By Kayode Ajayi-Smith
Before 2013, my team and I at Joint Initiative for Development pondered on the growing youth unemployment in the country. Our concerns centered on the threat unemployment of youths bring to macro-economic stability of every nation given that young people are very inquisitive, full of energy and listen to one another.
Our concerns grew when Boko Haram became a menace to our collective security, knowing full well that young people were more vulnerable of being involved in the evil. However, beyond the security threat the growing unemployment posed, parents were getting frustrated by the day given that they are having to house and provide for the same children they had hoped to complete their course at the University and start fending for themselves.
I had been part of contributing to a National document meant to find a way out of the growing unemployment in the country which as at that point stood at 23.9%. After my contribution to the document, I decided to provide a solution that could impact jobs in some part of the country. In late 2012, my team and I designed a pilot Internship programme which was a temporary job meant to help young people prove their capability on the job and improve their skills on the job. The Pilot turned out to be a success with 23 interns placed in different organizations in Abuja over a five months period. One of the key lessons we learnt through the process was identifying what organizations wanted. It was having identified what organizations wanted that we began to offer Employability/Competency training to prospective interns before we placed them on the job.
Another key lesson we learnt was how we presented our candidates. We discovered that indeed there were jobs but candidates failed to present themselves appropriately. To this challenge, we decided to begin to simulate interview sessions with CEOs and HR Managers sitting in for the sessions on pro bono basis. We re-launched our Internship programme in September 2013 and since then we have had over 120 interns placed in different organizations in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt.
Aside from placing interns with host organizations, we also observed that prospective interns trained through our programme were able to secure jobs with major banks and organizations within the country and organizations had begun to approach us to train the entry level staff having identified our training as a useful and cost effective way of training staff.
Today, host organizations are beginning to see the programme as a platform for discovering new talents at a cost effective rate while incorporating, increasing productivity as interns are more willing to prove themselves and as a platform for contributing to reducing the growing youth unemployment.
Above all, the most fulfilling part of what we do became a reality when we began to receive news of our interns being retained in various organizations, to us, it was a dream come true.
One significant story that stood out was the story of a young man who having completed his undergraduate studies in Borno, had to relocate due to the growing insurgence in his state. He attended our 2-day training and waited for almost a month to get an opportunity to seat for an interview with a host organization. He would call in to our office to inquire if by any chance there was a placement opportunity. He was quite patient and persistent too. Eventually, one of Nigeria’s foremost polling company requested candidates to fill their junior analyst position and we put Ibrahim up for consideration and he was considered.
Typically, the internship periods last for six months but Ibrahim superseded our expectations. Three months into his internship, the HR manager of the host organization called our office to say that they were retaining Ibrahim due to his outstanding performance on the job. We were more than excited especially because despite coming from a troubled region and with the instability he experienced as a result of his relocation, he still made it through.
It is quite imperative to note that our story has not been a smooth ride but we are committed to ensuring that it meets the need of our growing population of unemployed graduates. Despite our effort to ensure the readiness of our interns to fit into the workplace, the quality of the individual and the values he or she has embraced as a result of their background usually impedes the process. Host organizations have also impeded the process when often times, they forget that Interns are supposed to have little or no experience but are willing to learn on the job instead, they raise the bar too high; expecting interns to be superstars already.
Funding of the programme has pretty much been sustained by charging host organizations a one-off fee for each interns they recruit. Although, we have had to start small but as the demand for our interns begin to rise, we will need much more than the one-off fee charge, maybe a significant investor or a grant to scale-up the programme to ensure that we reach out to more locations across the country.
As we continue to contribute our quota to reducing the rising youth unemployment in the country, we hope the regime change in the country will pay attention to providing adequate opportunities for youths, arming them to get involved in stimulating economic activities and contributing to the growth of the country’s GDP. We also hope that this new administration will pay critical attention to the Education sector to ensure that the quality of our graduates meet the requirements of the 21st century workplace.
Kayode Ajayi-Smith is the Executive Director of Joint Initiative for Development (JID), http://ji4d.org a youth-led Non-Profit organisation registered in Nigeria, that focuses on Youth Development and Education for all.
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