Addressing Youth Unemployment with Tech Innovation

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With the windows of opportunities presented by technology companies like Andela, Google, Microsoft and Tek Experts among others, designed to make Nigerian youths tech savvy, the youth unemployment gap in the country could be reduced significantly, if the enabling environment is addressed by government, writes Emma Okonji

The youths of any nation represent a formidable workforce of such nation, given their energetic abilities, coupled with their zeal for partaking in technological innovation that is driving global economies. But in Nigeria, a large population of youths between the age bracket of (15-35) remain largely unemployed, even when majority of them are university graduates.

According to recent statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics, youth unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 23.63 per cent from 2014 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 38 per cent in the second quarter of 2018.

Although the bureau stated that the unemployment rate decreased to 36.50 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 from 38 per cent in the second quarter of the same year, analysts have however attributed the reduction in the unemployment rate to the efforts made by global technology companies who have introduced various forms of technology innovations among Nigerian youths that are geared towards empowering the youths, making them highly tech savvy in order to become self-reliant and future employers of labour.

These technology companies that have invested heavily in youth empowerment through technology innovations, have various forms trainings for youths who pass through their incubation centers and they are exposed to different forms of funding from Angel Investors who invest their finances in tech startups.
For instance, Tek Experts, being the latest entrant into the Nigerian technology space, has turned out to become one of the largest employers of Information Technology (IT) talent in Nigeria going by its staff strength of 1,020 that it currently maintains. Tek Experts has created hundreds of entry level and experienced jobs in the Nigerian IT industry for graduates specialising in Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) courses.
In line with their policies, the technology companies, like Tek Experts, are empowering youths and reducing youth unemployment, but governments at all levels, must play their roles by creating the enabling environment that will further drive technology innovations and reduce unemployment gap.

Government’s role

Job creation is one of the agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, but surprisingly, the rate of youth unemployment In Nigeria is alarming, giving so much concern to governments across all strata of governance. Government has however realised that investing in technology and creating the enabling environment for technology to thrive, is a sure way of reducing unemployment gap in the country. Federal and state governments for instance, are investing in technology startups and building technology hubs and tech incubation centres, but the inability for government to sustain such hubs coupled with the refusal to build relevant infrastructure like the broadband infrastructure and national backbone infrastructure, have resulted to huge drawback in technology investments in Nigeria.

Government had several technology hubs built across different states of the country, but has failed to maintain them, after establishing them for the first one year, thus leading to several abandoned technology hubs that were initially designed to incubate technology startups that would develop solutions like mobile apps that should address specific challenges in the country and grow the country’s economy. One of such abandoned projects, is the Idea Hub in Yaba, Lagos that was abandoned after it was established by the federal government.

The issue of lack of legislation on telecoms infrastructure bill that will protect telecoms infrastructure from undue government interference and from willful destruction of broadband infrastructure, is another drawback to development in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Despite the fact that government is not investing in the necessary broadband infrastructure in the country, the same government is not protecting the few existing infrastructure from direct attacks by social miscreants and from undue interference from government agencies that close telecoms sites inappropriately, when demanding for taxes that are most times outrageous.

Private sector initiative

Technology companies operating in the private sector like Google, Microsoft, Tek Experts and Andela , who understand the power in technology innovation, are busy investing in technology startups and empowering youths with technology tools that have to a large extent, reduced youths unemployment in the country.
In the past decades, technology companies have created opportunities for growth in the ICT in Nigeria.
Tek Experts is making investments that will contribute to developing Nigeria’s economy, with the recent purchase of its new eight floor, 2000 capacity building at Oniru, Victoria Island, Lagos, to increase productivity and stem unemployment in Nigeria. The company fulfilled its promises made at the April 2018 launch event of Tek Experts in Nigeria, where it said it would hire 300 staff in its first year of operations and gradually ramp up to 2000 by second year of operations.
The technology company, which is a passionate supporter of diversity and inclusion in the Information Technology industry, is also committed to developing strong female talent in Nigeria.

Gender balance

For Nigeria to rapidly grow in technology advancement and reduce youth unemployment, industry experts have identified the need to achieve gender balance in technology training and development. Most of the technology companies had since realised this fact and they are investing in women who have developed interest in technology. Google and Microsoft have embarked on several technology training for young female graduates, while some training centers are in partnership with Microsoft and Google to use their technology solutions in training young females.

