The World Bank, central banks and governments across the world have acknowledged the dwindling opportunity in the formal economy in meeting the employment needs of the youth. In Nigeria, the creation of N-Knowledge, backed by the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), was to equip youths with skills and certifications for entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity in driving business and economic growth. COLLINS NWEZE writes that the N-Knowledge initiative is turning the unemployed youth into entrepreneurs and technicians crucial in reviving grassroots economy for sustainable growth.
The global economy is at the feet of those who dare in the entrepreneurship space. That space has become virtual, giving birth to a new model known as a digital economy, which experts say, holds the key to solving youth unemployment.
The World Bank had, at the start of the decade, estimated that less than 50 per cent of one billion young people expected to join the labour market up till 2030, would find formal jobs, leaving the rest either under- or unemployed. That projection was, of course, made without the foresight of the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in 2020, pushed the unemployment rate to the worst level in over seven decades.
If unemployment is a social challenge, the youth variant is a crisis of debilitating consequences. Indeed, it is what it is across the globe – fuelling social upheavals, challenging efforts to achieve sustainable growth, eroding positive values while breeding unhealthy culture, including gangsterism and drug addiction.
A sub-category of N-Power is the N-Knowledge. The N-Knowledge, which has the support of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), was designed to equip youths who have not received tertiary education with skills and certifications that will turn them into catalysts of innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.
Various governments have realised that youth idleness could only be ignored at the peril of the society. A few countries have also admitted that the brick-and-mortar economy could only engage a limited number of the exploding young population. The World Bank, United Nations, International Labour Organisations (ILO) and other global institutions have acknowledged the dwindling opportunity in the conventional economy to rein in the troubles.
This has informed the emerging switch to the ‘Knowledge’ economy. In Nigeria, there had been talks on how the energy of the youth could be positively explored to drive the migration. A few years ago, the process started in the form of N-Power, a programme that seeks to create and expand a pool of employable youths through skills acquisition and community service, in addition to a guarantee of monthly stipends.
The N-Knowledge resonates with the aspiration and energy that drive technology and innovation hubs at Computer Village, Yaba, Lagos and Wuse, Abuja as well as various parts of the country.
Speaking on the N-Knowledge initiative, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, said it would focus on making the youth globally competitive as innovators and entrepreneurs.
According to her, the initiative was designed for non-graduates, to give them the opportunity to acquire skills to enhance their lives and turn them into entrepreneurs, and not just an add-on to safety nets.
“The N-Knowledge programme will up-skill 20,000 young Nigerians on the global radar as exporters of world-class services and content in the creative and information technology sectors. It will develop the skills and capacities along the skills set in the value chain of mobile apps and website development while boosting the talent development effort for the growth of the information technology industry in Nigeria. The programme consists of centralised in-camp training for three months with a six-month apprenticeship across the six geo-political zones,” she said.
N-Knowledge was designed for non-graduates, to give them the opportunity to acquire skills to enhance their lives and turn them into entrepreneurs and job-creators.
Beneficiaries from the Northcentral Zone: Benue, Niger, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kogi and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) underwent a three-month training (October to November 2021) in the four thematic areas of N-Knowledge: animation, scriptwriting, software, and hardware.
No fewer than 20,000 young Nigerians benefited from the first phase of the training.
The World Bank led by its Group Managing Director, David Malpass, has made case for empowering the youth at the grassroots with right skills and funding for entrepreneurship development.
The multilateral institution believes that with the rise in global youth population in several regions of the world, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the rise of the digital economy, offer development opportunities that did not exist.
However, though these figures may seem promising, they can trigger significant challenges, if the governments do not accelerate their support to the youth population through enhanced opportunities for education, training and jobs.
The Development Finance Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) with Godwin Emefiele as Governor is also working with the private sector to support your entrepreneurs through funding and capacity building.
Paystack’s entrepreneurship prowess
Interestingly, youths have demonstrated that they can share the global stage. Amid declining apathy for overseas investments in October 2020, a Silicon Valley-fintech, Stripe, took a bet on Nigeria’s Paystack for head-scratching $200 million (N83 billion using today’s exchange rate) – an amount almost twice the monthly internally generated revenue (IGR) of Lagos, the most economically-viable state in the country.
