Ray of Hope for Lagos Graduates

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The administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State recently initiated a graduate internship programme to create new opportunities for young graduates in the state and improve their employability, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi
 
Her narrative was somewhat depressing. Almost all her contemporaries battle similar realities daily. Like all graduates in Nigeria, however, Ms. Tirat Ogunlana completed her first degree with great expectations. With a background in Environmental Management, she thought she could secure a white-collar placement of her choice despite Nigeria’s socio-economic realities.
But her expectation was almost dashed two years after she obtained her first degree. Ogunlana applied for different positions in various conglomerates, corporations and multinationals. She wrote aptitude tests several times, even with confidence of clinching a job. At least, on five different occasions, she made it to the stage of interview.
Yet, she never got an offer from any of the companies she indicated interest to work; neither did she have an inkling of getting one as soon as possible. After the fifth interview she had in an oil firm, Ogunlana said she had lost hope in the country. She decided not “to apply for any placement,” which she said, might amount “to a sheer waste of time.”
Still struggling to ward off disappointment from different quarters, her parents brought an advertorial of a graduate internship programme, which the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode initiated sometimes in 2016. As Ambode once said, the programme was structured to place young graduates on a three-month placement and improve their employability.
But reminiscent of what she had experienced, Ogunlana declined to apply for the programme. Her reasons are not far-fetched. First, she had applied for different positions without an invitation for interview. Second, she had been invited for interview five times without an offer. She said each interview often ended with a statement: “Thank you. We will get back shortly.”
Almost endlessly, she waited expecting responses – either negative or positive – from these establishments. Till date, she never got any reply from the companies, thereby resulting in what she described an outright loss of faith in the system in the country. Amid her frustration, she was prevailed upon to consider the internship programme.
She, eventually, yielded to pressure from all fronts. She only agreed to apply for the internship programme to satisfy her parents. Even after she was invited for aptitude test and interview, Ogunlana never believed the programme could be real. She said: “I did not want to apply because I thought it was one of the programmes our political leaders used for political purposes.”
She scaled through various stages of screening. Yet, she never believed the programme was an initiative borne out of passion for the youth. But she was proved wrong when a letter of offer was sent her, which she accepted unwillingly. She was further proved wrong when she was invited for her induction at Onikan Youth Centre, King George V Road, Lagos Island.
Already, she is on a three-month internship programme after several failed attempts to secure a good job. The rest has now become a history. But like the 499 other candidates that scaled through the screening process, her narrative is a testimony to another creative solution the Ambode administration had evolved to deplete the camp of unemployed youths in the state specifically.
Unemployment burden
For Ambode, unemployment is a huge burden. Ambode did not just recognise it as a potent threat to security specifically in the state. He equally founded his administration on a tripod – security, job creation and infrastructure development to demonstration his commitment to the teeming number of youths, who he said, constitute 60 per cent of Lagos population.
But Nigeria’s unemployment rate is becoming scarier by the day. In a report it released, last week, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said the rate rose to 14.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared with 13.9 per cent that was recorded in the third quarter. The rate is, perhaps, the highest the country ever recorded in the last two decades specifically.
Steadily, however, the country’s unemployment rate has been surging in the last two years. As indicated in its report, in the fourth quarter of 2016, there were a total of 28.58 million persons in the labour force that were either unemployed or under-employed compared to 27.12 million in the third quarter, 26.06 million in second quarter and 24.5 million in first quarter.
Unlike other states in the federation, the burden of unemployment rests more heavily on Lagos State. By implication, this deduction can be attributed to three indisputable factors. First, aside its population currently estimated at 21.9 million, according to the World Population Review, Lagos generates 25 per cent of Nigeria’s total gross domestic product (GDP).
Second, Lagos is the eighth fastest growing city in Africa, where almost all nationalities globally co-habit without let or hindrance.
Third, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Lagos is the fastest-growing city in the world with a growth rate of 85 people per hour apparently much higher than the rate at which the cities of London and New York grow per hour.
Confronted with these realities, Ambode first came up with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), which the Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment, Mr. Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti said, was set up by law to provide strategic interventions for Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) and critical startups for those with practicable initiatives.
Good as the Fund is, it has not effectively addressed the challenge of employability, which the commissioner said, was the main reason most young graduates “are not getting desired placements in the 21st Century.” Hence, the state government evolved the graduate internship programme, which he said, was designed to prepare graduates for new practical challenges.
Employability questions
At different times, reports showed that the youth population “is central to the development of the state.” The state’s official statistics bears testimony to this assertion: the youths constitute at least 60 per cent of its population. ButDurosinmi-Etti said unemployment “has been a challenge for most youths in the state.” It became worse when Nigeria snowballed into economic recession in 2016.
As expected across the federation, Durosinmi-Etti said the country’s socio-economic realities “pose fresh challenges. Like unemployment, lack of opportunities is equally a major issue. Also, lack of mentorship constitutes another problem of its own class.” Consequently, he said, most fresh graduates find it difficult to fit into specific roles in different workplaces.
This suggests that there are still some opportunities, which according toDurosinmi-Etti, fresh graduates do not have requisite proficiency and cognate experience to effectively function on such placements. So, he concluded that formal education “only constitutes 30 per cent employability requirements almost all establishments demand for various job opportunities.”
He admitted that formal education “is salient and indeed forms the foundation of all professions.” However, Durosinmi-Etti said 70 per cent employability requirement “are only obtainable through mentoring and specific training. The lack of mentoring and specific training is the core reason most graduates cannot meet requirements for available opportunities.”
In response to the challenges employability throws up, consequently, the Ambode administration evolved the graduate internship programme “to bring back the culture of mentorship in workplaces and prepare fresh graduates for on-job challenges.” Also, Durosinmi-Etti explained that the programme was set up to bridge the gap between the gown and town, which he said, would help participants secure employment or set up their own firms.

