There is no doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has lead to career disruptions and loss of jobs across the globe.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, the case is no different. However, we must remember that prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, Nigeria already had an unemployment rate of 23.1 percent in 2019 according to the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association (NECA) and the predictions for 2020 at the time were bleak. In 2019 NECA was already predicting that unemployment rates may rise to 33.5 percent in 2020. Therefore, this pandemic has simply exacerbated what was already a crisis situation.

In any adversity, there is always a silver lining. Despite the horrendous tragedies, this pandemic is forcing us to re-trace our steps while we lick our wounds. We have no option but to address the many issues that we should have prioritized decades ago. Youth unemployment and 21st century education and skills building is one of these issues.

It has been said many times that our youth population who represent the majority of Nigerians (approximately 43 percent of the population), could either be a tremendous asset and source of stability to Nigeria, or a liability and source of insecurity for the country. It all depends on whether we efficiently and sufficiently invest in them. As the nation continues to grapple with the pandemic, while slowly re-opening learning institutions and the economy, we must be intentional and strategic about what we do for our youth and young labour force.

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“ There is no doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has lead to career disruptions and loss of jobs “

These are a few things we must pay attention to and get right once and for all:

  • Dialogue and synergy between private sector and learning Institutions -There must be constructive and ongoing dialogue between the private sector and learning institutions. This idea is not a new one. Organizations like WAVE (West Africa Vocational Education) have been championing this cause for years. We must understand the skill sets needed by business owners and employers in order to create an education system that is relevant, and that will get young people into jobs. There has been a school-to-work skills gap for a long time. Nigerian employers have consistently complained that they cannot fill job roles. As a result, they look for expatriates or candidates with foreign degrees. Private sector must engage more with educationists and provide internship opportunities. This will mitigate the skills-gap problem.
  • COVID and post - COVID era skills building for the workforce - The pandemic has changed the world of work. The most obvious example is remote working. Although working remotely or working from home is not new, COVID 19 has encouraged this trend. Other trends include the digitalization of work activities such as meetings, conferences, training, sales and marketing. These shifts are forcing young professionals and entrepreneurs to upgrade their skills to stay relevant. According to Mckinsey & Company, these are some of the skills that employers need to develop amongst their employees:
    • Digital technical skills - Learn how to operate effectively in a ‘remote world’. Examples of such skills would be knowledge of applied machine learning, data analytics, artificial intelligence etc.
    • Priority to soft skills - Critical thinking, creative problem solving, emotional intelligence and time management have become even more important in an increasingly changing world
    • Adaptability and resilience skills - Self-awareness, self-confidence, and mental wellbeing
  • Buy Nigerian products – We can all play our part to sustain the economy (formal and informal) by buying Nigerian products. SMEs’ in Nigeria create over 80% of jobs. For at least two decades one has increasingly identified and used products sold in our supermarkets made by Nigerian SME’s. These are quality products. They include soaps, tea and cocoa drinks, spices, cashew nuts, dried fruit snacks, cereals and make-up beauty products to name a few. By buying Nigerian products, we do not only keep the company and staff employed, we also support individuals in the entire value chain as well.
  • Scale-up entrepreneurship skills training & mentorship support -Entrepreneurship training and mentorship support should be made compulsory across different learning institutions. If one possesses a marketable skill and is also provided with entrepreneurship training and mentorship support, there is no need for reliance on paid employment.
  • Establish entrepreneurial finance & capacity building hubs - Entrepreneurs face significant challenges in accessing the necessary funding to support their innovations. This is not necessarily due to absence of funding capacity in the finance system – but rather an information gap. Capacity building hubs that help train, prepare and profile young and especially youth entrepreneurs will serve the purpose of closing risk and validation gaps. Possible ways to achieve this include:
    • Train and better position entrepreneurs to be funding and investment ready with business models that are well developed and presented.
    • Develop digital platforms that are inexpensive, accessible, and robust which can guide young companies through the finance readiness and access process.
    • Provide referral services by identifying and introducing trained and well-prepared entrepreneurs to potential funders.
    • Provide mentorship programs that can help start-ups improve their visibility.

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