Nigeria’s unemployment issues require critical thinkers, radical solution, says Famuyibo
Victor Famuyibo, a renowned personnel management expert, was a two-term President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria. In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, Famuyibo, who is also the Human Resources Director at the Nigerian Breweries Plc, outlines the various ways of tackling unemployment in the country and how to put the various agencies of government to better use, among others. Excerpts.
What do you consider the way out of the problem of mass unemployment the country is currently facing? The way out is for us to think outside the box and stop believing that we can solve the problems of today with the solutions of yesterday.
I think we have to be more aggressive and committed. We have to look at solutions that are sustainable and can take us out of the woods, then push us further into the future.
But if we leave things the way they are; continue to beg the question and scratch the surface as it were without really taking the bull by the horns, nothing will change. Things will either continue in the same way or turn worse.
Everyone is truly alarmed that the population is growing and we don’t have infrastructure, jobs for the teeming youths. Are you also worried considering the social implications?
To be honest, I am worried about the future of this country and the way the youths are being mismanaged. We are not attending to their needs, but just watch them. They are more or less wasting away.
As the immediate past president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management and a key player in Human Resource Management in a large organisation, I am at the centre of it all. Every day, I come across supposedly brilliant, educated, young, very ambitious and dynamic Nigerians many of whom are simply there just keeping hope alive, having completed their education at various levels; first degree, masters degree, some even with double masters, professional qualifications, but still not finding their space in the world of work because it is disappearing around their feet.
That world of work is not expanding; rather, it is diminishing and shrinking. But at the same time, we are having more and more of these young ones in their hundreds of thousands getting through the labour market, day in day out and unfortunately the mismatch is just getting bigger and bigger. They are frustrated and angry with the society.
They are unhappy because all their expectations are unmet. They are on the move everyday searching for jobs that are not just there. In summary, I am really worried and concerned for the future of this country.
Some agencies of government such as NDE, NYSC are supposed to train these graduates to enable them to fit into the informal sector and become entrepreneurs. Are they really meeting these expectations?
That goes with the issue that I raised earlier. The situation is that of a country that pretends to itself; a country that does not take the bull by the horns; a country that continues to offer the solutions of 40 years ago to solve the problems of today.
Let’s take one of those agencies, the NYSC, as a case study. Those of us who are old enough would still remember the genesis of why it was put in place.
It came into being as part of the moves to bring the country together after the civil war. The war had been fought and it had ended, but there was need to give hope to everybody and reintegrate them into one country.
It was an excellent idea to do something with the youth because the youth are the future of the country. If you were able to get them into a different way of thinking, you would have achieved a lot.
Thus, the NYSC came into being at the time when young tertiary institution graduates were then required to go and experience parts of the country beyond their own natural habitat, their place of origin or their geo- political zones and they were to go not just to the city centre, but also to all the nooks and crannies and relate with other Nigerians who are not of their own extraction.
This got people to start thinking like Nigerians; speak the language or at least understand the culture of others and maybe even inter-marry. It worked perfectly well and it really helped.
But 40 years down the line, is that a solution that is required for the youth of today? I would say maybe not. Have we ever sat back to take a very critical look at whether or not the scheme is still relevant to solve the problems of today or consider redeploying the resources into something else? Maybe we haven’t done that at all or for reasons best known to the technocrats, we have held on to it pretending that it is still very relevant.
But if you ask me, I don’t really think that is what we need today. This is because the youths of today are not as ethnic conscious as it was 40 years ago. The youth of today all belong to one ethnic group and that is the social media. Many of them don’t even speak the language of their parents. Many of them don’t even recognise their ethnic group until their parents start imposing their own beliefs and needs on them. For them it is the social media.
Their music is the same. Their dance, art and culture are the same. Everything for them is the same and that is their ethnic group. The question is, is the NYSC going to offer them any solution? No.
Thus, the resources that we still devote to the NYSC can be re-ordered. Instead, we could have a Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, for example. And if that would be the case, we can get many of the youth of today out of employment by having centres for vocational skills.
If you are signing on to that, you will sign to it not because at the end of that training you will be looking for a job, but because you will become an employer of sort even if you are employing two people.
Whichever way, you will be creating something. There are no jobs anymore; many corporate bodies are automating. Thus, you won’t find them creating jobs as companies used to do. A lot of the offices are now automated. They are no longer manual. People and organisations are working smarter, they are working with fewer employees and they even getting better productivity.
If you have been in my office when my predecessors were here, 20 years ago, you would meet a pile of files. Out there would be a team of employees attending to visitors.
