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PREPARING NIGERIAN YOUTHS FOR THE WORLD OF WORK

PREPARING NIGERIAN YOUTHS FOR THE WORLD OF WORK

The skills required in the world of work today are fast-evolving, with technology, globalization, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic playing significant roles.

Technologies like automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are shaping how we work, where we work and the skills we need to work. With globalization, markets across geographies have become more accessible, and skills can now be sourced conveniently from any part of the world. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to a reduction in the workforce of several companies has hastened the need for significant reskilling and upskilling amongst employees.

The future of work for Gen Z will be that of vast technological knowledge and drive for meaningful work. Gen Z is a group born between 1995 and 2010. They were born in the digital world and have access to more information, people, and resources. This generation uses technology the most with nearly 100% smartphone adoption and an estimated ten hours a day spent online.[1] Several studies imply that this is a generation entering the workforce with less experience than previous generations, yet more focused on making money.[2] They believe they have a deep understanding of how technology can transform the way people work and are confident they have the tech skills employers are looking for because they were raised with the internet and social media. However, the same technology has cut off human contact and weakened their soft skills resulting in several Gen Z’s lacking the required soft skills and experience for the workforce.[3]

To thrive as an employee, an appropriate blend of the required skills is imperative. Based on the realities of the world of work today, there exists a skills gap amongst Nigerian employees. The educational system largely accounts for the deficit in capacity amongst graduates, with an outdated curriculum playing a significant role.  To close the gaps, a collective effort from the government, private sector and employees is paramount.

[1] (Schawbel, 2019)

[1] (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 2019) [1] (Hackl, 2020)

What the world of work requires today

Technology has reshaped the workplace and transformed the way companies hire talent. This is because some activities that workers carry out today are either automated or have the potential to be automated. A study showed that about 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of technically automatable activities.[1] This is based on the technologies that are currently established and this means that most occupations will adapt, and more people will have to work with technology.

The skills required for success in the workplace today are a combination of soft and technical skills. While the younger generation, particularly students in their undergrad might associate much more weight to the technical requirements of their chosen careers, it is important that these students are aware of the skills that matter in the workplace. Several studies highlight the importance of having a blend of both. A study carried out by LinkedIn found that companies are starting to look for a combination of hard and soft skills in potential employees.[2] Similarly, the 2020 Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum revealed that critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, self-management, working with people, and communication skills are increasingly becoming key requirements for employers across the companies surveyed.[3]

[1] (World Economic Forum, 2020)

[2] (José, 2019)

[3] (World Economic Forum, 2020)

Interestingly, a survey conducted by Ciuci Consulting to determine the perspectives of students and employees regarding the most relevant skills for success in their careers showed that undergrad students and employees in the workplace shared divergent views. The study was conducted using a randomly selected sample size of employers and students in Nigeria. While students placed more emphasis on technical skills, employees stated a combination of technical and soft skills, with more emphasis on the latter. The top 4 skills chosen by employees were communication, team playing, analytical, and people management skills, respectively, while students chose, technical, problem solving, critical thinking, and time management skills, respectively.

Ciuci Consulting also interviewed Business Executives across industries in Nigeria to understand their perspectives on key skills required for success in the workplace.

The following skill sets were listed as most valuable now and in the future:

  • Agility: The proactive capacity to learn fast and be able to move across functions in an organization. Many people think of agility as adaptability. Adaptability is much more reactive than agility. Once an employee is agile, it opens up several opportunities for them.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Understanding one’s own emotions, being able to communicate with empathy, and managing conflicts are some of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence. Individuals who are unable to manage their emotions and show empathy lack critical soft skills that are needed for the future.
  • Business/Finance skills: Many employees lack an understanding of profitability, which helps them become more efficient and result-oriented. Basic finance skills are required by employers of their employees, to be able to proffer practical solutions that make business sense.
  • Technological skills: An understanding of social media, data analytics, and relevant tech tools are becoming increasingly critical to success. Today, skill sets are usually incomplete without them because of how the world is evolving in ICT. Employers today want to hire candidates who are comfortable with adapting to new technologies.
  • Data Analytics: Gone are the days when companies make decisions based on intuition and experience alone. This is a common truth across all sectors from academia to entertainment, real estate, and fashion. Today, data has become every organization’s most important asset; companies now make informed decisions and analysis based on data. These data inform them about existing opportunities and better ways to thrive as a business.
  • Self-awareness: It is critical for employees to be able to manage themselves and not get carried away. This happens a lot, especially with entry-level employees. Self-aware people are disciplined and are also able to work independently without excessive supervision.
  • Digital Communications/Marketing: The digital world has become embedded in every corner of our lives. Most online activity starts with a search engine and several purchases are now online. Hence, employers are now seeking out employees that can fill the skills gap in their organizations and drive business objectives such as brand awareness and sales.
  • Communication: The future is about data and communication. More processes will become automated and even the unautomated processes will require analytical thinking, coordination, and the ability to understand the limits and interactions of artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence. Since communication is evolving across all spheres, organizations, and individuals that do not align will be unable to compete in the future.

