Friday, February 1, 2013

A MUST READ: Dangote’s modest offer and the unexpected response

6:38 AM

Culled from THE GUARDIAN

RECENTLY, the Dangote Group was looking for 100 trailer drivers but, unexpectedly, the company received applications from 8,460 B.Sc. holders, 704 masters degree holders and six PhDs. As usual, this incident received varied reactions, mostly from the court of public opinion. A majority was critical of Nigerian political leaders and the current state of the nation’s educational system, some simply cursed the country out, while the rest displayed their displeasure at the man who made a simple offer.

Like some commentators, I do acknowledge that more support is needed to boost education in our dear country. But beyond the obvious, I strongly believe we are at that point where deeper questions must be asked, in line with these current realities. What exactly does this incident tell us about education, career development and the changing dynamics of global competitiveness?

First, since we know that no one goes to the university to earn a degree, and definitely not a Ph.D, with the intention to become a trailer driver, so we can attribute the baseline reason for this response to lack of suitable job opportunities. However, it also points to the fact that certificates are fast losing their economic power. This is not just a Nigerian syndrome but a current global reality.

It is a sign of our time, which confirms that going to school for the sake of passing out with a certificate is made worthless by the changing economic climate. I graduated with Americans who live in America but work far below the value of their college degrees. To be relevant in these times, certificates must carry creativity behind them. There must be an added power of passion for sustainability alongside the competence to produce a competitive advantage.

In simple terms, given the reality of the job market in Nigeria, every student must have a double approach. If you are unable to align your college pursuit with your interests, talents and passions, then to your pursuit for a college degree you must add the development of your potentials.

While we continue to cry for the need to improve the physical infrastructure in our schools, this truth cannot be denied: The situation in Nigeria will not be any different even if our students study from the comfort of five-star hotels. This in no wise suggests we should not pursue the needed improvements, but we must adapt to its inescapable changes. There is a growing need to re-calibrate our educational system to produce job creators in the place of churning out “certificate-carrying job seekers.”

No matter what statistics you use, the simple fact is that there are no jobs, therefore we must focus on job creation. Not the one million utopian jobs promised by politicians, but by guiding the development of individual potentials towards job creation. The framework needs a systematic re-engineering to harness the available massive potentials, especially within the Nigerian youths, rather than suppress the edge of creativity through the system that awards empty certificates.

In our current difficulties, it is necessary to mitigate the flaming crises of youth unemployment, but in addition, our strategy should rise beyond putting out the current fires. China operated almost a near perfect system of job creation but jettisoned that approach and refocused rather on exploiting, freeing and maximising their human potentials. The result is the explosion of the middle class Chinese, who rather than become limited within the scope of the socialist provisional structure, launched into the market place with new innovations and ideas.

Before 1983, China operated under the planned economic system of traditional socialism where graduates received job assignments in line with five-year plans and then moved to where they were needed for national development. Since these work unit positions traditionally were for a lifetime, the assignments came with the guarantee of steady salaries and the benefits of the socialist welfare package, known as the “iron rice bowl” (housing, medical care, retirement and ration coupons, among others).

On realising that this arrangement was killing individual productivity and the spirit of entrepreneurship, this social policy was adjusted to create an environment that encouraged individual expression of abilities in the open market. It gave birth to policies that created provisions for talent exchange centres.

For every youth in Nigeria, this sign of our time calls for a reappraisal of his academic and career pursuits. Today, across every sector, people are becoming highly relevant and successful by purposefully developing their areas of given potentials. And the good thing is that we all have areas of abilities where we can perform better than everyone else.

Research indicates that our greatest room for growth is in the areas of our greatest strength. Any potential you have is of priceless worth when developed into a value-adding product or service. Among other advantages, potentials are enduring and creativity and motivation are inherent. Within this area, you can create a job for yourself and others even before graduation. You can focus on the development of your potentials through formal or informal education, rather than become a trailer driver with a Ph.D.

With the few opportunities in Nigeria, employment discrimination is allowed. Employers, including government agencies, are allowed to discriminate by age and grades – a practice short of taboo in many countries. So, if you close your eyes to this reality and manage out of school with some lower classification, you have purposefully lowered your opportunities. If you can talk endlessly for free, develop it and look for something that adds value to people to talk about.

If you are good at telling stories, look for ways to package value through your stories. If you can write, remember, in the present time, the monetary value of a book written by a housewife can surpass the budget of a combined number of multinational corporations. If you are attracted to the field of medicine, remember there are several ways to achieve it; the hospital is only one of them.

If you can forget food for movies, there may be something in it for you. If you are dramatic by nature, it is not a curse but a blessing when properly harnessed. If you are about to submit your school project just to get a passing grade, never forget that Google was a student’s research project. The key point is, the world around us is fast changing, and rather than follow the rules of antiquity, we must make advancement into contemporary progressive thinking that will increase our effectiveness, marketability and relevance.

At the 2012 World Economic Forum, the veteran founder and chairman of the forum, Prof. Klaus Schwab, shocked the world with his declaration that “capitalism in its current form no longer fits the world around us, rather, the success of any national and business model for competitiveness in the future will be less based on capital and much more on talent.” This transition he described as “moving from capitalism to talentism.

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