How to Create Jobs in Nigeria
I recently read the proposed roadmap for job creation and youth employment prepared by Dalberg for Nigeria's Job Creation Unit. There are some good points in the report that I agree with. Several, not so much. But let's start with what I liked.
Their basic framing was pretty apt - that job creation is dependent on Demand (jobs) and Supply (skills). Add into the mix the complication that the supply has to match the demand in both number and kind, and we've got ourselves a wicked problem of both unemployment and underemployment.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is lacking in both demand and supply, so the roadmap addressing both issues is spot on.
The second thing I liked was the priority areas Dalberg picked for job creation:
- Construction: With all the current emphasis on infrastructure, and Nigeria looking towards more capital projects, this industry is poised to significantly increase its contribution to GDP.
- Agriculture and agro-allied industries: This has always been recognized as an area with huge potential that can essentially replace our oil. Governments have been touting a return to agriculture, so that alone, if nothing else, justifies its prioritization.
- Information & Communication Technology (ICT): ICT is an enabler of progress, especially with the innovative things already happening around the world. It would be foolhardy to leave this behind, especially as it can touch on every other industry. But, it needs a lot of emphasis on skill-building.
- Trade: Anyone can trade, and there is so much more trade in the informal sector than we have every measured. So this is really a low hanging fruit.
All in all, kudos up to this point, especially as we can achieve a lot with targeted artisanal skill-building for all the industries except ICT.
Now to the one thing I wish could have been done better - have some focus. Outlining how to create jobs in these sectors (especially on the demand side) gets murky pretty fast, simply because the roadmap tries to fit too many things in at once. This is a mistake I keep seeing in many Nigerian strategy documents, and all it leads to is confusion. How about some focus instead?
Here's my two Kobos on how we can create jobs in these industries. Let's keep it succinct and to the maximum of three points each so it doesn't get into murky waters:
Demand: Revise mortgage policies to make it easy for citizens to own their own houses (think long term repayments and small down payments) - we've got a housing deficit of about 17 million. Imagine the demand for construction workers if we could build all these! Government too, can afford to focus even a full 4-year term, on just funding capital projects and infrastructure development; it may be harsh for some, but we will all be the better for it.
Supply: As in many industries, there are complaints about the skills of construction workers on site - government could liaise with business to bring targeted technical training to workers, at a subsidized fee. Another way could be for development partners like the World Bank to second expert architects/engineers to every SME construction company for some hands-on and on-site knowledge transfer.
Demand: We've already started tackling issues that would increase demand for local agricultural products through policies that ban certain importations. But we need to do one more thing - make sure that getting local products (whether raw or processed) is easier and cheaper than importing their alternatives. Concentrating on infrastructure as I said above will go a long way to achieve this by making distribution of goods cheap, fast and stress-less, and by enabling farmers get cheap energy to store harvests!
Supply: If we want to attract people to become agriculturalists, we need to make agriculture sexy - think as much tech in agriculture as possible through mechanization (how about leasing tractors to farmers, or groups of farmers), and encouraging people to experiment with crop production. Improving the skills of current farmers could be as easy as pushing SMS tips in nuggets and in local languages, specifying how best to plant what, when to plant, how to price, how much fertilizer to add, etc.
Information & Communication Technology (ICT)
Demand: We have already seen amazing strides in the growth of ICT in Nigeria. What we can do now is make sure this momentum doesn't decrease - we can do this through making it easy to set up a tech startup (think tax breaks and a one-stop portal for company and tax registrations). What's more amazing about ICT is that Nigerians can export their services really easily - if you create websites, you really shouldn't think you're restricted to a Nigerian market. Think wider.
Supply: How about a new school (secondary and tertiary) curriculum with ICT and new media courses like software development with actual coding (not like the fake computer science we were learning) and digital marketing.
Demand: There's a place for buying Nigerian, and there's a place for foreign corporations to bring in their commodities - it's all about enabling policies and we really should focus on this to increase demand. Clusters and trade zones that are organized into beautiful markets (which have good infrastructure) and giving tax subsidies in these markets will go a long way!
Supply: We've talked about making it easy to set up a company. We should do this for trade companies and give them easy access to low-interest loans - since trade is a significant percentage of the informal sector, this is an excellent way to bring traders into the formal sector (think increased tax revenue for government). What's more, nuggets of lessons on how to run your business to make sure it lasts and grows should be pushed out to these clusters - think Nduka Nwankwo's excellent model of building business schools in markets.
We should at least start with the above!! And start with them at the state levels, with support from the Federal government. This will help us focus, and see concrete achievements before we move on to other initiatives.