Youth Unemployment in Nigeria: The Relevance of Vocational and Technical Education

Nigerian youths are facing myriad challenges, but the government does not seem to pay attention to their plights. Many of those who dropped out of secondary school (and those who managed to pass through) lack the skills to compete in the rather weak economy and tight labor market. Therefore, they loiter around from dawn to dusk while battling with crushing unemployment and poverty. However, the government could improve their sordid state by creating jobs and increase funding for vocational and technical education from where they could acquire some skills and learn lifelong trade.

Vocational education is designed to offer training to improve individuals' general proficiency, especially in relation to their present or future occupations. The provision of vocational and technical education in secondary and post-secondary schools has a long history. Before the Industrial Revolution (between1750 and 1830), the home and the apprenticeship system (Duffy 1967) were the principal sources of vocational education, but societies ÔÇśwere forced by the decline of handwork and the specialization of occupational functions to develop institutions of vocational education.' Nevertheless, manual training, involving general instruction in the use of hand tools, was said to have developed initially in Scandinavia (c.1866) -The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001. Vocational education, however, became popular in the elementary schools in the United States after 1880 and developed into courses in industrial training, bookkeeping, stenography, and allied commercial work in both public and private institutions. Some of the early private trade schools in the US were Cooper Union (1859) and Pratt Institute (1887). But the Hampton Institute (1868) and Tuskegee Institute (1881) were pioneers in industrial, agricultural, and home economics training for African Americans. The agricultural high school (1888) of the University of Minnesota was the first regularly established public vocational secondary school that introduced extensive public instruction in agriculture. The number of public and private vocational schools has greatly increased since 1900 (Ibid.).

There was, however, an impetus on vocational education during World War II (1939-1945) when the armed services had great need for technicians that the civilian world could not supply. Another upsurge on vocational training was from the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the G. I. Bill of Rights), which allowed World War II veterans to receive tuition and subsistence during extended vocational training. In addition, the Manpower Development Training Act (1962), the Vocational Education Act (1963), the Vocational Education Amendments (1968), and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act (1984) helped to improve the US workforce and ensure that vocational training is available for economically (and physically) challenged youths. In recent time, however, corporations and labor organizations have established the majority of new vocational centers (The Columbia Encycl; 2001).

In many countries, including the US, high schools offer vocational and technical training for lifelong trade. And many of them offer courses that enable students to meet their general academic requirements while learning a trade. However, because of the recent changes in world economy many schools have shifted emphasis to training in computers, information technology, and related fields. Public schools work closely with willing industries to establish curricula and programs to meet their skill demand. Also many industries have extensive vocational education programs for their employees to improve their general and technical training and help those who have not completed their high school requirements to do so while working. It is not only the US that appreciates skills acquired through vocational and technical education. The Dutch school system is said to pay attention to "high standards in mathematics and the provision of vocational education at ages 14-16 for a third of all pupils, and widespread vocational education at 16 +" (van Ark 1992).

Where is Nigeria in this long history of vocational and technical education? While career education has continued to thrive in many societies, it is unfortunately an area that is neglected in Nigeria (Vanguard, Dec 23, 2004). No wondered why things are not working as they should in Nigeria! The neglect of vocational education is rubbing the nation of the contribution their graduate would make on the economy; the graduates could establish small-scale businesses and employ the youths that roam the streets. It is, therefore, socially injurious to neglect this important area or look down on its graduates. The society needs competent auto mechanics and truck drivers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, electronics and computers, database, Web and network technicians, bookkeepers, and clerks, medical technicians and nursing assistants (and other personnel in this category) to function well. These are some of the skills in short supply in Nigeria. The half-baked roadside mechanics in the society often cause more damages to vehicles when they are contracted to service them. And because of poor training some of the commercial drivers on the road and nurses assistants in the hospitals have sent many people to their early death. Given these facts, it is a disservice to the society to neglect vocational education. The current preoccupation with university education in Nigeria is counterproductive, as not everyone needs a university education. It also reduces economic opportunities for students who are more oriented toward work than academe.

Millions of Nigerian youths are in secondary (high) school, but some of them would not graduate. They could drop out along the way and others would not go beyond high school. Because of paucity of data, it is difficult to put a figure on high school dropout rates in Nigeria, but it suffices to say that the graduation rate is not impressive (especially the boys for some reasons). Given the general neglect of education and the resultant frequent strike actions, etc many of those who enter the university may not obtain a degree, because post-secondary education could drag out for years. But who would employ them if everyone became a university graduate? Would the needs of the society be met? Nigeria needs competent technicians to maintain its infrastructure - NEPA plants and telephone circuits and lines, roads and bridges, etc. In many societies, graduates of vocational and technical institutions are highly skilled entrepreneurs, but the society does not seem to encourage the youth to take this route. Unfortunately, those who influence education policy in the society (legislators, educators, the media, etc) appear to feel that graduates of technical/vocational institutions are not equal to university graduates. This attitude reflects on the employers' preference for regular university graduates and the pay disparity between vocational/technical and university graduates.

The neglect of technical and vocational education may have contributed to the high unemployment and rising poverty among the youth because many of them lack the basic job skills. They are struggling with the challenge of acquiring "employability" skills because the society is focused mostly on formal university education. But investment in skill training and trade schools is a worthwhile social investment. The graduates would become small business owners and employer of labor; this is the case in many societies where small businesses are the highest employers of labor. High school students in Nigeria should be made to gain knowledge of workplace culture and values along with general education competency. This would provide them a variety of skills to manage small-scale businesses and to gain employment after graduation. The current social and economic changes in the world have altered the conditions and structure of employment and employers now require their employees to posses some technical skills. Those who could not go beyond elementary school (high school/university graduates who lack job skills) are facing enormous challenges because they are unqualified to secure a decent job.

