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Experts Advise Young Graduates To Retool To Fit Into Post-COVID-19 Job Market

Many in employment in Nigeria are scared of what the future holds against the background of harsh realities of the effect of lockdowns aimed at curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Employers of labor are counting their losses and trying to find ways to meet the year’s targets, while workers worry about the latest statistics being released by various international organisations and experts regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the job market.

For instance, the International Labour Organisation has said that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy and 325 million in Africa or 20.3 per cent will suffer from the effects of lockdown measures against COVID-19.

In a report, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said the rate of unemployment in Nigeria increased to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017.

Unemployment among people with post-secondary school education has almost tripled within three years—from 12 per cent in 2015 to 30 per cent in 2018, NBS reported.

Several banks have have laid off staff or implemented salary cuts to avoid job losses and some have suspended operations in some branches.

Also, there have been lay-offs, leave without pay and cut in salaries in major news outlets as reported by Media Career Development Network.

A focus on fresh graduates shows that their survival in the labour market will be tough, especially in Nigeria where tertiary institutions release at least 500,000 graduates every year.

The slow rate at which the Nigerian formal sector creates jobs is not helping the unemployment situation considering the numbers that get employment after graduating.

According to Open Data For Africa, in 2015, only 251,000 jobs were created in the formal sector.

Against this background, HumanAngle spoke with human resources consultants, career coaches and recruitment experts on the situation and they suggested that young persons must re-tool to cope in a post-COVID-19 economy.

A Human Resources consultant at HR leverage, Seyi Babatunde, said: “The pandemic has certainly caused a global rise in the misery index.

“The reason is simple, the world halted its commercial activities for months, and to compound this, we started having a massive downward slope in corporate revenue streams thereby crashing businesses.”

He noted that a lot of smallholder entrepreneurs would go back to the labour market to seek employment since their businesses had collapsed.

“The effect of this on Nigeria workforce is simple; more talented hands will be available for recruiters like me and guess what? We may be getting those talents at very cheap wage rates.

“Innovations and ideas within this period will birth. Some real-time new entrepreneurs using technology to demystify workplace solutions (will emerge).

“We are also going to be having some new work styles such as remote working. New work tools and solutions will likewise be on the skill inventory checklist for recruiters to view on the resume. Finally, the freelance workforce will be a real deal,” he added

He admitted that this was not a good time to be a fresh graduate because of the saturated workforce but revealed that it was an opportunity.

He said cost reduction would be a new strategy for business owners, who would also be looking at how to involve a lot of young tech savvy individuals in the workforce.

“So, new skills will be needed in a post-pandemic era and these skills which are most likely going to be enhanced with Information Technology (IT),” he added.

He said that this would create a demand for skills that could easily be maneuvered by fresh graduates because they were millennials.

Babatunde who is also a talent acquisition specialist, explained, “The edge this young workforce will be having over the aging workforce is obvious because the aging workforce is too pricey in terms of wages and salary,

The millennials that just left the universities or colleges may be willing to take up jobs easily and even do some freelancing somewhere with their skills, he said.

“I see a situation where the aging workforce will be eased out and subsequently go start up their businesses,” Babatunde added.

He advised fresh graduates to learn skills relevant to the age, including communication skills, content writing, digital technology, coding, critical thinking, e-learning, artificial intelligence, among others.

He emphasised the need for graduates to master the art and craft of writing marketable curriculum vitae to get that first chance of being called upon by recruiters.

On how the government can tackle this imminent challenge of increased unemployment, Babatunde suggested that Africans, especially Nigerians, should stop expecting money from their government but demand empowerment in terms of skill acquisition.

“I am a strong advocate of employability skills for those entering the workforce. So the government needs to start prioritising spending on skills to empower its young workforce accordingly.

“The government should start looking into technology, I believe with technology, the pandemic or any other health issues can easily be managed,” he explained.

“More importantly, labour legislations need to change and get a thorough review, Issues such as remote working, outsourcing, flexible working, and workplace safety need to be on the front burner,” he suggested.

Babatunde noted that to survive, most companies would need to restrategise at this time to stay afloat in terms of revenue generation.

He said there might be a need to review the employee handbook in such a way that it put into consideration issues such as pandemic and how the employment contract would look like to protect the employer, employee and the business during uncertain periods such as the pandemic.

Organisations may need to diversify their businesses into a stream that can generate online revenue, Babatunde suggested.

Olushola Gbobaniyi, Head, Talent acquisition, and management at Stresert Services Limited, noted that the dearth of employability skills among fresh graduates was very worrying.

He said for fresh graduates to overcome the effects of COVID-19, they must engage in continuous learning, most especially digital skills, that were apt to work remotely and online.

He also advised them to apply for unsolicited internships with organisations in order to gain work experience, training, and exposure [even if the companies will pay stipends during the period].

He also encouraged them to be bold and send unsolicited applications to companies even when they had not advertised.

They should give reasons such as work experience, career growth, exposure as the reason for such application.

“Get entrepreneurial skills to be independent – skills like coding, graphic design, social media management, search engine evaluation, transcription writing, etc. The Future of Work is upon us when people would rather have several gig jobs instead of one full-time job,” he said.

He suggested that the government could help mitigate the effect of the pandemic by setting up incubation hubs for fresh graduates to collate, manage and develop business ideas, scrapping NYSC and all its pomp because most employers no longer recognise it as ‘work experience’, and the ‘posting’ part of it had lost its value.

He also urged government to provide funding and grants for graduate entrepreneurs, especially those with projects that could impact the society or economy positively.

“Structure recruitment of government agencies making them transparent and developmental for graduates.

“Right now, employment into government institutions is often shrouded in obscurity, and these agencies don’t even have a structure for career development as they are enmeshed in politics instead of technocracy (professionalism),” he stressed.

A career coach, E. Charles Emmanuel, advised that government should invest in agriculture to cover the entire value chain from cultivation to packaging and marketing to engage young graduates.

He also suggested that companies “retrain, retool and equip staff for the new shift that has taken place”.

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