Tek Experts, a leading, global provider of business and IT support services, recently launched its white paper titled ‘Achieving Gender Balance: Views from Across the IT Industry’. The white paper, which is free for download on the company website, highlights a wide range of issues as identified by women in the Nigerian IT industry. These issues, ranging from persistent pay gap, lack of career growth opportunities for women, recruitment bias, general lack of inclusion and diversity in the IT industry among many others, were brought to light when the company launched a survey earlier in the year to feel the pulse of women on their unique experiences as women in the industry.

The survey, completed by over 2,000 women worldwide, was conducted in five countries where the company operates in – Bulgaria, Nigeria, Costa Rica, USA and Vietnam. In Nigeria, over 300 women responded to the questions and survey findings show that 82 per cent of women felt discriminated against because of their gender during the recruitment process for an IT organization. The survey revealed that 31 per cent of women do not get the same training opportunities as men and 76 per cent of women felt that policies promoting gender diversity in the IT industry should be strongly implemented by government and major companies, and much more.

Speaking on the launch of the whitepaper, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Naama Saar said: “At Tek Experts we are deeply passionate about inclusion and diversity in the workplace and we’ve worked tirelessly to ensure we are a reflection of what we preach. We have implemented recruitment policies to achieve gender balance, so we not only talk the talk; we also walk the walk. Our leadership team is almost entirely composed of women who have proven through their amazing track record in the industry that they deserve a seat at the table.”

Also speaking on the need to achieve gender balance in the workplace and in particular the IT industry, Tek Experts Nigeria Country Manager, Ashim Egunjobi said: “There is an absolute need to encourage women to take on more IT roles. Diversity is very important in every sector more so the IT sector because we develop lifestyle products, software and services that are essential for everyday living. Having both male and female perspectives helps to holistically understand what the end user needs and presents more than one way to solve a problem.”

ICT skills development

All the global technology companies that have operations in Nigeria, have always commended Nigerian youths for their resilience, hard work and zeal for technology innovation. From Google to Microsoft to Andela, and to Tek Experts, including small size technical support companies, they have always loved Nigerian youths, describing them as smart and talented people that are willing to explore new things. What they continually say about Nigerian youths are absolutely correct, but the youths have not been able to create a niche market for themselves in the technology space for several reasons. They were not exposed to modern technology tools while in school, just like their counterparts in developed countries of the world, and to worsen the situation, the larger society, which they operate in Nigeria, lacks ubiquitous ICT infrastructure because governments across levels, have failed in their responsibilities to provide the necessary public ICT infrastructure that would enable youths leapfrog. Having felt the gap, global technology companies are providing ICT training for Nigerians in various capacities to boost their ICT skills.
Addressing the issue of ICT skills development among Nigerian youths, the Acting Country Manager for Tek Experts Nigeria, Ashim Egunjobi, said: “The most important aspect with regards to skills development, is that technology adoption is slow in Nigeria and most African counties. As a company serving global customers, we are servicing customers who have adopted cloud technology fully, whose operations have been running on cloud for some years, who use a variety or swift of different software or products. We are involved in technical skill development by training, we do a lot of trainings on site. Our engineers go through two to three months of intense technical training which we invest in them.”

Milestones

Although Nigeria has a wide margin of youth unemployment, but technology companies that have invested in Nigeria are making efforts to reduce the margin through several ICT training and through direct employment. Google, through its LaunchPad Accelerator programme, has trained several Nigerians in ICT skills. Its recent partnership with Aba traders in Abia State, where traders were empowered on how to make their products visible online, is a testament to the several milestones reached by Google Nigeria, through IT training offered to Nigerians, including youths and women. Tek Experts, a global business processing organisation, with focus on technical support services, has also reached some levels of milestones in different ICT training and capacity building development for Nigerian youths.
Through the LEAP Engineering Acceleration Program (LEAP), an immersive, 16-week program providing youths with real-world experience through development and project management apprenticeships, Microsoft, in partnership with Tek Experts, is training a diversity of participants with unique perspectives, who may have a non-traditional background or returning from time away from the workplace.

The programme, skewed towards young ladies, combines traditional classroom learning with hands-on projects and is intended to encourage women to begin a career in IT, and support diverse perspectives while fostering a culture of inclusion. The LEAP program provides an alternative approach to talent sourcing, leveraging modern models and venues to find passionate and capable talent.

Another milestone for Tek Experts is its ability to service its clients successfully with very good performance records and quite big customer satisfaction and in line with that, it has launched more business lines that support clients in Nigeria.
As global technology companies continue to empower Nigerian youths for job creation, it is imperative for government to create the enabling environment for national growth and development.