Unskilled Youth, a Ticking Bomb
Data from the Demographic Statistics Bulletin of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that in the Nigeria population pyramid, majority of the population lies between ages 0–14. Closely followed is youth aged 16-30. Estimates also indicate that youth form at least half of Nigeria’s projected 200 million population. The implication of this is that Nigeria has a high dependency rate, with a huge chunk of the dependent population entering the working age group on a daily basis. The growth of the youth population comes with attendant effects, among them pressure on education and amenities.Ordinarily and for a production-driven economy, an increase in labour force is a good indication of increase in the number of those considered to be of working age and thus not dependent on the economic activities of others, which should have a positive impact on overall economic growth, creating a demographic dividend. The ability of an economy to harness this dividend, would, however, be dependent on its ability to ensure the deployment of this growing working-age population towards productive economic act. This is where Nigeria has failed, as there is no clear cut government policy to create new job opportunities to meet up the increase in labour force population, a situation that puts severe pressure on a nation with a GDP performing below par. More saddening is the reality that many of this young people, according to the United Nations, arealmost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater labour market inequalities, and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. This is in addition to women, who are more likely to be underemployed and under-paid, and to undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts.These idle youth become ready fodder for use by politicians as thugs and get involved in all manner of crimes, including armed robbery, kidnapping and cybercrime which have become prevalent among young people in the country. Unemployment also makes the youth susceptible to involvement in dubious ponzi schemes and gambling, losing a lot of money in the process.Some frustrated youth have even taken their lives to end their suffering.Amidst the huge youth unemployment rate, there is a disconnect between traditional academic skills and other technical and soft skills required in the 21st century workplace. The current situation makes it imperative for more youths to acquire relevant technical and soft skills to enable them fit into the 21st Century work place to develop careers. Such skills, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-based activities and programmes, will prepare the youth as contributors to the economic development of the country. Employment-ready skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, communication, collaboration and analytical skills would be required to reverse the effects of youth bulges, in addition to specific policies such as creating more jobs and improving family planning programmes and uptake of family planning commodities to address the population growth.On the occasion of this years World Youth Skills Day, which is marked every July 15, we urge the government to put in place policies that will prioritise skills training and job creation for the large number of young people who will be entering the workforce to reap the demographic dividend, which is the accelerated economic growth which can happen as the population age structure changes with investment in health, education, economic policy and good governance. Harnessing this demographic dividend is in the country’s best interest.