By Lucky Ihanza
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), one in six young people is out of work while those still working have experienced a drop in hours by an average of 23% – thanks to the global pandemic. With a quarter of the world’s workforce made up of young people, and about 400 million young people currently missing employment opportunities, there has been a reported rise in the number of young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). According to the UN, the number of NEET grew from 259 million in 2016 to 267 million in 2019, with an expectation that it would hit 273 million in 2021.
And as the global pandemic continued to pose unprecedented challenges to people and economies globally, creating economic downturns and impacting on people’s ability to earn a living, there is a ‘need for urgent action to cushion the pandemic’s health and economic consequences, protect vulnerable populations and set the stage for a lasting recovery,’ according to the World Bank. And one way of cushioning that effect (with young people in mind) is through technical and vocational education and training (TVET) as a way of helping to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 – “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
During the launch of an “initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a COVID-19 economy, Microsoft President, Brad Smith wrote that the pandemic has shined a harsh light on what was already a widening skills gap around the world – a gap that will need to be closed with even greater urgency to accelerate economic recovery. TVET is capable of equipping young people with required skills that will enhance employability prospects and for self-employment, according to the UN. But in a pandemic era, and as classrooms and training centres remain closed all over the world, it goes without saying that there is an urgent need to switch to the new normal that allows for physical distancing and other strict measures.
When the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) and Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) launched a new partnership to increase youth employment in Nigeria through financial investments, job training and placements, and entrepreneurship opportunities last year, targeting 15,000 youth for the next five years, a pandemic era was not captured in the program. The collaboration which is currently being implemented by Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) in Lagos State, with technical and programmatic support by DDI, was designed for a ‘normal’ year. In a normal year, the VTCs were meant to be in training centres across Lagos, delivering the first cohort to a minimum of 3,000 beneficiaries. But 2020 has proven to be anything but a normal year; it has emerged as one of the most challenging years in many of our lifetimes!
However, to ensure that the project’s target audience – young people in Lagos State – were not “isolated” from the intended gains and outcomes, it was time to join in the mainstreaming of virtual classrooms. For a pilot edition, 33 trainers were supported to instantly pivot to online training, providing globally competitive, industry-relevant and in-demand skills like Cyber Security, Virtualization, 2D/3D Design, Cloud Computing, Software Engineering, Interior Design, etc. to a total of 210 young trainees. They have been reskilled to enhance their employability prospects and ignite their entrepreneurship creativity. The next stage is job placement. And plans are in motion – in collaboration with industry players – to place 50 per cent of graduates of the training programme in paid employment or internship.
The USADF-LSETF Employability Program is a collaborative response to the global need to promote small enterprise development in underserved communities, drive community benefits through social enterprises and establish sustainable development models, especially as they relate to youth and women-owned and managed enterprises in Africa. It is a partnership with the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) and the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund and implemented by Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) in Lagos State, with technical and support by Diamond Development Initiatives (DDI). The project aims at providing globally competitive, industry, and trade relevant skills to 15,000 youth in Lagos State over the next five years – equipping them to take advantage of employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
No doubt, this pilot project has laid the foundation for continued support for young people through this crisis and into the future. With the support of USADF, DDI, through its Youth-Led Enterprise Support portfolio is currently providing required technical support to a total of 15 projects across Nigeria. These young people need us now more than ever, and we are redoubling our efforts in 2020 to ensure they are equipped not only to survive and thrive in the pandemic but to bounce back – better – post-COVID-19.