It has been a few years since students in Nigerians…
By David Adeoye
In those days when many African nations first gained independence (and for the next two decades or so), jobs were plentiful. You hear tales of a graduate getting two or more job offers with a car and sometimes, a residential quarters to match. All on the bill of the employer.
After sometime, it was no longer sufficient to just have a first degree. Only a Master’s degree and or professional qualification would assure such a lofty start. However as the years passed and as both the society and the economy evolved, opportunities for ready jobs with “cool pay” started to dwindle. Attractive jobs in established organizations became competitive.
The economic resurgence of the late 1990s to the early 2000s came with a significant increase in the supply of graduate jobs. New businesses (banks, telcos, IT firms, investment firms, etc) rolled out across the economy on a rather massive scale. Once again, graduates became very much in-demand.
This time, the setting was slightly different: most of the employers were private businesses deploying their own capital, that of other shareholders, and of course borrowed funds from banks, and the bond market. Therefore, recruitment was largely on merit and retention was largely based on performance. Degrees and certificates, though required, had become less important.
In more recent years, the Nigerian economy has seen a marked reduction in the influx of big business. In reality, the economic conditions and our brand of political economy has constrained otherwise big businesses to shrink (in the name of right-sizing, restructuring, refocusing, and those other terms that start with the letter R but never mention retrenchment). Technology has also not helped the fate of the average graduate as a traditional worker, even while it presents immense opportunities for personal growth.
With the rise of technology, and challenging economic conditions, many new businesses now start small, and most older ones aim to be more efficient, more profitable, but not necessarily bigger (at least by headcount). At the same time, the capacity of establishment-type employers to expand their workforce is severely constrained. Budgetary allocations, grants, etc impose a limit.
What do all of this mean for today’s graduate? First, the era of establishment-type jobs with the perks that follow is largely gone. Secondly, today’s employers are far more performance and results-oriented than those of past decades where there was more emphasis on activity and presence. Thirdly, the demand on a graduate’s capacity to contribute at both individual and team level becomes the most important factor in to secure and retain gainful employment.
Now, if capacity to perform has become such a critical element, it is important to ask and get some valid answers to the question: what is the fundamental requirement to perform in a world of service and knowledge work? The answer, to my mind is three-fold: readiness to learn, willingness to work hard, and a disposition to work with others.
In other words, today’s graduate must be willing to accept a first degree for what it really is. Essentially, during the first degree, a person learns to reason and to relate. To build upon this foundation, the individual then has to submit himself or herself to a process of learning something meaningful, specific, and valuable to others. We call this apprenticeship. In the same way that fellows with less formal education have to choose a trade to which he is willing to apply himself or herself.
In the context of today’s work environment, the graduate must see herself first as an apprentice and put the ‘graduate thing’ in the background. An apprentice is first of all, “here to learn”. It’s not about the pay. Rather he’s paying his dues by being on time, attentive, responsive, and above all by being responsible to at least one person: the boss who is then responsible to one set of people: customers. The same way an apprentice aims to be successful at the trade, and not merely follow-the-money, today’s young person with a first degree will have to submit herself to the rudiments and demands of the business.
There are three main ingredients required for an apprentice to be successful: intelligence (or aptitude), interest, and intensity (or how well you apply yourself, call it hard work. On intelligence, there are various types of aptitude, some fellows are gifted with words, some with patterns, some with data, some with music etc. For example, it takes certain traits to be a good tailor or fashion designer. At the same time, not every young person can be a mechanic. In the same vein, not everyone who studied accounting would do well as an auditor. Natural talents provide some guidance for a choice of career.
The second point is interest: what would this young man or woman rather do or contribute to humanity? What drives you? How would you rather work? The combination of intellect and interest manifest in one thing: learning, What are you willing to learn. Permit me to ask in Yoruba: “As a graduate, ise wo l’ofe ko?”. Over the years, I’ve seen many examples that prove this is a far more practical approach than merely sitting, praying, and hoping. Prayer is good but we should direct it at something specific.
Still on knowledge, smartness does not equate to knowledge. You can be smart but empty about certain areas. We all have areas where we are empty. Where we know nothing because we never bothered to, or needed to learn. Many times, what is needed as per intelligence is just a threshold level of aptitude. Often, a more knowledgeable person with the threshold level of IQ would make far better decisions than an uninformed genius.
Lastly, for an apprentice to be successful, he or she must be willing, able, and ready to apply himself with persistence and perseverance. You need to believe the work is both valuable and worth doing. Pouring yourself into what you do, when you’re tired, when others are giving up, is one key trait of world champions. Apply yourself to what you do and someday, you would find yourself at the top.
In a nutshell, it’s not enough to be a graduate. We need to choose to learn something that is both meaningful and valuable and then begin to apply ourselves to what we learn. It may start in a small measure but it will surely lead somewhere great.