In the midst of a youth unemployment crisis, Esther is positioning young Nigerians to improve their employability through career guidance and volunteer experiences while still in school, in order to assist youth in realizing their ambitions and to secure employment after graduation.
The New Idea
Esther is building a movement to inspire and support young people to take charge of their career development. She has developed a system where young people incorporate career planning and skills development into their lifestyle long before they are ready to enter into the workforce. In this way, youth are encouraged to pursue their passions and find the appropriate training to do so from an early age, thereby preventing the frustration and idleness that many young Nigerians experience upon graduation today.
She is also opening up unconventional ways for young people to improve their employability, specifically through volunteer and internship opportunities, and demonstrating how young people can make an easy transition from school to workplace. These volunteer opportunities offer young people the space to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical setting and to acquire those skills that are best learnt on the job. She is shifting the focus of young Nigerians away from the mere acquisition of academic credentials and encouraging them to combine career planning, practical training and traditional education to improve their employability and to prepare them for the workplace. She is working with companies and organizations to develop internship and graduate-trainee programs and demonstrating that by doing so, they are ensuring prospective employees for themselves and contributing to resolving the national youth unemployment crisis.
Esther has partnered with the Ministry of Education to implement her model and is currently working with thirty schools in the city of Calabar, Nigeria. She is working to expand her model across the Cross River State and has partnered with a former participant to scale to Ekiti State. Esther is also focused on broadening her model through an online platform which provides information to young Nigerians on available opportunities and will, in the future, house an e-mentoring program that is currently under development.
Although official statistics put Nigerian youth unemployment at 38 percent, realistically almost 80 percent of young Nigerians lack formal employment and many remain idle with little hope of securing work. Secondary school graduates, in particular, account for the majority of unemployment in rural areas. Although Nigerian schools, universities and technical colleges continue to churn out graduates, they lack the job-ready skills demanded by employers today. As a result, there is not only a shortage of jobs for the number of job-seekers but many existing jobs remain unfilled as the graduates lack the practical experience required by employers. The post-graduation joy and aspirations of many young Nigerians are gradually diminished as they become frustrated by joblessness. Idleness and frustration often push young people into illegitimate activities to ensure an income, further exacerbating the social and economic challenges that Nigerians face today.
The average Nigerian graduate is not employable because they do not possess the practical skills and training needed by employers. The educational system is highly theoretical in nature. Thus, even though students may have the content knowledge for a particular job, they do not necessarily have the quick thinking and problem solving skills that is often acquired through applying knowledge in practice. In addition, there are no formalized services to provide young students with the information they need to make decisions about their career paths or with information on what is required by employers for their chosen professions. Many students lack clarity on their post-graduation goals. Although there are many careers to choose from, young people feel limited in their options especially because they are uninformed on workplace requirements, underestimate their own capabilities, or are unaware of the range of workplace accommodations that can broaden their career paths. Career education and guidance are needed to overcome these obstacles and prepare them to make choices relevant to their personal strengths and interests. Many adolescents do not think about jobs at all until they are faced with the challenge of obtaining one. This is a negatively reinforcing cycle because when youth are unprepared for what is expected on the job, they perform worse, resulting in inefficiency, low productivity and frustration for both them and their employers.
Esther believes that the choices that young people make during their school years have major implications for the education and work options available to them later in life. She is working to encourage young people to begin thinking about this and acting on it during high school and in doing so, improving youth employability and facilitating a smoother transition from academic to work life.
Esther’s strategy is focused on two key goals: first, the provision of career guidance and planning services to inspire and support young Nigerians to realize their dreams and second, the development of volunteer and internship opportunities to improve the employability of graduates.
Esther recognizes the lack of formal career guidance in the Nigerian school system and its negative implications for young job seekers who, upon graduation, often do not have clear career goals or an understanding of what is required of them for employment. Esther focuses on secondary school students in their final two years of schooling, as this is usually the age at which students begin to lose interest and drop out without strong mentorship and guidance. She has developed a pre-graduation program for this age group in which enrolled students can gain a community and the support needed to believe in themselves and their aspirations. This program is conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Esther is currently working with thirty schools to provide this program to their students. The program ensures that young people have access to mentorship and career planning services and events (such as debates and speakers) that spark their creativity and get them thinking about and excited for the future. Esther has established a walk-in career-counseling center in which these activities take place and in which anyone can access career support services. Esther uses the power of story telling to inspire young people through relatable examples. Successful young people are invited to share their experiences and thoughts on how to develop a successful career path. These examples serve as mentors to others and demonstrate that it is possible for young people to smoothly transition from school to the workforce.
Esther’s second strategic goal focuses on the development of volunteer and internship opportunities in Nigeria in order for young graduates to improve their employability. Although Nigeria has a compulsory volunteer service year for all university students, there is not a strong culture of leveraging volunteer and internship opportunities during the school years to build up the skill sets and practical experience demanded by employers today. Esther is committed to the power of volunteering to embed young people in a community and gain the on-the-job training that complement their traditional education and prepares them for the workplace. Esther works with companies and organizations to develop an internship program that provides them with short-term labor and a feeder pool for prospective employees. In exchange, students gain the training and skills that they see as necessary for their chosen profession or the experience needed to evaluate whether a potential professional choice is right for them. Although Esther was originally focused on building this volunteer culture from the student side, she is now working to shift company and organizational culture towards increased volunteer and internship opportunities for students, thus building out both the supply and demand side of this equation. She is now encouraging companies to start graduate trainee programs to scale and broaden her model.
Esther’s idea is rapidly taking hold and growing. A new arm of her work is the development of an online platform, called Opportunity Hub, that links young people to available resources. Through this platform, she provides information on conferences, post-graduate degrees, vacancies and skills-development opportunities. She currently has 42 000 subscribers on this platform. Esther is also developing an e-mentoring program, using her existing pre-graduation program as a model. This e-mentoring program will enable those young people who access her career services online through Opportunity Hub to also gain personal support and mentorship for realizing their professional dreams. Esther is learning about e-mentoring and is in the early stages of adapting her model for an online audience and platform. Simultaneously, she is focused on expanding her existing model. She currently works in Calabar, a city in the Cross River State and she is working to increase the number of schools she works with across the state. A student who participated in Esther’s pre-graduation program has joined the effort to scale Esther’s idea. He submitted a plan for expanding Esther’s model to one of Nigeria’s South Western states to a social entrepreneurship competition during his compulsory National Youth Service year, and won. He is now working with Esther to adapt and implement the model in Ekiti State.