By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Nigeria’s employment crisis is worsening with technological advancement daily displacing much of the nation’s manufacturing and other work force, and in turn creating widespread social disruption and human hardship, Business Hallmark findings have revealed.
According to the latest figures by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment rate rose to 14.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016, from 13.9 per cent in the preceding quarter.
Also, the underemployed rate rose to 21.0 per cent from 19.7 per cent. The labour force increased by 4.194 million to 81.151 million and those detached from it declined by 625.7 thousand to 27.439 million. The unemployment rate was higher for persons between 15-24 years old (25.2 percent), women (16.3 percent) and in rural areas (25.8 percent).
However, the Director-General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Segun Oshinowo, painted a gloomier picture, insisting that unemployment situation in Nigeria is worse than the NBS report stated.
“Going by the statistics the NBS released recently, almost about 14.2million Nigerians are unemployed. I can tell you that that figure is quite conservative, very, very conservative. In fact, I won’t believe it because if 75 per cent of our populations are youths and you apply the unemployment rate in Nigeria to that youthful hands in our demographic profile, the figure you will get will be far more than 14.2million”, Oshinowo argued.
According to BH findings, two largely unacknowledged factors, accelerating technology (automation, information technology) and weak educational curriculum are contributing significantly to the dismal unemployment situation in the country beyond the obvious impact of economic recession.
More worrying is the fact that economists are projecting that the situation will get worse and that the job market will take years to recover owing to weak educational curriculum in Nigeria’s colleges and universities.
A professor of Migration Studies and Population, Adeola Alalade of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ibadan, said:
“In the last ten years, automation and information technology have advanced tremendously and are increasingly being employed to eliminate jobs of all types. Job automation technology, together with globalization, has been the primary force behind the diminished opportunities for less educated workers we have seen in recent years. And unfortunately, we are not doing enough to address the slide.
“Because information technology accelerates (roughly doubling every two years), rather than increasing at a constant rate, we can expect that the coming years and decades will see even more dramatic progress.
“In the future, automation is no longer going to be something that primarily impacts low wage, uneducated workers. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and software automation applications will increasingly enable computers to do jobs that require significant training and education.
“University graduates who take “knowledge worker” jobs will find themselves threatened not only by low-wage offshore competitors but also by machines and software algorithms that can perform sophisticated analysis and decision making.
“At the same time, continuing progress in manufacturing automation and the introduction of advanced commercial robots will continue to diminish opportunities for lower skill workers.
Technological progress is relentless, and machines and computers will eventually approach the point where they will match or exceed the average worker’s ability to perform most routine work tasks.
“The result, what we are currently witnessing is likely to be structural unemployment that ultimately impacts the workforce at virtually all levels — from workers without technical certificates to those who hold graduate degrees”, said Prof. Adeola Alalade.
Checks by our correspondent at some manufacturing plants in and outside Lagos revealed that Nigerians are daily losing their jobs to machines.
During a visit to Julius Berger Nigeria construction yard, located at Euro 65 Yard, along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos, which houses some of its production facilities that include asphalt production plant, concrete mixing plant, carpentry and prefabrication workshops, electrical workshop, block work section, laboratory, cement packing area, and others, BH noted that human labour had been cut to the barest minimum.
For example, the construction giant’s asphalt plant comes with complete automation system equipped with highly configurable software
The plant’s PC/PLC based systems provide complete control and monitoring of the entire facility. Motor control, flows, temperatures, sensors and all other components of the plant are monitored, controlled, trended and alarmed to individual needs.
This gives plant operators the ability to constantly monitor all their values – watch the numbers move – and tell if there is a problem before there is wasted mix.
According to the Julius Berger’s Lagos Facility Manager, Engr. Kenneth Cardy, “Automation lets you watch targets, actuals and movement. If you see where the equipment is trying to adjust, it can help you pinpoint the problem and diagnose it. Automation helps you stay on top of the quality of your mix and minimize waste.
“Systems control centres like these are designed specifically for the asphalt industry with an emphasis on rugged construction, operator comfort and logical integration of the plant controls.
“These systems run and monitor all plant functions from a standard PC, including blending operations, plant motors, motor currents, mix and plant temperatures, material inventory, silo levels, energy usage and alarm status. Human involvement is very limited.
“Plant automation for the asphalt industry has come a long way to be sure. Dispatch software is now available that is uniquely designed for asphalt producers, helping them to forecast, organize and manage job/truck scheduling to make the most efficient use of resources and thereby improve the bottom line”, he said.
It was also observed that most construction materials such as concrete drainages and blocks are prefabricated at the site before been moved to construction sites.
“This Concrete U ditch is used in road culvert. It consists of internal mold and outer mold, and could be used for both wet casting concrete and half-dry concrete. Finished manhole product is easy to install, widely used in underground pipeline and other road culvert.
“No need for carpenters and welders. The machine does that. You need only earthmoving equipment to bore the ground and a crane will lift it into the dugout hole”, Cardy disclosed.
The situation is not so different at other construction and manufacturing sites visited.
At the state-of-the-art Dangote cement factory at Obajana, Kogi State, the whole production and loading system is almost automated. Fork-like lifts drop finished 50kilograms bags of cement into the 2,370 trucks that supply the goods to the outside world. When a truck drives in, it is fully loaded in less than ten minutes and drives out for others to come in for loading. This in essence eliminates forklifts drivers and loaders.
