WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2011—Esther Micah Sofa, 25, is a final year biochemistry student at the Kaduna State University in Kaduna, Nigeria. “Communications is one of my other passions,” says Esther, who wants to become a Communications professional. Her physical disability, she says, will not impede her desire to succeed.
While Esther believes she has a natural flair for communication, she worries that she is missing some of the skills needed to establish professional credentials in Nigeria’s evolving job market.
In March, Esther’s brother wheeled her into Kaduna State University’s testing center to take a new test of skills offered by the ACCESS (Assessment of Core Competence for Employability in the Services Sector) Nigeria program, which is supported by the World Bank.
Esther was tested on a wide range of hands-on skills needed in the services sector—from written English and basic numerical skills to Internet browsing, use of office software, and attention to detail.
The ACCESS Nigeria program will benchmark Esther’s results against a sample of worldwide scores that qualify for global outsourcing jobs. The test thus reflects employability by competitive global standards.
Over 3000 Nigerian youth take test of skills needed in the services sector
Joining Esther in March 2011 were over 3,100 young Nigerians who came in to centers in five cities to take the ACCESS test. They had heard about it on Facebook, the radio, in print advertisements, on television, and on campus.
Besides Kaduna State University, ACCESS tests were also hosted at the Digital Bridge Institute in Lagos, Abuja, and Kano, and at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka.
“This program will go a long way in curbing unemployment in our country,” said Mohammed Bello, a candidate from Bayero University, Kano.
About 37 percent of those who took the test were young women. Along with university and polytechnic graduates there were also candidates with no higher education at all.
From testing to training and job placements
Besides testing, the ACCESS program in Nigeria aims to boost the employability of graduates and job-seekers in high-potential areas by linking skills training to immediate market needs.
It addresses the complete cycle of needs from assessment to training and certification, and its success will ultimately depend on job placements, scheduled later this year.
ACCESS Nigeria includes a 10-week modular training in communication, cognitive and computer skills. After successful candidates are certified, they are linked to potential employers in the services sector who have endorsed ACCESS.
Commenting on the market value of ACCESS candidates, Mr. Yemi Jospeh, Sales Manager of a contact center company ConSol, said, “In the long run, employers will find them more useful and within a very short time [they] will be able to catch up with whatever tasks they're given.”
The Outsourcing Development Initiative of Nigeria (ODIN) is taking a lead role in linking ACCESS to industry and jobs. ODIN will hold roundtables in Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt to introduce firms and associations to the program and engage their interest in recruitment.
To sustain the program long term, ODIN will anchor the assessment and certification component. A matching grant model will need to be activated to offer incentives to trainers, trainees, and hiring firms.
ACCESS could eventually be deployed in the public sector too, with links to the civil services and the government’s e-services.
Why is Nigeria paying attention to youth employability?
The large turnout for the first round of the ACCESS Nigeria test reflects some important trends in Nigeria, which is now at a crossroads.
The country’s non-oil economy is booming, driven by service sectors such as ICTs, finance, and banking. The ICT sector is growing at a rate of 30 percent, a pace second only to China. While there is a growing need for skilled employees in these sectors, about 46 percent of Nigeria’s young people (aged 18-24) are unemployed.
The Nigerian government has prioritized jobs creation by setting up a new National Jobs Creation Scheme (NJCS). The government is also keen to tap into global ICT opportunities and has created an outsourcing framework for the country.
“The magnitude of the youth employment challenge in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, becomes clear when you consider that nearly 100 million people in Nigeria are below age 30,” said Peter Materu, Acting Education Manager in the World Bank’s Africa Region. “The World Bank is in the process of offering technical and financial support on skills development and youth employability in Nigeria as well as a number of countries in Africa.”