 He added that it would be out of place to compare the programme with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Unlike the NYSC, he said the programme was conceived on two different grounds. First, he said the programme was designed “to build the spirit of strong leadership.” Second, he said it was meant “to develop the culture of practical time management.”

 Now that the programme has been rolled out in full scale, he said expectation “is indeed high at different fronts.” At least, he explained, 500 candidates have been selected under the first phase. Aside, 45 companies – banking, telecom, manufacturing, oil and gas sectors – have agreed to take up the candidates under a three-month internship scheme.”

Expected ends
Undoubtedly, such programmes had been executed under the previous regimes in the state. But the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment, Dr. Olajide Basorun said this particular one “is executed without political consideration or ethnic colouration.” He said all applicants went through rigorous screening before they were eventually selected.
 
Contrary to what played out in other climes, the permanent secretary said political leaders, traditional rulers and lawmakers “will have nominated candidates. But this particular programme is an exception. It does not follow the old pattern.” He said the selection process was credible and transparent and that the process was handled by a reputable consulting firm.
 
Specifically, Basorun said the programme was initiated to realise four cardinal objectives. First, he said it was designed “to expose all participants to particular job, skill and sector,” which he said they could build their career on.  Second, he said it was meant “to improve the network of contacts of the participants,” which he said, was critical to career progress.
 
Third, the permanent secretary added that the programme was conceived to give opportunities for possible engagement or placement, which he said they had been looking for before the internship scheme. Fourth, he said it was designed to really strengthen their professional skills and inter-personal relations, which are critical “to their steady process.”
 
Contingent upon the expected ends Ambode wanted to achieve with the internship programme, Basorun said there were three possibilities awaiting the interns if they conduct themselves well. First, he said the interns “stand the chance of being retained in the companies where they are serving.” Also, he said the interns could opt for self-employment.
Lastly, the permanent secretary noted that the interns would gain sufficient on-job experience, which he said, could give them added advantage if they decided to seek placements in other establishments. Specifically, he said, the governor conceived the programme to fish out and develop an army of young graduates, who will add value to themselves and the state. 
 
However, the programme was conceived without some dos and don’ts. By implication, the government expects so much from the interns on the one hand and their up-takers on the other hand. From all the interns, Basorun said, the state government expected them “to gain invaluable experience and build network of contacts on the internship programme.”
 
If pursued with a clear mindset, Basorun believed the interns would be able to develop priceless proficiency, which he said, would no doubt set them apart in their future career. He added that the programme “will run for three months, but it will be three months of industry.” He said the state government “will pay each intern a stipend of N25, 000. Likewise, companies, where they are serving, can pay them additional stipend.”
 
However, the permanent secretary warned against exploitation. Already, he said the state government had evolved framework for effective monitoring. He said the state government would monitor the performance of the participants at one end. Also, he said it would ensure that the interns “are not exploited while they are undergoing the programme.”