Their desks were filled with files upon files that they were working on. You come in here today and you see that the office is paperless. Everything either exists in the brain or on the computer. So more and more are just looking for fewer knowledge workers and not people with brunt macho who can work very hard.
We don’t do that anymore, because you now invest a lot in automation, automating your system and processes with fewer workers but there is a whole lot at the vocational skills level that is void.
It’s still very empty and you and I know that if you need a skilled artisan to work on your house today, you probably had to go outside the borders of this country to Benin Republic or Togo to get them. You don’t find Nigerian boys and girls anymore and you have bright university graduate chasing jobs that are not there.
We can redirect their skills, retrain them and get them to believe that by being an employer of labour at a small scale, they can make even more money than being a manager in a non-existing company. The same story for the NYSC goes for the other agencies that are there to help with youth empowerment and youth skills.
Don’t you think this should start from the schools? Yes, but there is a lot about curriculum. We still operate outdated curricula handed down to us in the colonial days.
They have not changed significantly. But if you go to the countries that handed us these curricula, you will discover they have moved light years away.
I spent many years working abroad and I was able to conclude that the kids out there are not especially brilliant. They are not more endowed than our own kids but they had been trained very early in life to be able to use their hands whereas we can only use our brains.
You are so dependent by being employed by somebody whereas if you can use your brains and your hands, you know that if your brain fails you, you can turn your hobby to a vocation. You can turn your passion to a vocation and you will succeed. That is the missing link in this country.
What is CIPM doing to bring this kind of synergy that would bridge the gap between the town and the gown? The Charted Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria is the custodian of HR practice.
We are the only body that is chartered by law to regulate the practice of Human Resource management and we do a lot of that. We help to regulate the practice. We monitor how well people are practising the profession.
If there are issues that run counter to good practice, we would step into it. We help to raise the standard through all types of training and development interventions.
But beyond these, we also do a lot of engagements with government trying to show the light. By virtue of our network with other global bodies, we know everything that we can call best practice happening outside the shores of these countries.
We are very quick to bring those back and we try to disseminate it in the country. We try to get government to be aware that these are the ways to go, we try to promote best practice.
We rise to the occasion each time we see buckets of bad practice. For example, Nigeria Immigration Service scam or scandal and we do a lot of advocacy.
We meet with government, but in this country it’s a little bit difficult, if you are not part of government. They just see you as an interloper, asking why are you encroaching in their space.
They may even label you with the toga of being a member of the opposition party. Sometimes you want to be careful in the way you are jumping into it. But all told, the CIPM has been playing a leading role in making sure that we speak up as much as possible on this issue.
Would you say advocacy has really failed in terms of monumental corruption in the country and where is the place of CIPM?
Advocacy has not failed. The public sector is still our weakest link because, for many years, we have tried as much as possible to get accreditation, where the CIPM certification becomes your passport for employment, promotion or career advancement within the public service. This more or less has turned out to be a mirage.
We have done everything trying to get at it. Well ASCON is a training facility to be honest but we are looking at a CIPM certification that could help the practice of HR management within the public sector and that is what is missing.
And now you find impostors getting into the practice of HR within the public sector. HR is not well positioned within the public sector. It’s not professionalised. So that is where we struggle.
But we don’t give it up. We are still on the case and we will make sure that government recognises the need to concede it to the CIPM as the certificate required for the practise of HR in the public sector.
CIPM has gone a notch further in regulating the practice by making sure you have to be a member of CIPM to practice HR, how successful have you been in a public sector and even in the private sector? Private sector, I would say we have recorded a big success.
Employers now know that if I have a practitioner in my organization who is not CIPM certified, I need to be worried. I need to be careful because i am not sure of what i am getting.
But the CIPM certification gives employers rest of mind. They know that once you are certified at CIPM then they can entrust their HR practice in your hand and will be safe. It is still not the same in the public sector and that is what I just explained.
We are still struggling to get that but i am sure that we would get there. You have served and your term has ended, what will you consider as the high point of your stay as president? If I look at high point and I have to rank them, the first will be on membership development.
At the time I took over as president a lot has been done making sure that more people belong to the CIPM network, but I still found out that a lot needed to be done. I found a big gap.
There were many senior practitioners out there in the field who freely practice HR but did not belong to the CIPM and there was a dilemma which I had to quickly, together with my leadership team and also the governing council, resolve.
Because I then said, “if I would be a senior practitioner of HR who has been practising in the multinational for ten years, but the only road to entry to the CIPM is via the writing of examination, then I will just ignore it.