When Paystack was acquired, it was servicing 60,000 customers, including multinational companies. But the most intriguing aspect is the credentials of the founders.
The combined age of Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, the founders, was about 60 when the deal was sealed. They were also not particularly in the league of Harvard business managers.But they had what the contemporary world needs – energy, digital talents and the courage to dare.
With more attention, individuals have suggested that the country can produce many more Paystacks that businesses and individuals from all over the world would want to partner or acquire.
When that happens, millions of innocent young Nigerians would have a rare opportunity to earn a decent living and be pulled away from the company of criminals. And one is right to expect that N-Knowledge will feature in those emerging new narratives.
How N-Knowledge programme works
She explained that as part of the training module for N-Knowledge programme, beneficiaries are introduced to soft skills, attitude re-orientation and work ethics to enhance their interpersonal skills, which are useful for career development and entrepreneurship.
“In the first three months of the maiden edition, which was a boarding programme, trainees had a three-month training in the four thematic areas – animation, scriptwriting, software and hardware,” the minister said.
Beneficiaries, who shared their testimonials, were excited that the life-changing skills imparted on them during the intensive training. They were full of gratitude to the minister and her Ministry for implementing the vision and directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, on youth empowerment and development.
On arrival at training camps, each participant received N42, 000 to cover his fare and a monthly stipend of N10, 000 for nine months. The programme also comes with starter packs, which include a laptop to help the youths set up.
Perhaps, the approach suggests that N-Knowledge, if sustained, will not only democratise the Yaba, Lagos potential but will also create an incentive to make the rewarding engagement more appealing to a large number of young people who would otherwise have been sold out to drugs, cultism and other social vices, thus becoming burdens to their families and the entire society.
Analysts said the culture of apprenticeship was being elevated to the national level, as a prioritised policy of the Federal Government. Also, this is a remarkable departure from a culture of handout giving. Of course, 20,000 youths pale into significance when weighed against the millions of peers currently wallowing in joblessness or working poverty. But it is, certainly, significant for troubleshooting the joblessness challenge across national, state and local government levels.
That number, replicated across space and time, could make a remarkable change in the Federal Government’s ambition to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next decade.
Regulation of digital economy services is tricky, making the market somewhat borderless. That makes it a burden for countries that are deficient in modern technology capacity, as it worsens capital flight.
For instance, reports say that Nigeria’s software market is 77 per cent dominated by foreigners while hardware used by local companies is 86 per cent imported, with only 14 per cent sourced locally.
Meanwhile, in terms of human capital, a professor of entrepreneurship and e-Business and the Head of Entrepreneurship and Business Studies, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, Olalekan Busra Sakariyau, noted that the ratio of Nigerians to foreigners in the industry is as high as 98 per cent to two per cent.
He said the imbalance has triggered a search for workable solutions to bridging the obvious capacity gap, no doubt. There are a many federal schemes and initiatives designed to benefit creative individuals, including IT workers, and domiciled in different ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
He said what might be lacking, however, is a centrally-coordinated and realistic national policy thrust for harnessing the potential of youths and developing them into an army of talents for local need and exports. The N-Knowledge, perhaps, will provide that missing link.
Why empowering youths is crucial
Every region – Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and others – is grappling with its fair share of the social ills triggered by a growing army of idle youths.
Violent crimes are an increasing function of youth unemployment. South Africa’s situation has confirmed this over time. With 34.9 per cent unemployment rate and about 60 per cent of jobless youths, the former apartheid country has the worst labour market statistics in Africa. Violent attacks, especially against foreigners, who are often blamed for joblessness, seem to mirror the growth of unemployment, which President Cyril Ramaphosa once described as “deep and serious”.
In Nigeria, also, a pet-up frustration of several decades over poor attention to youths was unleashed during the #EndSARS protests, which were hijacked and turned against the state and private businesses in self-destruct. To date, many businesses and public entities are struggling with the ruins of the unfortunate incident. As it is during similar attacks in other parts, unengaged youths became tools for the destruction that followed the protests.