The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education (FME), Mr.  Andrew David Adejo, last Monday called for  all relevant stakeholders in the Universities’ sub-sector to cooperate in order to promote African graduate employability in furtherance of Africa’s Agenda 2063, as no institution could be relevant in achieving this noble objective than universities in Africa.

He made the call at the opening ceremony of the 2023 International Summer School and Conference of the African Centre For Career Enhancement and Skills Support (ACCESS), domiciled at the University of Ibadan, co-hosted with the National Universities Commission (NUC), at the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium.

He congratulated the Management and staff of the NUC for providing a veritable national platform for the blossoming of  the objectives of the ACCESS project and the mainstreaming of issues relating to the employability of Nigerian Universities graduates.

The  Permanent Secretary applauded the Ag. Executive Secretary, NUC, for rising excellently to superintend the largest and perhaps most challenging university system in Africa. He commended   the entire management and staff for their resilience, renewed hope and unwavering commitment to the orderly development of the Nigerian University System (NUS), towards deepening national development and global competitiveness.  

He  argued  that the issues of unemployment and the employability of African graduates became very important in view of the increasing number of tertiary institutions in Africa, particularly universities and the huge number of graduates produced annually from these institutions amidst the missing link between African universities and the industry.

Mr. Adejo described as apt the theme for the Conference: “Cultivating New Frontiers in Employability Research for Skills and Career”, noting that it was in recognition of the importance of this Summer School and Conference that NUC accepted to co-host it.

This, he said, give the entire  NUS  an opportunity to benefit from the ACCESS project and the wealth of experience of the  participating foreign   universities.

He informed the participants that the Commission and other stakeholders had, over the years, promoted graduate employability in Nigeria, but said  a lot of work was still required considering the dynamic nature of the contemporary labour market and the future of work.

The Acting Minister  assured ACCESS and its partners of the continuous support of the FME and indeed the Federal Government of Nigeria in their commitment to the promotion of African graduate employability through skills acquisition and entrepreneurship.

He recalled that the Africa Centre for Career Enhancement and Skills Support  consisting of seven partner universities across six African countries and Germany, was established in 2020, to seek innovative ways to promote the employability of African graduates. 

Mr. Adejo  highlighted that the cardinal objectives ACCESS sought to achieve through its activities were  grounded on the four important pillars of Capacity Building, University Business Linkage, Employability Research and the African-German Entrepreneurship Academy. 

He also informed the partners that the Government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria were proud to identify with the ACCESS project through the premier university, the University of Ibadan.

The Permanent Secretary  acknowledged the role of the funding agencies of ACCESS, namely the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Deutscher Akademischer Austrauschdienst (DAAD) – German Academic Exchange Services (DAAD) and Exceed Excellence Centres for Exchange and Development.

He used the forum to  inform the August audience that the NUC celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2022, explaining  from its humble background as a Unit in the Cabinet Office in 1962 to its eventual upgrading as a full-fledged Commission in 1974, the Commission had become the flagship regulatory agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The Commission was charged with the mandate of ensuring the orderly development of University Education in the country and presently regulates 260 Nigerian universities comprising, 51 federal, 62 states and 147 private universities.

Mr. Adejo further explained that in keeping to its mandate, the Commission had also advanced graduate employability through its various curriculum re-engineering exercises as it had always focused on bridging the gap deficit between the needs of the labour market and the training provided by the universities.

He cited the case of the  recently unveiled Core Curriculum and Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS) for the 17 academic disciplines and over 220 programmes in the NUS which placed much emphasis on soft skills acquisition, entrepreneurship, venture creation and digital literacy in view of the labour market expectations in the 21st Century.

Earlier, while welcoming the participants, the Acting Executive Secretary, NUC,  Mr. Chris J. Maiyaki  had commended the organizational prowess of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of this Conference, which he chaired. 

He expressed optimism that the objectives of the conference would be achieved or even surpassed with the calibre of the resource persons that the programme attracted.

He said there was no doubt that the crème de la crème of participants and resource persons gathered would do justice to the objectives of the summer school and conference.

In his Keynote Speech which dwelt on the theme; “Cultivating New Frontiers in Employability Research for Skills and Career Enhancement”, Director-General, Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, established a nexus between National Development  and Employability Research.

According to him, since independence, Nigeria had developed a series of National Development Plans in an effort to increase the socio-economic welfare of the citizens with the latest being the National Development Plan 2021-2025.

The keynote speaker explained that one major strategy was the development of skills to enhance the employability of its huge Youth Population, stressing that skills played a pivotal role as facilitators of employability.

He said a skilled workforce remained the backbone of any thriving economy, driving innovation, productivity, and competitiveness. Skills, therefore, served as powerful facilitators of employability and national development and play vital roles in shaping the workforce, driving economic growth, and contributing to the overall progress of a nation.

Mr. Oyerinde stated that as a facilitator of national development, acquiring certain skills could greatly contribute to an effective drive toward positive change and progress, adding that  the relevant role that the acquisition of skills play as a facilitator of employability and national development could not be over-emphasized.

He opined that  employability research involved examining various factors that contribute to an individual’s employability, such as their knowledge, skills, abilities, personal qualities, and experiences.

The employability research, according to him, aids policy formulation, Entrepreneurship and Job Creation, International Competitiveness, Collaboration between Academia and Industry as well as Talent Retention and Brain Gain.

Explaining more on the talent retention and brain gain, the NECA Director argued that cultivating new frontiers in employability research help to create an environment that attracts and retains talent within the country.

He said when individuals access a rewarding career opportunities, professional growth, and a supportive work environment, they would be more likely to stay and contribute to the nation’s development.

He added that this could also attract skilled professionals from abroad, resulting in brain gain and further enhancing national capabilities.

The lecturer postulated that when a country invests in research and initiatives aimed at improving employability and enhancing skills, it could lead to several positive outcomes such as: Workforce Development, Economic Growth, Reduced Unemployment, Innovation and Competitiveness, Social Development and Inclusion and Long-Term Sustainability.

Conducting a situational analysis of the employability of Nigerian graduates, Mr. Oyerinde said, the country was blessed with a vibrant youth population and that this had positioned it as a global economic giant, yet the youth population remained an untapped strength.

Most of Nigeria’s youth population were said to be unemployed and this is had been the  numerous social vices such as kidnapping, drug trafficking, armed robbery, cultism, and terror threats to mention a few.

On the way forward, he canvassed the need to bridge the gap between the needs of industry and products of the nation’s higher institutions to provide work-ready talents.

He also advocated that the alignment of education with industry needs would allow higher institutions to tailor their curricula, training programs, and research with the actual needs of the job market.

He suggested that higher institutions must recognize the critical role of employers as the receiver of their products and should be willing to collaborate for mutual benefit.

He raised the fundamental issues of how Nigeria could standardise Diagnostic Tools under a System Approach for better TVET, fission skills and Career Development as well as how the nation could benchmark its Policies and Institutions to drive the supply and demand sides for skills with special consideration for strategies, system oversight and effective service delivery.

He also made case for deliberately enshrining Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the country’s curriculum, at the same time deploying models that make learning experience more interesting and engaging to promote the development of employable skills, among others.

Goodwill messages were delivered by representatives of the Nigerian Directorate of Employment (NDE); International Labour Organisation (ILO); Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND); Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and University of Ibadan. 

A communique would be issued  at the end of the Conference.  Also at the event were ACCESS team from seven different countries, Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities and their Directors of Entrepreneurship, resource persons, representatives of the Diplomatic Community, the representatives of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and foreign partners.