With the launch of Graduate Internship Scheme, a new lease of life seems on the horizon for the teeming population of unemployed youths. Shaka Momodu reports
Opeyemi Ariyo graduated five years ago with lofty dreams. He had always wanted to be a system engineer. From his younger days, he liked playing with gadgets and when computer and its accessories became the fad, Ariyo shifted his attention to computers and that was why he studied computer engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State. He was very lucky to have served in a very big IT firm in Abuja. He was looking forward to his retention by the company. But that was not to be. Alhough he had meaningful discussions with the management of the company as his service year was drawing to a close, that was as far as it went. The company politely told him that he was surplus to requirement. A good send-off party was organized in his honour on completion of his service but it was a send-forth to the labour market and a world of uncertainties. Four years after, Ariyo is still searching for work. He is one of millions of able-bodied and educated Nigerians who could not have opportunity to deploy their skills productively and earn a living for themselves.
Unemployment as a national scourge…
Unemployment has become a thorny issue in the country. Figures by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the unemployment rate in Nigeria is about 23.9 percent. This is above the world average of 14.2 percent. The various states in Nigeria except a few have high unemployment rates. In recognition that this growing unemployment rate does not match the intent of his administration’s Transformation Agenda, President Goodluck Jonathan early last year announced some far reaching measures aimed at transforming the society. One of such measures was the launching of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, (SURE-P), with the sole mandate of channeling subsidy funds into infrastructural development and social projects. SURE-P has a number of social safety nets including the Community Services, Women and Youth Empowerment Project.
Designed as components of the project are the Community Services Scheme and Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS). It is this last one that seems to have become very dear to the heart of the honourable minister of finance and the co-ordinating minister for the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former managing director of the World Bank. At a recent meeting with the chief executive officers of the companies on the graduate internship scheme, the minister said it was one thing that was germane to the “transformation agenda” of the present administration and personally to her own heart. She displayed this when she stated during the session. She said the session was “to share ideas and knowledge on how to advance and improve one of the most thrilling things that the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is doing to mitigate the problem of unemployment in this country: the Graduate Internship Scheme, a component of the SURE-P programme.
“Personally, I am very excited about the scheme because, it is a practical and innovative response to the unemployment challenge which brings together the synergies of government and private sector partnership to maximise the energy of (our) youth. It demonstrates what is possible when we come together to create new paradigms in response to the challenges that confront us as a nation. The Graduate Internship Scheme is part of our tripod strategy for responding to the youth unemployment in Nigeria. This strategy has three layers because we recognise that the challenge is a multi-dimensional one.”
The essence of the GI Scheme…
While many people have been lamenting the fact that many young and educated people could not be employed, the fact remains also that majority of them do not have requisite skills in practical terms. Even those with first class grades do not know much beyond theoretical things learnt in the class room. The Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) is aimed at stemming this tide. It is designed to provide graduates with quality temporary work experience and requisite skills that give them the needed competitive edge in the labour market plus ability to venture into self start-up businesses. It is common knowledge that majority of the unemployed youths are graduates with no working experience and most times rejected by employers who prefer experienced hands. The GIS was therefore introduced to address the plight of these graduates. Under the scheme, they will be placed in government agencies, and selected corporate and non-governmental organizations on a one-year internship. During the period, the interns are expected to acquire professional skills, training and work experience to improve their job-placement opportunities. The federal government will be responsible for paying a monthly stipend to them while participating institutions are to provide adequate opportunities for capacity development and mentoring. The beauty of the scheme is its capacity to enhance the employability of at least 50,000 unemployed graduates in the 36 states and Abuja. The minister throws more light on the essence of the scheme:
“The first layer focuses on expanding the pool of entrepreneurs by supporting youths with entrepreneurial talent to expand their existing businesses or set up new businesses so that they can employ other youths. This is what the YOUWIN programme is all about. As a show of commitment to young people, government launched the first edition of the YouWiN Programme in 2011. The first edition supported about 1,200 businesses run by young people. These businesses have so far created over 10,000 new jobs. As we speak, more jobs are being created, lives are being changed and a generation of youths is being inspired to use existing challenges are stepping stones to success. The second layer is the graduate employment component which includes the Graduate Internship Scheme. Here the focus is on creating opportunities for youths with degrees or equivalent qualifications to work in the private sector on a temporary or permanent basis. This will enable interested firms to get a chance to benefit from their skills while assessing them for employment on a more permanent basis.
