foreign nations. This inclination has given rise to the term “Japa,” a colloquial expression in Nigeria that describes the phenomenon of Nigerians emigrating to other countries, especially in pursuit of better job prospects, improved quality of life, and higher education. Now, there’s a new catalyst for this trend – technology.

The escalating trend has sparked concern due to its significant social and economic ramifications for Nigeria. Although it grants individuals the chance to pursue improved prospects and enrich the economies of other nations, it has triggered a brain drain and depleted Nigeria’s valuable human capital. 

While speaking at a panel discussion on the second day of the #ASIS2023 Summit, Omokaro Unuakpor, head of product development at Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) said there is a need to address the talent escape in a holistic manner that goes beyond providing jobs. 

“We have to stop looking at the jobs of the present but those that are sustainable. Education must also be a central concern. The gap for talent goes beyond the white collar. There are many skill gaps in the blue-collar sector, but you would realise that the average youth does not want to work in the blue-collar field. They want to be an engineer or a  pilot. So there needs to be an education and mindset shift. We need to appreciate the value that technical and operational skills bring to the table. People are doing great things without university degrees. Close by, we have Nike Gallery, whose founder did not go to the four walls of the university. So advocacy and sensitisation need to happen to cut across several sectors,” he stated.

He elaborated further, noting that within the framework of the LSETF, there exist employability programs, but not training centres. As a solution, LSETF collaborates with private-sector training institutions that possess the expertise and networking capacity to link individuals with job opportunities. This underscores the need for a comprehensive partnership, a philosophy preached over the years, which has yielded favourable results.

The unemployment scenario in Nigeria presents a paradoxical conundrum. While young individuals assert a scarcity of job opportunities, employers counter that the workforce lacks the requisite employable skills. Interestingly, a considerable number of young Nigerians are opting to pursue employment opportunities in foreign lands. And these youth, perceived as unemployable at home, are managing to secure positions abroad.

Temi Dalley, CHRO Sterling Bank, revealed that there are many structured programmes in developed countries. “When people come with basic element education, there are many programmes to breach the gap. First, we need collaboration. Not just with the employers and academia, but also with the government. Partnership is key,” she stated.

“One of the things we do at Sterling is retool and reskill our people and get them ready for the job. We are big on internal mobility. There needs to be a collaboration even to the point of curriculum, so there is an enhancement in what the youth are exposed to. We need to train our youth from inception in terms of critical skill sets like emotional intelligence, analytical thinking, critical thinking, and practical exposure. In the developed countries that our people move to, there are voluntary works even while in school, including internships and apprenticeships. There is also the need for cross-cultural exposure,” she explained. ‘

Talking about how to retain and manage talent on the continent, Taiwo Olupitan, people and organisation advisory at PWC argued that it is essential to reconsider the mandatory retirement age. “Because the nature of work has now changed from primarily being physical to being more cerebral, a lot of the older generations can still contribute at the age of 60 – 80. People are willing to work longer because they can work remotely. They can then contribute experience and knowledge while we are still trying to build the young workforce. So we do not lose those experienced professionals in the industry today.” 

He emphasized the significance of scaling up employability initiatives nationwide. “By 2035, the African ageing workforce is projected to increase by 450 million individuals. Technology can be harnessed to address this challenge effectively,” he stated.

Discussing Nigeria’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and SDG 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries) Yemisi Otansaya, the lead for the University Spaces Initiative at UNDP, noted that a series of global challenges, including the pandemic, Brexit, and the Ukraine war have impacted the progress made before the pandemic.

“We made good progress before the pandemic in 2019 in terms of economic growth. We are at about 1.8% GDP per capita. But when the pandemic started we lost two decades of work. When we started to make improvements toward the end of the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war started leading to an energy crisis across the world. Where we had a rebound we went back down. We need a lot of collaboration across all regions to regain that traction,” she stated.

On gender inequality, Otansanya explained that the UNDP has signed a pact with member nations to eliminate gender discrimination across boards. “There was a time we had very few women occupying top positions in Africa. But recently, we have seen improvement in that area. In Nigeria, we had 25% of women on the ministerial nomination list. In 1999 we had just 13%. In terms of inequality in income, developed countries have been able to make progress, but there is a gap between the poor and the rich in developing countries. We have not been able to see much traction. That can be done through collaboration. And we need to have effective data management strategies where we can get aggregated data to advise us on steps to take,” she stated.

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