• View Larger Image Located at the city limits of Lagos, the sculpture of a foot was erected in 2017. It is meant to encourage Lagos' youth, symbolising the initial step that stands at the beginning of a successful career. © Yomi.dauda/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Youth Employment in Lagos, Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities

In Lagos, youth are believed to constitute about 50 per cent of the population, equalling over 10 million people. Facing high rates unemployment and an ever-growing population, decision-makers need to understand both the challenges and the opportunities that characterise youth employment in Lagos, argues Oje Ivagba.

Lagos stands as the largest city in Nigeria and Africa; experts forecast that its population could reach 30 million by 2035. An issue in dire need for a structured plan is the need for increased youth employment. In this regard, the population explosion in Lagos portends either of two scenarios: a huge workforce to positively transform the state economically – or a complex situation where an army of idle and frustrated youth engaged in illegal activities leaves the state vulnerable and unattractive to foreign investments.

In order to make the first scenario a reality, officials need to understand the complex reasons that currently keep youth from getting jobs – and, as a second step, identify where state-led interventions can most effectively unleash the full potential of an ever-growing young workforce. Government and the private sector leaders should be paying attention, and not just lips service to these ideas below:

Make the Model Megacity Affordable For Everyone

To equip the state to cater to the needs of its growing population, the state government rolled out an aggressive urbanisation plan to transform Lagos into a model megacity and economic hub. While these plans may be good-intentioned, I believe some of their implications make life more unbearable for young people, especially to those trying to find or struggling to keep a job.

One example of this is the recent increase in land use tax, aimed at increasing government revenue to fund its megacity plans. It resulted in a higher cost of housing across the city, especially in the central areas where most jobs are located. This has caused many employed youths to relocate to the outskirts and border towns of Lagos where housing is more affordable.

However, this increased their daily commute time and transport cost to work, further reducing their meagre wages. In some unfortunate cases, youths have suffered harm and even deadly injuries through boat mishaps and early-hours opportunistic robberies while trying to find faster ways of commuting to work. State-led initiatives to create more affordable housing in central areas would entail that youth could both live closer to their jobs as well enhance their chances to find jobs.

Strategic Investment in Young Graduates

The number of graduates with academic qualifications to assess formal employment far exceeds the available jobs. However, these same youth often have little or no relevant work experience after graduating from tertiary institutions and do not possess essential life-coping and soft skills required to secure or retain employment. Because of this, they are often tagged “unemployable”, regardless of their excellent academic grades. In my experience, this holds true for 7 in 10 job-seeking youth.

In general, very few organisations accept interns and apprentices even though many make boasts about providing youth with such opportunities. The informal, unstructured, and poorly guided nature of most of these internships often defeats the purpose, as many youths lose interest and are then perceived as truants by their employers.

There is some headway being made as well: some social enterprises are taking the lead in engaging government and the private organisations on the need to advance structured internships, while also providing employability skills training and school-to-work initiatives for the youth.

Government and additional private sector organisations need to rethink their apathy and commit to providing meaningful and structured internships opportunities for youth: internships serve as a means of building the competence of today’s youth and their future workforce.

Greater Support for Educationally Disadvantaged Youth

Available data suggest that 50 per cent of the unemployed youth across Nigeria have not received any formal education. Many of them will venture into big cities like Lagos in search of income opportunities and ultimately take up informal jobs.

Proactive government action is required to ensure that opportunities exist for technical training. Such training equips uneducated youth with a trade or craft skill to secure or establish decent jobs. That way, even though their job/business may end up within the informal sector after all, they will serve as productive members of the ‘modern city’ – rather than becoming a threat to all if remaining unable to generate livelihoods due to no education or skills at all, eventually turning to criminal activities.

White collar jobs are very scarce in Lagos; it is evident that there is a huge unmet need for technicians and related services in the evolving new Lagos. More youth need to reskill to explore these opportunities.

Rethinking Entrepreneurship

Given its population and cosmopolitan nature as well as its environmental and social particularities, Lagos offers diverse entrepreneurship opportunities for bold and creative youth who can identify, seize, and convert these unique opportunities into wealth.

Beyond complaining and feeling helpless, there is a new cadre of youths who serve as game changers. They transit from job seekers to job creators by establishing innovative, technology-based start-ups and other digital-enabled businesses that are successful beyond the city’s boundaries. Many more young people need to take their destinies into their hands and act!

However, young people will also need to change their view of entrepreneurship. In this regard, public discourse and representation of entrepreneurship has to change so that it is no longer portrayed as an all-comers affair for the mere ego of being ‘one’s own boss. Young people must become open to learning and sincere feedback. The value of seeking mentorship and coaching is very important – so they do not learn always from trial and errors, in desperation to launch out enterprises and businesses.

If the state government seeks to evolve catalytic development plans and strategies to engender a greater tomorrow, it is decisive to work closely with the youth. Only thus can it be ensured that they are enabled to own their own future as well as the city’s.

Oje Ivagba

Oje Ivagba is Executive Director at the Youth Empowerment & Development Initiaitve (YEDI), a nonprofit that provides comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services to in–and–out-of-school youth, using the Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ methodology. Prior to his present role, Oje has spent over a decade leading highly reputed nonprofits in Nigeria. His most accomplished projects have been dealing with youth and community development, leadership skills, ethics and value reorientation, and employability skills.
Oje Ivagba

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