It has been well documented that Nigeria's higher institutions (due to many years of neglect) lack the tools to give students the skill employers need, and this situation seems to apply to graduates in all disciplines. There should therefore be some form of genuine school-work-based learning incorporated in some studies as part of the national economic development strategies. The development of apprenticeship scheme would give new graduates some work skills and experience. Thus university education should encompass economic, educational, and social objectives.

To reduce the burden of unemployment and poverty on the youths the government should improve funding in this critical sector and increase access to technical and vocational education for the ever-growing youths. The national unemployment rate has continued to ratchet upward unabated. As the vanguard of December 23, 2004 noted it has moved from 4.3% in 1985 to 5.3% in 1986, to 7.0% in 1987 and jumped to 60% in 1997. And the weak economy has exacerbated the unemployment condition. The report shows that in 2003 primary school accounted for 14.7% unemployment, secondary school 53.6%, and tertiary schools constituted 12.4%. This seems to have worsened the poverty level. The same report put the nation's poverty level at 70%; and more than 91 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar per day. However, the ThisDay of Dec 20, 2004 put the number of poor Nigerians at "75.14M." One possible approach to reverse this trend would be to increase funding for technical and vocational education and make it affordable to enable the youths acquire the necessary skills for jobs and self-employment. As a policy, high schools in every local government areas should be made to set up technical and vocational centers where the youths could learn some trade. Some of the so-called "expatriate engineers" who are being paid unimaginable amount of dollars to build the roads and bridges in Nigeria are graduates of technical and vocational colleges, yet, Nigeria looks down on her graduates of vocational and technical education! Perhaps, this is one of the main reasons for the low interest in technical schools. As the Vanguard of Nov 25, 2004 noted, about one percent (1%) of the resources (if not less) for secondary education is channeled towards technical and vocational skills in the country.

The National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and vocational/technical education teachers should take up the campaign for more funds and to launder the image of technical and vocational education in the society. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has noted that revitalizing TVET is among the main ways of improve economic opportunities for Nigerian youths (Vanguard, Nov 25, 2004; and Guardian, Nov 19, 2004). The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the affiliated unions could help by setting up training institutions from where the youths could acquire some job skills. The centers could also upgrade the skills of its members and improve their productivity and advance their values, dignity and respect, wages and benefits and their voice on the job. Calling out the workers for strike actions is not the only way to fight for their welfare. The NEEDS should make vocational and technical training a component part of its economic growth strategies and poverty alleviation and ensure jobs for those who acquire the needed skills. It should also provide willing industries good incentives to work with the institutions to design appropriate curricula for technical and vocational education.

The world needs educated and skilled workers and vocational and technical education could fill the void. Sadly, Nigeria is lagging behind in preparing her workforce for the challenges of the changing global economy. It appears however that the issue of teaching life long skills to the youths has started to attract the attention of policymakers, if one would judge from the recent comments by the Federal Minister of education, Prof. Fabian Osuji. He noted at the National Seminar on National Vocational Qualification Framework (NCQF) organized by the British Council and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) in Kaduna recently that "new basic technology and resource centres will be established nationwide" (ThisDay, Nov 9, 2004). Let's hope that was not politics as usual rhetoric! In fact, vocational education and training (VET) is an important determinant of income and wealth distribution as it empowers the youths with skills to become productive and highly paid workers. Increase in funding for vocational and technical education and expansion of programs for skill acquisition, employment creation and empowerment would give the youths (the elementary, high school and university dropouts) the needed skills and hope! But, the continued neglect of vocational/technical education could keep the youths in the economic pit they have fallen over the years.

Notes and ReferencesAjao, Wale; "Neglect of technical, vocational education increases youth unemployment- DON;" The vanguard, Dec 23 2004

Alwasilah, A. Chaedar; "Vocational education must provide students with life skills, The Jakarta Post; 2/11/2002.

Carnoy, Martin; "Efficiency and equity in vocational education and training policies;" International Labour Review, March 1, 1994. Duffy, N. F; (ed.), Essays on Apprenticeship, 1967.

Edukugho, Emmanuel; "UNESCO tackles decline in technical, vocational education;" The Vanguard, Nov 25, 2004

Eurich, N. P; Corporate Classrooms (1985) van Ark, Bart; "Vocational education and productivity in the Netherlands and Britain." National Institute Economic Review (5/1/1992)

See "G Plans Vocational Education for Secondary Schools" ThisDay, Nov 9, 2004; also see "75.14M Nigerians Poor;" December 20, 2004.

See "Nigeria: World Bank Supports Youth Employment and Empowerment in Nigeria" The World Bank Group, -accessed 1/24/2005

See Unemployment:;- accessed 1/24/2005

See "UNESCO trains 24 NBTE, poly staff;" Guardian Nov 19, 2004

See-the Columbia Encyclopedia; 6th ed., Columbia University Press (2001).

Victor E. Dike, CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development (CSJHD), in Sacramento, California, is the author of Nigeria and the Politics of Unreason: A Study of the Obasanjo Regime [London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers, Nov 20, 2003]. Mr. Dike is also Adjunct Assistant Professor, School of Engineering and Information Technology, National University (Sacramento Campus).