So we had to create new routes to get into the CIPM and we created two new routes; the practitioner route for practitioners with a certain numbers of years as well as the executive route, because we also found that senior directors, heads of HR in big organisations, whom we had required to come through lowest level of CIPM, will simply not respond. And I thought that wasn’t going to work at all.
So, having created those routes you would be amazed at the success story. So many of these senior practitioners were so pleased, happy and they jumped on board immediately.
So what we have at the CIPM is much enriched body of senior HR practitioner whom we have missed out before now and they are so happy to be part of it and that was the idea.
Mentoring also helped a lot. One other thing that i am also proud of is our millennium building. Anytime you are around Alausa area of Lagos, just look around and see what we have done from internally generated revenue.
We have been able to put up a fantastic millennium building that is about to be commissioned anything from now. Well, I had the opportunity to spend an extra year because by the constitution of the CIPM, I could have done a third term but third term is not very popular in Nigeria.I chose not to run for third term. I have a very successful successor who will now do the commissioning soon.
Do you think it is easy to tackle especially at the civil service, which is considered the cesspool of corruption?
Well, I agree with you that there is need for change and I think every Nigerian will agree that the need for change is long due. It cannot be business as usual.
I mean, you cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and you will expect that something will change. Nothing will change. There had been so much impunity in the land.
So, a new government then came in on this mantra of change. Most welcomed, especially for us at the CIPM. At the CIPM level, we had also been changing in everything. But there is a bigger umbrella and it’s about waste. Corruption, for us, is part of that big giant called waste and it has to be tackled, otherwise we will go nowhere. It just has to be tackled and tackled to the floor. Is it possible? Yes! Should we start doing it? Yes we have to.
However little, it has to start and I believe it’s absolutely necessary. What I also believe is that the signals have got to be right. There have to be leadership by example. We are seeing some of that already.
Because a thing with a country, an institution, an organisation is that once the leadership is straight it’s very difficult for anybody else to be crooked.
Are there other ways of tackling unemployment? Government needs to look seriously into possible solutions to unemployment in the country. Some countries in the developed world have also been through this. So let us not assume that our issues are so new that it never occurred on the surface of this earth.
These countries have been through it. The only thing is, we have to show the commitment that any scheme that we decide to adopt there must be commitment to do it thoroughly.
For example, why can’t we look at labour reduction and tie it to some form of tax holiday for some companies? Because if you did a labour reduction scheme, what you are doing is that the existing employee could reduce on the hour they give the employers and therefore the employers can engage more employees.
You reduce on the number but it becomes more expensive for the employer and that is where the issue around tax holiday one way or the other becomes more expensive for the employers and that is where tax holiday one way or the other comes in.
What is the point for government wanting to take all of the tax, while many of the young graduates are walking the streets looking out for jobs? But if you deploy that back into a tax holiday scheme which also dovetails into labour reduction, the existing employees end up with more holidays that are paid for by their employer which becomes more expensive but because they are fewer people now working, then they can absorb more graduate into their organization.
I don’t think we’ve ever given a thought to things like this. Many of us experienced it outside of this country. It works because you will scheme it in such a way that no employer can take undue advantage of it.
They have to show evidence of how many labour reduction days they have granted to their existing employee and consequently how many more universities leaders they have taken in for them to qualify for the tax holiday.
With the power of automation these days, you can track these things very easily. I don’t think government should be too worried that if we did that, then money will just be lost.
Money will not be lost at the end of the day because you get more people into employment. They will also contribute to Pay as You Earn, PAYE, and their purchasing power is enhanced. It will further boost the economy; more people will get engaged, while social crisis and all of that will be on the decline. So they have to think in the multiplier sense.
We need to be thinking through all of these. Look at the NYSC, why are we perpetuating a scheme so expensive without value to the country. Many of those kids do not do anything at all throughout the whole year.
Why don’t we then say, upon graduation you can choose one or two routes. You can choose to say, I am going after paid employment right away in which case we would give you a certificate of exemption and you can go and pursue paid employment or you can say government , for one year, I want to come back into a vocational skills arrangement and I will take the stipends of the NYSC and will also give my commitment that upon taking the stipend at the end of the vocational skills, I am not going to look for any paid employment because you will not give a certificate with which an employer can engage me.
So I am forced to learn carpentry, photography, tiling, plumbing and to be an electrician at the end of which you government has promised that you will link me up with the Bank of Industry to give a small scale entrepreneurship loan for me to start a business.