By Bassey Udo
About 40 million young Nigerians would be looking for jobs by 2030, a new World Bank survey report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the youth population in Nigeria has shown.
The report titled “Good Jobs for a new generation: Delivering quality jobs for young Nigerians” was presented by Tara Vishwanath, the Lead Economist of the Bank in Washington, along with Jonathan Lain, an Economist.
–These are the 2016 recession sparked by falling oil prices and the health and economic “double shock” caused by COVID-19.
The report was based on two datasets collected by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the last decade before and during the COVID-19 crisis.
The datasets included the General Household Survey (GHS) and the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS), to examine the make-up of Nigeria’s labour market and assess its response to two recent crises, namely the global oil recession in 2016 and the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on Nigeria.
Presenting the report during a virtual media briefing, Vishwanath, who said she has been working on Nigeria for the past two years, said prior to COVID-19, the challenge of jobs for young people in Nigeria has always been enormous, as about four in 10 Nigerians were living below the national poverty line.
Describing Nigeria as a very young population that is yet to peak, with millions of young people with no jobs, Vishwanath between 2018 and 2019, only about 54 percent of young people aged between 15 and 29 were working out of the projected population of 57 million of young people.
By 2021, even with the COVID-19 crisis, she said indications were that about 31 million young Nigerians needed jobs, with the labour market as the only opportunity for people to escape poverty.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Lead Economists said the situation did not dampen the enthusiasm of the young people to aspire for good professional jobs, with 22% aspiring to become businessmen, while 17% said they would want to be doctors.
“They remained very optimistic about their chances of realizing their dream jobs. With that optimism, young people have been investing in their education, with secondary school attendance rising from 41% to nearly 50% between 2013 and 2018,” she said.
The report acknowledged the labour market as crucial to realizing the Federal Government’s aspiration to lift about 100 million people out of poverty by 2030.
The study showed that transforming Nigeria’s labour market to enable the sharing of available opportunities would require bold policy choices, driving key reforms to strengthen the country’s future productivity and growth prospects.
“This optimism and aspirations can not be frustrated. We need to respond positively with great opportunities. This is not only an economic problem but also political, across the globe.
Global evidence suggests that a large youth population without the opportunity to access great jobs and realize the benefits of their investment in their education can become a backdrop for political violence.
In his presentation, Lain said the report revealed that the share of the labour force seeking work, but not find was not strongly linked to poverty in Nigeria.
On average, he said Nigerian states with higher official unemployment rates tended to have lower poverty rates, with unemployment also concentrated among more highly-educated people, who can afford to be selective about the jobs they take.
The report said informal jobs were widespread in Nigeria’s labour market, with about 85% of the country’s workers (more than half of its full working-age 15-64 years) engaged in household farms or non-farm household enterprises, with about one in 10 in wage-employment.
This, the report, said, reflected a structural transformation not progressing significantly in the country, with the economy continuing to rely on exports of crude oil.
Given the lack of resilience in Nigeria’s labour market, the report revealed that young people entered work following both the 2016 oil recession and the COVID crisis.
Between 2015/16 and 2018/19, the report showed the share of working-age Nigerians who were working increased from 60.8% to 67.3%, while the share of young Nigerians who were working jumped even more, from 38.6% to 50.7%.
Similarly, while employment plunged at the start of the pandemic, specifically those who were working, fell by half between mid-March 2020 and April/May 2020.
With the 2016 oil recession, the report said education suffered, with about 20-25-year-olds attaining secondary education dropping by around 8 percentage points, while school-to-work transitions accelerated.
Similarly, school closures during 2020 reduced children’s, especially older children’s attendance rates even after reopening, implying that the pandemic could have long-term consequences for human capital.
“Since Nigeria’s human capital outcomes were well below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa even before the COVID-19 crisis, the country can ill afford these setbacks to learning,” the report said.
Following the 2016 oil recession, the bump in the share of people working mainly came from household agriculture: the share of working-age individuals with agriculture jobs increased from 27.9% to 35.9% between 2015/16 and 2018/19.
In contrast, the COVID-19 crisis was marked by workers turning to small-scale non-farm enterprise activities in retail and trade, the revenues of which remained highly uncertain in 2021.
Providing jobs for all
To provide good jobs for all Nigerians, especially the country’s youth, the report said was dependent on three broad policy areas, namely investing in human capital, recouping learning lost during the COVID-19 crisis.
This, the report, said would not only provide workers with the skills needed to prosper in the labour market and create jobs themselves but could also aid the country’s fertility transition, so that the proceeds of growth are shared among fewer people, enabling a faster rise in living standards.
Also, macroeconomic reforms to exchange-rate, trade, and fiscal policies – to help the economy diversify away from oil and ignite the structural transformation needed to create good wage jobs.
Again, since waiting for wage jobs for everyone could take decades, the report said it would be essential to help small enterprises thrive and grow.
“For farms, research into improved crop and livestock varieties as well as public investment to support storage, transport, and market access could help boost agricultural productivity.
“For non-farm enterprises, policies that loosen credit constraints and build the infrastructure and markets on which small businesses rely could bolster productivity, profits, and job creation.
“Policy action in these three areas can help ensure good jobs are available, enabling Nigeria to seize the demographic dividend of its young population and lay strong foundations for future inclusive growth,” the report said.