Skills gap in Nigeria

There is an urgent need to align the skills that job seekers and undergraduate and Gen Z possess with the emerging skills requirements of the Nigerian labour market. According to in-depth research by the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), there may be various reasons for skills gap such as limited knowledge, the introduction of new technology, new working practices, the development of new products and services and the staff lacking motivation. Some gaps are well managed after proper training of staff, whilst others are more persistent like poorly motivated staff.[1]

The mismatch in the supply and demand of skills could also be attributed to the increase in new-economy sectors such as Trade and Services, ICT, and Consulting – sectors that are providing the jobs of the future. There is evidence to show that the production process in Nigeria is still dominated by the employment of manual skills, despite the rise in the use of cognitive skills[2]. Employers highlighted the areas of skills deficiency for jobs of the future – the lack of applied technical skills, especially in ICT, as well as gaps in analytical, and communication skills – which can all be linked to poor curricula at all levels of the educational system. Employers also complained that Nigerian graduates lacked the skills required in the workplace even with their academic qualifications.[3] They highlighted that the curricula of Nigerian educational institutions have not evolved with the changing business environment.

Likewise, the interviews conducted by Ciuci Consulting highlighted that Business Executives rate the following skills as most lacking amongst most entry-level and Generation Z employees:

  • Creative Thinking: Employees today lack the ability to devise new ways to perform tasks, meet challenges and solve problems. They are mostly told what to do by their employers and supervisors. This could be attributed to their level of interest or lack of experience.
  • Emotional Intelligence and Self-awareness: Entry-level employees are usually naive and think that they are the smartest in the room. They over-commit and under-deliver and are not usually aware that they are still learning.
  • People Management: Because they have never managed a team before, they do not understand managing upwards or delegation. Many people confuse leadership for people management – they are not the same. 
  • Communication: Young employees find it difficult to articulate their ideas in a clear and concise manner.
  • Decision-making: Young people are exposed to a lot of information especially through the internet and lack the ability to filter the information received. They need to know how to identify and evaluate options and then make sound decisions that will positively impact productivity, employee morale, and the team.

Since an individual’s quality and breadth of education is primarily responsible for their cognitive, technological, and productivity skills, an individual that lacks foundational skills will struggle when faced with complex situations in life and the workplace. Without proper education, an individual will not be able to function at the same level as their contemporaries globally.

To close the skills gap and help Gen Z build these critical cognitive, social, and emotional skills in preparation for the future of work, the following should be considered.

  • Education Systems: Educational policymakers and educational providers should foster adaptive and lifelong learning and improve foundational skills by revising or revamping the academic curricula, with an emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and systems thinking. Education at the tertiary level should be tailored to prepare undergraduates for what the world of work would require in the future, and not on job roles that are rapidly becoming obsolete.
  • Role of the Private Sector: Policymakers should encourage the private sector to collaborate with the educational sector in education and training. In addition, organizations should invest in training programs for their employees, to equip them with the required skills for optimal productivity. There are also some valuable training programs that equip Generation Z job seekers with the skills needed to be employed and thrive in their careers. An example is the Ciuci Explore Training Program that equips young, recent graduates with the skills and tools needed to flourish in their careers in Nigeria.
  • Mentorship: Workforce leaders should explore programs to address relevant soft skills disparities among workers. Companies can achieve this through internships, job rotations, and other programs such as providing on-site training to employees.
  • Role of Individuals: Individuals Gen Z’s should invest in their self-development by taking up courses to improve their soft skills, especially if their companies are not investing in their learning. They should also devote more time to attending and being part of programs that would expose them to these foundational skills.

[1] (Industrial Training Fund and United Nations Industrial Development Organization, 2017)

[2] (Favara, et al., 2015)

[3] (Nwabuikwu, 2016)

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