The third pillar is focused on creating employment for unskilled youth through the community services scheme across all local governments in the country. This has already created 120,000 jobs.”
A scheme and its potentials…
Although the GIS is a short-term measure, it has high prospects for job creation. It also has the capacity to improve the welfare of youths and achieve the inclusive growth objective of the Transformation Agenda. The criteria for selecting interns and employers are clear. A prospective intern must be a citizen of Nigeria, show proof of commitment for a period of one year and must be between 18 to 40 years. Possession of a degree, a higher qualification or the equivalent plus evidence of completion of the mandatory National Youth Service Scheme are also required. In keeping with the current government initiative to empower women, emphasis will be placed on female candidates with not less than 30 percent of available space reserved for them
On the other hand, each participating organisation will be required to show evidence of being a responsible corporate citizen registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission with demonstrable capacity to provide mentoring and skilling for each intern. Already, the GIS Project Office has commenced the registration of interested graduates and firms. Interestingly, more than 80,000 graduates have already been registered, showing a surplus of 30,000 applications. The data base also shows a pool covering most sectors of the economy. This is therefore a clear indication that there is a huge demand and signifies acceptability of the scheme by the intended beneficiaries. Okonjo-Iweala further gives statistical details of the potentials of the scheme.
“In the first phase of the GIS program, up to 50,000 unemployed and under employed graduates will be engaged by the end of 2013 as interns in reputable organisations to build their skills and make them relevant in today’s workplace. At least 1000 unemployed graduates will be engaged in every state. The program will be scaled up to 100,000 in the second phase. So far 1,937 firms have registered for the scheme out of which 1,371 were verified and only 293 were approved, while 1,078 were rejected for their inability to meet our minimum requirements. As for the interns, 84, 772 have applied, made up of 59,872 males, 24,900 females and 329 physically challenged. As at date, only 1,159 interns have been deployed across the country.”
Apart from the obvious benefits of the scheme to the interns, participating organizations also stand to gain in many ways. For example, each participating company is assured of a teeming workforce of talented and enterprising youths ready to contribute to the growth of their businesses and this, at the expense of the government. The companies also get cost-free opportunity to render Corporate Social Responsibilities by giving back to the society, helping to improve socio-economic wellbeing and ultimately helping to reduce insecurity sometimes propelled by the high unemployment rate. Furthermore, the scheme provides the extra opportunity for them to retain tested hands from the best of these interns without the rigour and risk often associated with embarking on new recruitment exercises.
But despite these obvious gains, it is surprising that employers of labour are not responding adequately to the scheme. It is therefore hoped that this apparent disinterest maybe as result of these companies not having sufficient information concerning the scheme.
“To all our young unemployed and underemployed graduates, there is no better time to take a decision to become better than now. As you enter the GIS scheme, how you end up is entirely up to you. If you make a decision to be committed, self-motivated and useful in your place of internship, you will make great progress. You will not only be creating opportunity to be hired permanently by your host organisations, you will also increase your value in the market place. I urge you to make a decision to get out of your comfort zones and make a difference. You will step out as a Nigerian and prove that no matter the odds, you will stand out from the crowd. You have a responsibility to disappoint those that believe you cannot succeed. You can indeed succeed and you will.”
This is no doubt a chance for many Opeyemi Ariyos out there who seem to have resigned to fate that, perhaps, a good job offer might never come their way. The Graduate Internship scheme might just be the catalyst for a better future.