Monday, 4 November 2019

Can Nigeria Learn anything from Chinese Model of Job Creation —by Princewill Odidi

4 November 2019 

I was a delegate at the recent IPAF Asian Conference, and one the key themes shared in the meetings was the importance the Chinese attach to providing employment for  millions of  registered unemployed youths in their country. Meng Wei of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of the Chinese government made a presentation. It was titled Chinas Employment First Strategy. 

 What got my interest with the Chinese job creation policy is that it is sector specific. Unlike how we implement job creation initiatives in Nigeria were we either train youths on the use of applications with no specific purpose in mind, or send them to rural communities in the name of N-Power with no specific long-term goals, the Chinese to an extent are creating an economy that requires certain types of skills, and young people are intentionally encouraged through different scholarship programs to train in those skill sets. Technically, unemployment in China is created to meet a long-term job markets demand. 

A few weeks ago, I had mentioned in one of my writings that in most American Universities, Chinese kids are found to study courses related to digital economy, big data, artificial intelligence and other courses related to industrial internet sectors. The catch here is that strategically, it may be intentional why scholarship is focused on specific courses without market needs now, but targeted at where the world will be twenty years from now. 

Many have argued that employment in China as created, it is guided towards specific sectors which the new digital economy is also guided to fill those gaps. The big question is, Can Nigeria learn anything from this Chinese model? 

Now, let me break it down. Employment generation for Digital economy refers to an economy that is based on digital computing technologies, although we increasingly perceive this as conducting business through markets based on the internet and the World Wide Web. The digital economy is also sometimes called the Internet Economy, some call it New Economy, while others call it the Web Economy. Unfortunately, it appears it hasn't occurred to our policy makers in Nigeria that the largest segment of job creation in the 21st century is going to be the world wide web. From administrative jobs, to accounting to architecture everything is now web based. 

If Nigeria must catch up with the rest of the world, to what extent do our young people have access to the web to channel their creative energies towards filling the voids in the future?  Virtually in all developed economies, Internet data access comes in unlimited packages if you have a phone line. Can we explain why in Nigeria we still need to buy data to access internet? Yet we want our youths to catch up with the rest of the world. 

Now, because our policy makers cannot see into the future and relate to the relationship between employment generation and free internet accessibility, we find ourselves running a system where phone calls are limited by credit purchase and data access also limited by purchase. How can we ever move forward with this archaic practices in this new world ruled by the web?  

If Nigeria must catch up with the new digital economy, and create new jobs within that sector, either we start thinking towards nationalizing the internet trunk lines and make data access free or we start thinking of unlimited access to internet as found in most developed societies. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be misled, its time we come to the realization that there is a direct relationship between internet accessibility and employment generation. All developed economies know this is fact. You can never eat your cake and still have it, that choice has to be made if Nigeria must truly move forward. 

The next item Meng Wei of Chinese NDRC mentioned is "Big data".  What exactly is big data? It is a field that treats ways to analyze, systematically extract information from, or otherwise deal with data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software. Most businesses now use big data analytics. This is the direction the world is moving towards. 

As Chinese kids are graduating from some of the worlds best universities with skill sets ready to engage big data, job vacancies abound where big data is sought after. It is so unique that nations whose leaders think, they think ahead and plan for the type of job openings that will be required in the future. Back to Nigeria, can we lay our hands on a single policy and say this is our policy thrust in the next twenty years? We send kids to Universities with no focus, no direction based on how our economy can absorb them or is ready to absorb them. We now end up with so many unemployed youths, who specialize in some useless courses that ought to have been merged or deleted from curriculum. 

It is time we reform our academic sectors to meet modern realities. There was a time that kids study accounting to be great Public accountants, today there are basic software that can convert a simple Clerk to a Professional Accountant because everything is programmed. Same with architecture, today the internet can produce wonderful accurate drawings through the use of artificial intelligence. So for our accountants, architects, medical doctors to still be useful 20 years from now, we need to integrate artificial intelligence into their studies. For Africa to succeed Africa must think forward. 

The Chinese do not have hundreds of social sciences and arts graduates roaming their streets, rather they have an unemployed population, skilled in modern sciences, artificial intelligence, big data and web technologies which coincidentally corresponds with the skills sets required in their job markets today. 

Now, once a government is knowledgeable about a pending problem, it plans for the future.   Sustainable development is having the capacity to think and plan for the future and that is what is missing in Nigeria.

 Our unemployment crises has grown uncontrollable in relation to the ability of our economy to absorb them because our   intake into universities and higher education policies has not been well coordinated over the years. We just admit students into programs with no long term economic plans. 

Our admission policies are corrupted, Jamb placements are corrupted, National Universities Commissions role of promoting higher quality education is corrupted, the universities are barely struggling to pay salaries with no plan for research advancements.  As a nation, we find ourselves continuously struggling to catch up with an uncontrollable employment generation crisis. It is a monster we created and we are still nurturing, for now there's no way out.  So as advancement in science and technology becomes generally accepted in workplaces, correspondingly,  businesses upgrade to the use and application of big data to absorb their teaming unemployed populations. 

  In the mid 1980s, China's college enrollment rate stood at about three percent, lower than many developing countries. In the early 1990s, the number rose to five percent. Around 1999, the country's education department sensed the need to expand the college enrollment rate.  So what happened was that the Chinese central government sensing a boom in tech support jobs in the 21st century,  deployed many measures to expand college enrollment.

 It built more schools, hired more professors and offered more scholarships to poor students and all of these were carefully planned. You don't just send kids to universities because they need a degree, you send them to study courses that the markets will need in the future. This is the type of futuristic planning lacking in Nigeria and it is within this framework you can now understand our uncontrollable unemployment crises. 

What is happening in Nigeria today is a consequence of throwing young kids in their thousands to universities yearly with no definite plan for them upon graduation. 

The final educational policy thrust for the Chinese is what we call artificial intelligence. For close to two decades now, Chinese students have been studying courses relating to artificial intelligence in preparation for related job opening in such sectors at the close of the 21st century.  Artificial Intelligence has to do with the theory and development of computer systems capable of performing task that naturally requires human intelligence such as visual perceptions, speech recognition, decision making and even language translation. It works hand in hand with new technologies, so the question is, to what extent is Nigeria ready to engage the new world? Are our Universities and our graduates ready to engage the new world? 

Technically, It is estimated that for every job taken over by artificial intelligence it creates two new specialized jobs. The big question is how do we key into all of this as a country when virtually nothing works, and every known institution destroyed by corruption? We have a problem in our hands actually bigger than what we think. 

Do we have a national ideology that drives Nigeria's development? Does our National Directorate of Employment, Our Ministry of Labor, Our national Universities Commission, Our Universities and Vice Chancellors, do they have a definite plan on admissions, job creation, the future of our youths, and how our educational system can satisfy global demands  in another 20 years or are we just living day by day as a nation?  Nigeria needs fixing, we cannot continue like these, we can learn from the Chinese, Nigeria needs patriotic Knowledgeable leadership if we must move this country forward. 

 Odidi is a social commentator and development analyst writing from Atlanta USA.     Follow me  on :Tweeter, Instagram and LinkedIn: Princewill Odidi.

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