A former secretary of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Bode Olagunju, also said that the effect of automation and advanced technology is largely felt in the real estate sector.
He said that prefabrication machines manned by fewer technicians are now been deployed in the building industry to displace unskilled labourers.
“The machines now manufacture blocks, walls, pillars, beams, just mention it. And they do that in large quantities and in record time. Though, you will still need people to assemble the parts together, you won’t need a massive crowd to do that”, he said.
BH also observed that sprinklers now clean several high-rise buildings on Victoria Island, a job done before by cleaning agents who use ladders and scaffoldings. The automated sprinklers are regularly activated to flush out dirt that had gathered on walls and windows.
Several visits to some labourers’ camps situated at Isheri, Abule-Egba, Ijaiye, Agege, Iyana-Ipaja and several others, where artisans gather every morning to wait for builders to hire their services, indicate that most of the artisans often go home without getting any job to do.
Many were sighted clinging to their shovels, diggers, head pans, hammers and other tools between the hours of 12.30 and 1.30pm hopefully waiting for the unavailable jobs when BH visited last week.
A bricklayer who spoke with our correspondent at the Labourers’ station at Abule-Egba, Ganiyu Asunmo, lamented that he normally resume at the place by 5.30am in search of who to hire him but had been unlucky in the last one week to get even one.
“This is my fifth day here without anything to show for it. It is quite that bad. I will resume here in the morning and go home around 2pm after losing all hope of getting someone to hire my services.
“We are too many here for the little jobs that require our expertise and the construction supervisors that show up often always ask for the impossible. They look for people who can drive trucks, operate mixers or machine tools which most of us can’t handle.
“I am over 50 now. Where do I go to learn these skills as an apprentice without my family suffering? If the situation continues, I may have to relocate to my village in Ikirun, Osun State”, he lamented.
While advancing technology is daily throwing unskilled Nigerians out of work, the nation’s inadequate education curriculum is also not helping in equipping young graduates with the required skills needed for the labour market.
According to the founding Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, many Nigerian graduates are unemployable because they lack adequate skills and hands-on experience in various vocations.
Painting a gloomy picture of the unemployment crisis in Nigeria, Jegede said, “Causes of unemployment include lack of well-equipped Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centres to provide young workers with high quality and in-demand skills; very weak Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) base with a direct lack of new skill profiles in emerging new job requirements that are non-existent 10 years ago; limited or no development at all in the knowledge economies of LDCs and drastic changes in traditional ideas about work.
“Looking back to the 1990s, the big three US motor vehicle companies – Chrysler, Ford and General Motors- collectively hired 1.2 million employees. Today, the big three companies in Silicon Valley- Google, Facebook and Apple- together employ a total 134,000 people. People jobs have been taken over by robots.
“The same scenario is playing out in Nigeria of today. You can now do financial transactions on your phones or computers without entering a banking hall. Automated teller machines are also displacing cahiers by taking deposits payments. And unfortunately, we are not keying into the global shift.”
He highlighted some of the consequences of galloping unemployment to include armed robbery, kidnapping, steep increase in prostitution, street begging, hawking, cyber-crimes, proliferation of ‘baby manufacturing’ dens, corruption, examination malpractices, advance fee fraud (419), cultism, drug and child trafficking, militancy and insurgency.
To solve the problem, he said the country needs to build skills that are appropriate and effective for the 21st century and close the skills gap between tertiary institutions and the world of work; connect youth with the labour market by exposing them to career and entrepreneurship meetings or workshops; promote technologies and innovative learning and teaching methods; vigorously pursue public-private partnership in virtually all areas of the economy.
Also speaking, a recruitment officer with a consulting firm in Lagos, Blossom, Mr. Folubi Olabintan, said that the Nigerian society and tertiary institutions must change their focus regarding the purpose of education – which is to arm graduates with a repertoire of quality skills to be creator of jobs and not hunters of jobs; develop to the fullest the country’s focus on entrepreneurship; build a knowledge economy and use applied research as a veritable linkage between education and industry; as well as to spend more resources on STEM at school.
To effectively do these he stressed that the country must comprehensively review its policy on education and harmonise it with policies in other sectors.
“One of the current weaknesses of our educational system is the obsolete curricula being used in training students at the various levels of education especially the tertiary education level.
“Our review of the various curricula being used at our institutions of higher learning has not kept pace with global development, research outcomes and current societal needs. It does appear we still use analogue thinking to solve current issues which have gone digital.
“To be able to handle a certain job, a person needs a set number of skills. If the person does not have the skills for a job, then he or she either gets training or he or she is unable to get that job.
When the types of jobs in a certain area change, then people without the right skills are either able to move to a different area or they are unable to find work. In the meantime, these new jobs are filled up with new people, who do have the skills these require.
“So there is an urgent need to realign Nigeria’s educational curriculum with the needs of the economy. Many of the school leavers are actually unemployable with regard to their training and skills. Unless the relevant authorities do something critical and urgent about the astronomical rise in unemployment levels, particularly among the youths, the nation is sitting on a ticking time bond”, he said.