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Could Nigeria Soon Experience A Shortage Of Indigenous Manpower In The ICT Sector? These Leaders Think So But See Our take Here

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The Nigerian ICT sector has seen a steady growth since it was deregulated in the early 2000s and with growth comes capital and jobs eventually. The  National Bureau of Statistics in an April 2016 report said the “telecommunications sector contributed N 1,645,82 billion to GDP in the final quarter of 2015, or 8.88%, a slight increase relative to the 8.76% contribution recorded in the same quarter of the previous year. It is also higher than the contribution of 7.71% recorded in the third quarter, but this is to a large extent due to different seasonal patterns of the telecommunications sector and whole economy. The year on year growth rate recorded in the fourth quarter of 2015 was 3.49%, higher than the growth rate of 2.48% recorded in the same quarter of 2014.  The share of telecommunications in real GDP tends to fluctuate over the course of the year, due to different seasonal patterns, but nevertheless annual averages declined every year between 2010 and 2014. In 2015 this trend was reversed; in each quarter the growth rate in the telecommunications sector was higher than for the economy as whole. As a result, the proportion of total annual GDP accounted for by telecommunications increased in 2015. ”

In addition to this, the sector has so far received about $38b/ 12.2tr Naira in investments with $32b/10.2tr Naira of those investments going to the telecommunications sub-sector alone. This as a result has seen millions of ICT direct and indirect jobs since 2002 in Nigeria. The sector created about 2 million jobs 10 years into 2012. The reason for this article though is to shed light on a recent report making headlines that the ICT sector may soon experience a shortage of indigenous manpower. In 2012, youths of working age, in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years were nearly 70 million persons in a population of 166 million Nigerians; of these youths 54% are unemployed and this represents both the skilled and unskilled. About 250,000 people complete the National Youth Service Corps program (NYSC is a post tertiary program) per year and the number is projected to rise with growth in population and early education which is a key because you have to be under the age of thirty at graduation time to participate in the scheme. Well over a quarter of the 250,000 are science and technology students with majors in Engineering and computing technologies from all private and public institutions. But could it be that many of these graduates lack the required ICT skills or maybe the industry is not just looking in the right place. We cover that next

Why could  there be an indigenous shortage?

According to The Nation  news, the Minister of Communications said “The government will leverage more on the ICT sector to solve the problem of unemployment in the country because the revenue from the oil and gas sector has been on a steady decline since early 2015”. That statement right there means simply that the industry demand might soon not be commensurate to education institutional supply. This accordingly to the Minister calls for a focus shift from the oil to ICT in terms of ICT infrastructure investment and manpower training equally.

That said automation is another big factor when it comes to jobs that we need to pay attention to. Besides robots, there’s the new reality of Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) that have are now automating human jobs and this will eventually affect the jobs market in Nigeria. The reason is because majority of the top ICT  companies in Nigeria especially the telecommunications companies are either Nigerian with foreign links are just subsidiaries of a larger foreign company. and this means less control by local forces which eventually has an overall effect on the decision making process including jobs. It’s still very expensive to do the ICT business in Nigeria because of lack of basic infrastructure and investors have just one way of making returns on investment and that’s to bill users at a high cost compared to the developed world where infrastructure challenges are minimal. While the government might be opposed to automated processes in the  ICT industry because of jobs, it has little control over it just like what we are witnessing in the banking sector. With reducing capital available to banks, they have been forced to lay off workers without having to lose customers because of the increasing popularity of services like the internet banking which is an automated process by itself. Most of the services you used to carry out in the banking hall can now be done online from the comfort of your office of home or even on the go with mobile apps.

While predictions about automation are out there, the Future of Jobs report states  that “two job types stand out due to the frequency and consistency with which they were mentioned across practically all industries and geographies. The first are data analysts, which companies expect will help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by technological disruptions. The second are specialized sales representatives…” mobile, cloud and big data are areas of great focus going forward. The internet of things era will usher in new jobs and there’s little surprise mobile internet will play a key role with respect to the future of jobs. Software development positions will be ICT jobs that will also endure and this means job seekers will need to always retrain themselves to meet the job demands of the future. The truth is that if graduates and workers  don’t retrain, these jobs might eventually be filled by non indigenes who have the skills for these jobs and they don’t have to be physically here to do them and that’s the beauty of the sector.

Lastly on this, curriculum in tertiary institutions are not dynamic. Engineering and Computing students still don’t have the right tools to learn modern day trends. Teachings are outdated in some cases and this renders many graduates virtually unemployable in an industry where investors need to make return on investment as quickly as possible to justify the unusually high investment they have put in due to dearth of infrastructure.

Government role

The Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) which was set up in 2004 would soon be upgraded to a full-fledged university.  With three campuses in Lagos, Abuja and Kano, DBI was set up to train students and participants in technology trends in the telecom subsector of the Nigerian economy in line with international best practices. The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) partners with relevant departments within  higher institutions of learning in Nigeria to train students.  

Private sector initiatives

Services like Andela are in the business of training developers after which they connect them to client sites where they can put their training into practise. According to The Nation report, another industry intervention is the Etisalat Telecommunications Engineering Postgraduate Programme (ETEPP) at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State.

To ensure sustainable provision of skilled telecommunications engineers to cater to the fast growing telecoms industry in Nigeria, Etisalat created the ETEPP. Inaugurated in 2013, ETEPP is a Master’s programme in Telecommunications Engineering, the first-of-its-kind in West Africa. The programme is located in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, and facilitated in partnership with the Etisalat Academy United Arab Emirates (UAE), Plymouth University United Kingdom (UK) and Huawei Technologies to deliver a world class technology-based academic programme. The curriculum was created with the guidance of Plymouth University and the Etisalat Academy; and the technical laboratory was equipped with cutting edge tools provided by Huawei.

Overall though, the onus lies on the developer, graduate or student to acquire modern day industry related skills in order to stay relevant going forward.

Read my report on how a new set of tech startups could spring from the newly deregulated petroleum industry here.  

See or download the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector Summary Report : Q4 and full year 2015  by the National Bureau of Statistics

 

 

 

 

 

 

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