Saturday, September 25, 2021

Entrepreneurship Education And The Conundrum Of Unemployment

Isaac Oluyi
Isaac Oluyi

In 2006 or thereabout, entrepreneurship education was formally introduced in Nigerian tertiary institutions. The introduction was greeted with a lot of hopes and high expectations. The reaction was not misplaced as Nigerians believed exposing students to entrepreneurship education might stem the challenge of unemployment in the country.

Over a decade after the introduction of entrepreneurship education in the nation’s higher citadels of learning it seems the problem of unemployment is still being scratched on the surface. In fact, the conundrum of unemployment appears to have worsened!

The recent statistics on unemployment released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveals that the number of persons in the economically active or working age population (15 – 64 years of age) during the fourth quarter of 2020 was 122,049,400. This is 4.3 per cent higher than the figure recorded in the second quarter of 2020, which was 116,871,186. In fact, the unemployment rate during the period was 33.3 per cent, an increase of the 27.1 per cent recorded in the second quarter of 2020.

This is a confirmation of the fact that the challenge is not abating. One then wonders how impactful entrepreneurship education in our tertiary institutions has been? Do the handlers of such education have what it takes to impart the needed knowledge? How industry-compliant or 21st Century compliant is the curriculum of our nation’s entrepreneurship education?

While the questions raised above need to be answered, it is imperative to beam our searchlight on the motive(s) or the objective(s) of the introduction of entrepreneurship education in the nation’s tertiary institutions. Available literature has shown the following, inter alia, as the objectives of entrepreneurship education:

  1. Provide graduates with necessary skills that will make them to be creative.
  2. Provide small and medium size companies with the opportunity to recruit graduates who possess relevant skills to manage business enterprises.
  3. Provide the graduates with enough training skills that will enable them meet manpower needs of the society.
  4. Provide graduates with enough training in risk management due to uncertain business environment.
  5. Stimulate industrial and economic growth of rural and less developed areas.
  6. Offer functional education for youths that will enable them to be self-employed and self-reliant.
  7. Provide the graduate youths with adequate training that will enable them to be creative and innovative in identifying novel business opportunities.
  8. Serve as a catalyst for economic growth and development.
  9. Reduce high rate of unemployment, underemployment and poverty among graduate youths.
  10. Reduce the rural-urban migration of graduate youths.
  11. Provide the graduate youths with enough training and support that will enable them to establish a career in small and medium scale businesses.

From the objectives, it is crystal clear that parts of the reasons for entrepreneurship education are to reduce high rate of unemployment, underemployment and poverty among graduate youths as well as to serve as a catalyst for economic growth and development! It is however ironic that instead of achieving the lofty objectives, unemployment appears to have reached an-all time high in the country! In fact, many who claim to be employed are actually underemployed.

This challenge has thus birthed attendant vices such as banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, among others. What then could be wrong with this laudable idea? Could it be that we got it wrong abinitio? I will want to believe that the foundation must have been shaky as my findings reveal that lecturers were actually drafted from various departments in the beginning to teach entrepreneurship.

While this may not be wrong entirely, such lecturers should have been exposed to the global best practices in entrepreneurship. After all, no one can give what he or she does not have. It’s a case of ‘if the foundation be destroyed what can the righteous do?’ The seriousness the education required at the beginning was not accorded to it.

Although along the line, institutes of entrepreneurship studies started springing up with formal structures being put in place, much has not been accomplished as undergraduates are still being exposed to vocational trainings rather than scalable skills. What we see in most of the entrepreneurship laboratories in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions are trainings on ‘soap making’, ‘sewing’, ‘fish farming’, among others. No doubt, this is an improvement on the initial theory-based entrepreneurship education, but a lot need to be done if the education will come in handy for graduates/youths in Nigeria.

Soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, should be embedded into entrepreneurship education. This is important as entrepreneurs are not necessarily to own business, but to creatively innovate with a view to solving problems wherever they find themselves – paid employment or own business. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship education is really not doing this the way it is supposed to.

The approach(es) to entrepreneurship education must change. The starting point is to align the curriculum to the myriads of problems plaguing our society. The curriculum must be customized towards solving such problems. Those that will teach the contents of the curriculum must be trained and retrained. In fact, we need more of professors of practice as it is obtainable in some advanced countries.

A lecturer whose research outcomes cannot solve any problem in the society may actually not be able to teach anyone how to solve societal problems. We need to change the way we do things at the moment if we must achieve different results.

It needs to be added that entrepreneurship requires collaborative efforts so also is entrepreneurship education. Institutes of entrepreneurship studies in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions must, as a matter of necessity, begin to collaborate with industry players as well as other key stakeholders if the education being given to undergraduates will be 21st Century compliant and useful in the society.

Internship should not just be for the purpose of getting high grades, but to acquire functional training that can readily be put to use while the students are still in school. In fact, internship should be modelled after apprenticeship that will lead to ability to solve practical problems.

As good as vocational trainings such as ‘sewing’, ‘tie and dye’, ‘soap making’, etc. are, such skills may not really bring about the desired economic growth and development if not powered by technology. There are institutions of government in Nigeria which research into and teach technological entrepreneurship. Institutions such as the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, have worked extensively with development partners such as the World Bank in this area.

Our tertiary institutions should work hand in hand with such institutions. In 21st Century, the currency is knowledge. Knowledge becomes cutting-edge when institutions collaborate and cross-fertilize ideas. To take entrepreneurship education to the level that it will be a problem-solving tool, technology must be deployed and so institutes of entrepreneurship must interact and interface with possessors of technology education.

Besides the highlighted ways out of the unemployment conundrum using entrepreneurship education, it is considered expedient that tracers’ studies must be conducted by institutes of entrepreneurship studies in our tertiary institutions. This is crucial for two reasons: to measure the impact of entrepreneurship education on the recipients of such education and to use the recipients as a source of inspiration for those coming behind. If those coming behind know that those who have gone ahead of them are doing well with the knowledge acquired, it will serve as morale booster for them.

Unemployment or underemployment is a menace. It is an enabler of vices and it affects man socio-economically and psychologically. The attendant problems of unemployment could not have been better depicted than with the words of Asmund Aamass et al. that “since employment is a key source of identity and an organizational frame for daily life in our cultures, unemployed individuals suffer psychological and social distress. It is well researched that unemployment is connected with negative health consequences. Unemployment leads to stress-related illnesses and a lowered self-esteem as a result of unmet psychological and social needs in such contexts as: time structure, social interaction, common goals, status, identity, recognition and also uncertainty about the future, financial instability, and loss of vocational identity…. That is why questions of coping become key issues”.

The best way to cope is to have scalable skills. The scalable skills are imbued in entrepreneurship education tailored towards solving societal problems. It is time to rethink, re-package and re-jig entrepreneurship education in our tertiary institutions!

Isaac Oluyi is a personal development advocate and head of public relations unit of the National Centre for Technology Management, an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He can be reached on isaacoluyi@gmail.com

Isaac Oluyi
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