THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LABOUR MARKET CORE SKILLS REQUIREMENTS AND UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SOFT SKILLS COMPETENCE (A CASE STUDY OF THE NORTH-WEST, NIGERIA).
Background to the Study
Education is a means of empowerment to an individual and the society. Also, it is a solid tool for developing human capacity needed for a sustainable national development. Tertiary education, which comprises universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and mono technics, has been recognised as a means of developing human capacity required for sustainable national growth and development. Categorically, universities are saddled with the responsibility of developing high-level manpower within the setting of the requirements of the nation. As a result of the globalisation, data innovation and revolution in the present-day learning-based economy, so much prospect has been placed on universities in creating, outfitting and transmitting information for sustainable development and improved standard of living. Consequently, the university plays a critical part in engendering the human capacities with respect to authority, administration and technical expertise.
All over the world, investment in the university education is a critical component of national development eff-ort. Countries today depend to a great extent on information, thoughts and skills which are created in universities (OECD, 1996; World Bank, 1997). As a country’s learning industry, the university increases the productive capacity of the labour force. In the developed countries, for example, university’s researchers are able to monitor ecumenical technological trends, survey their importance to national needs and help with building up the national innovative capacity with respect to economic development.
Going by this trend, there has been high demand for the university education in Nigeria since independence in order to increase the supply of manpower in the labour market. Following the recommendation of the Ashby Commission of 1959 that new universities should be established in the then three Regions and Lagos, the then Capital Territory, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Ibadan together with University of Lagos, Lagos, were established as the first generation of universities in Nigeria. It is imperative to note that since then the University network in Nigeria has developed significantly. The quantity of universities has expanded from five in 1962 to one hundred and twenty-eight (128) in 2013, comprising 40 Federal, 38 State and 50 private universities (Okojie, 2013) and a total number of 151 in 2016 (National University Commission, 2016).
The goals of the university education, as stated by the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2014), are to:
i. contribute to national development through high level manpower training;
ii. provide accessible and affordable quality learning opportunities in formal and informal education in response to the needs and interests of all Nigerians;
iii. provide high quality career counselling and lifelong learning programmes that prepare students with the knowledge and skills for self-reliance and the world of work;
iv. reduce skill shortages through the production of skilled manpower relevant to the needs of the labour market;
v. promote and encourage scholarship, entrepreneurship and community service;
vi. forge and cement national unity and
vii. promote national and international understanding and interaction. (p. 39).
Regardless of these noble goals, Sofoluwe and Etejere (2011) noticed that over the years the tertiary scholastic level has attracted underwhelming reactions, having failed to achieve the aim of providing the kind of education that would solve the problems of the country as a developing nation; such problems as abject poverty, corruption, unemployment and mismanagement of resources. This is traceable to the difficulties confronting the university education in Nigeria which are poor infrastructure, political influence, incessant industrial actions and under-funding. The issue of underfunding of education is so endemic that it has now encompassed series of other problems which include shortage of human and material assets (Durosaro, 2000). Other challenges are cultism, examination malpractices and poor quality of graduates.
Judging by this, it is evident that universities in Nigeria are yet to be well-equipped to carry out these responsibilities efficaciously due to human capacity deficiencies. Okojie (2013) lamented that the Nigerian university system keeps on falling appallingly behind required standards in the contemporary world. Engineering workshops, which are betokened to train 21st Century engineers, are provided with equipment and gadgets that were introduced in the 1960s. Library books and journals dated not later than the 1980s. Okojie further noted that hostel rooms meant for four students in the 1970s, were in 2012, occupied by 12 students each having a “cooker corner” and using kerosene stove; with the horrifying low level of research facilities in the universities, the future is apparently bleak for Nigerian education.
This circumstance pervades mostly developing nations of the world, particularly African nations. Pauw, Ooshizen and Westhuizen (2007) discovered in South Africa that many graduates lack soft skills, workplace readiness and experience. Boateng and Ofori-Sarpong (2002) also noted that in Ghana employers of labour referred to recent graduates as those who lack basic skills to complete simple routine assignments and this gave the impression that certification is a mere formality rather than an indication of achievement. The situation is not different in Nigeria as employers of labour believed that graduates are poorly trained and unproductive on the job. Nigerian graduates have been described variously as half-baked, ill-equipped, ill-trained, of poor quality, of a low standard and unemployable (Obayan, 2002). This clarified why the university education in Nigeria has not been able to consummate its mandate of endangering the high-level manpower needed for the national development in the required quality that can fit and compete favourably both at national and international labour markets.
Be as it may, the present believe is that the university education should develop in the beneficiary a certain number of employability skills to a caliber that will ascertain the perpetuated ingenious productivity of the individual. These skills, according to Obayan (2002), include:
i. analytical power; this comprises an advanced capacity for logical reasoning, employing appropriate verbal, quantitative, graphic, documentary, audio-visual, sensory perceptions and a wide variety of tools.
ii. communication; this includes oral and written as well as (in other possible forms) using the appropriate language and non-verbal forms in specific situations to achieve specific objectives.
iii. problem-solving; this is the ability to task one’s analytical power to the maximum in developing possible solution paths to the problem in a variety of situations.
iv. team spirit; is the ability to contribute meaningfully to group activities in a wide variety of forms to relate with others to get out of one’s shell while remaining oneself.
v. creativity; refers to the ability to go beyond the well-trodden path in thinking as well as in action.
vi. life-long learning skills; which include perseverance, risk taking, a spirit of enquiry, reading as a habit, self-directed learning efforts, the activity to face challenges and so on (p. 4).
