GE: Improper Alignment between Education Curriculum and Industry Needs, Major Barrier to Nigeria’s Devt

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• Recommends holistic public-private partnership to address skills gaps

Vincent Obia

TA report released Tuesday by General Electric, Nigeria, emphasised the need for investment in relevant skills to meet requirements in key sectors of the country’s economy. Titled, “The Future of Work in Nigeria, Bridging the Skills Gap: The Key to Unlocking Nigeria’s Inherent Potential,” the report was part of the company’s global “The Future of Work” series, which highlight the need for investment in sustainable skills development.

“The Future of Work in Nigeria” was the product of a survey of four key industries of oil and gas, transportation, healthcare, and power, commissioned by GE. The purpose was to gain insight from industry leaders, including chief executive officers and human relations and operations directors, on the impact of skills shortage on their businesses, and ways to address the skills gap.

The report by the leading global digital industrial company highlighted quality education as crucial to Nigeria’s future socio-economic development, saying the lack of proper alignment between current educational curriculum and industry needs is a major hindrance to the country’s infrastructural development. It recommended dialogue as a first step, and public-private partnerships as a key driver in enhancing the quality of education.

The report acknowledged Nigeria’s enormous potential for private sector development in terms of resources and market. But it said the growth witnessed in the last decade and a half could have been accelerated if Nigeria was able to successfully and effectively harness its human capital, leveraging its demographic dividend—an estimated population of 170 million people, 75% of which is under the age of 30 – which is projected to increase by 40% by 2025 and by over 100% by 2050. It said Nigeria’s labour market was unable to absorb the rapidly expanding population while at the same time a huge skills gap emerged for companies seeking to hire and develop their local workforce because the skills required in the industries experiencing growth had changed.

GE said, “Nigeria must grow faster, and rapidly develop the skills of its workforce if it is to realise its potential.”

To lay the foundation for faster and sustainable job creation within the context of requirements in the key sectors, GE believed Nigeria needs a three-pronged strategy based on: a stronger education system with closer links to industry; more open and flexible labour markets and a broader talent localisation strategy pursued in partnership with global companies; and a conscious effort to build the pipeline of skills needed to successfully leverage the technological advances of tomorrow, enabling the “Future of Work in Nigeria”.

In an overview of key industry skills gap, the report said though total investment inflows into the power sector averaged $2.5 billion during the privatisation process from 2012, investment in infrastructure in the sector remained low. Underlining the inadequate investment in human capital, the report said industry operators estimated that the average age of workers in the sector prior to privatisation was about 52 years, which highlights a vast lack of adequately skilled workers within the younger generation, an essential component needed to develop the power industry. It attributed the deficit in part to decreasing interest in Engineering and Sciences among university and polytechnic applicants. Quoting information from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, the report noted that applications for Engineering and other technical courses was 13.24%, compared to 23.35% for Social Science. To increase the number of graduates with technical backgrounds, the report said there should be a general reorientation towards the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the country.

In the area of transport, the report cites the World Economic Forum Competiveness report, which ranked Nigeria 133 in overall quality of infrastructure out of 140 economies that were examined, with transport forming a critical component of this evaluation. “Despite successful privatisation of Nigeria’s ports concessions, the country faces rising capacity constraints, notably at its main cargo terminals in Lagos, while road and rail infrastructure across the country requires significant investment. There have been very positive developments in this regard in recent years with a huge rise in public and private investment. But there remain prominent skills shortages in transport planning and management, as well as in more technical roles,” the whitepaper stated.

For the oil and gas sector, the report identified the skills gap mainly in technical areas of the industry and in multi-disciplinary management roles. It said in the past, most international oil companies bridged the gap by hiring many expatriates to occupy positions believed to be too technical or strategic for the local workforce to handle. However, this approach did not help to develop local talent and deepen local benefit across the economy from the country’s oil resource. Consequently, the government in April 2010 enacted the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act to increase the level of local participation and benefits from the industry.

Before the local content law, there was the Nigerian Immigration Act of 1972, which included requirements to introduce understudies for expatriate staff to help transfer skills and technical understanding to the local workforce. Despite these policies, the report noted that the oil and gas sector continued to lack the required level of technical capacity to effectively drive its expansion in the long-term.

“The government maintains an ambition to increase crude oil production from 2.5 million barrels to 4 million by 2020. To achieve this, it will require clear policy management and effective handling of security issues in the Niger Delta. But it will also need private and public stakeholders to begin to collectively invest in building the technical skills that will support these goals.”

The report said the country’s health system had deteriorated over time due to a substantial skills gap caused mainly by the mass migration of capable healthcare workers to more developed economies. It said the health industry had been one of the worst hit areas of the economy by “brain-drain”. It quoted the Institute of International Education as saying that as of November 2015, about 227 doctors migrated from Nigeria in the preceding year alone, citing as reasons for their emigration poor remuneration, lack of a conducive work environment, and lack of infrastructure. The report noted that there were 72,000 healthcare practitioners registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. But of that number, only an estimated 45,000 still worked in the country while about 20,000 worked abroad, resulting in an average doctor-patient ratio of about 1:6,300 (well below the World Health Organisation recommended ratio of 1:1,000). There is also the issue of uneven distribution of healthcare practitioners, with urban areas having the bulk of resources.

According to the report, “The health sector requires a wide array of professionals as well as the precise application of knowledge to provide high quality services to patients. Thus, some of the responsibility for the failings witnessed in the Nigerian health system must be attributed to the education sector. There are only 31 federal universities fully accredited to offer medical programmes, with eight dental schools producing as few as 3,000 doctors annually.”

It said insufficient infrastructure had also limited the number of medical specialists that can be produced.

Chief Executive Officer, General Electric, Nigeria, Lazarus Angbazo, stated, “At GE, we believe that a country’s infrastructure extends beyond the physical power stations, roads, bridges, schools and hospitals that are built. We believe that human capital, and the skills of the workforce that builds, maintains and services these assets is equally, if not more important. That’s why we are committed to working with all partners in Nigeria to support the attainment of what we call ‘The Future of Work.’

“We know that investing in skills development is a job for both the private sector and public sector combined, working purposefully towards a shared goal of sustainability and prosperity.”

Angbazo added, “Competing in the 21st century global economy requires advanced skills development strategies and policies robust enough to adjust to changes in the economic landscape and the associated demands for skills.”

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who wrote the preface to the report, stated, “The availability of skilled labour is one of the key competitive advantages that global investors look for when making choices about where to invest,” stressing, “We must invest in developing a labour force that is globally competitive so that we can accelerate our growth performance and capture a greater proportion of global investment.”