In today’s labour market, employers of labour append much significance to graduate employability which refers to work preparation, that is, ownership of the skills, knowledge, attitudes and commercial understanding that will empower incipient graduates to make productive commitments to organisational objectives soon after commencing work (Mason, 2001). The Federal Government of Nigeria, in conjunction with some agencies, at one time or another, have introduced some palliative measures to address the state of joblessness. The government organised different programmes such as National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that was launched in 1986 with the mandate of designing programmes that will promote attitudinal change, employment generation, poverty reduction and wealth creation. National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) was also launched in 2001 to address poverty and related issues.
Other programmes including You Win were launched in 2011 specifically to generate jobs by empowering and supporting yearning entrepreneurial youth in Nigeria to create and execute business ideas that would lead to job creation. The National University Commission (NUC) introduced Entrepreneurial Studies as a compulsory course called “Graduates Self-Employment” (GSE 301) into universities curriculum in 2004 to enable university graduates to become self-employed. Yet, there is still the high rate of unemployment, especially among the Nigerian university graduates. Despite the programmes, the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2008 still acknowledged that about 80 percent of Nigeria’s youth are unemployed and 10 percent underemployed (Daily Trust, 2008).
Oyesiku (2010) reported that available statistics show that the nation’s job creation capacity is growing at an annual rate of five percent and seven percent over the last seven years. In the interim, about 213 Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in the country then produced over 300,000 graduates annually; a number that should usually meet the nation’s human capital resource assets, however employers willing to pay well to attract skilled workers are increasingly finding it difficult to fill the job vacancies. Federal Office of Statistic (2012) also reported that with the current unemployment rate at 23.9 percent and unemployed youth population put at 20.3 million, Nigeria produced about 4.5 million new entrants into the labour market every year.
The Nigeria’s vigorous economic performance over the last decade has not translated to jobs and real-life opportunities for its youth. Akanmu (2011) asserted that three out of ten graduates of tertiary institutions cannot find jobs, and being highly educated does not increase the chance of finding a jobs. Those who find jobs are not usually gainfully employed; some are forced to accept marginal jobs that do not use their qualifications in sales, agriculture and manual labour while employers are often probing for skills that transcend qualifications and experience. Apart from the sluggish growth rate of the Nigerian economy, it lacks the structural and transformational capacity that is sufficient to expand employment for the long bloated labour market. In other words, whatever growth that takes place in Nigeria is not labour intensive and as such cannot engender a commensurate proportion of jobs for the unemployed graduates.
Therefore, the Nigerian society today is facing challenges of getting the education that will deliver to the students the right set of skills and knowledge demanded by the labour market. The reality on the ground is that the university education should turn out students who are ready to fill available jobs in the marketplace. The National Universities Commission (2004) affirmed that massive unemployment of Nigerian university graduates in the country is traceable to the disequilibrium between labour market requirements and essential employable skills by the graduates. However, contention subsists regarding what exactly constitutes what employers are requiring from graduates in the labour market. It was against this background that the researcher is interested in investigating the relationship between labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Statement of the Problem
The trend of graduate unemployability has become a worrisome issue in the Nigeria labour market, especially for stakeholders like employers of labour, training institutions, parents and graduates. The Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA) (2005) expressed that companies were not recruiting but adopting employment protection strategies due to the poor quality graduates who do not meet demands of industries. Therefore, Chiacha and Amaechi (2013) carried out a study on entrepreneurship education and graduate employability in Nigeria. They found out that the entrepreneurial education currently offered in schools did not lead to high employability index of graduates. Also, Pitan and Adedeji (2012) examined the problem of skills mismatch and its prevalence in the Nigeria labour market. The study discovered that university graduates were not adequately prepared for work with respect to the skill demand of the labour market.
In spite of these findings, the challenge of graduate employability still persists in Nigeria. The National Bureau of Statistics (2011) reported that the rate of unemployment in Nigeria was high. The report revealed that the North-west recorded highest rate of unemployment with 25.40%, followed by South-west with 21.56%, North-east with 16.47%, South-south was 12.03%, while North-central had the lowest with 11.60%. This situation became more alarming in the third quarter of 2014 where North-west recorded 30.0%, North-east 23.9%, North-central 15.1%, South-east 8.9%, South-west 8.9% and South-south 18.7% (Ajaikaye, 2016).
The issue of unemployment is traceable to mismatch between labour market core skills requirements and soft skills competence of graduates. This gap, Kayode (2009) expressed, is responsible for a high percentage of young graduate unemployment. Other researchers such as Dabalen, Oni and Adekola (2000), Mora (2008), Ajayi, Adeniji and Adu (2008), Pitan and Adedeji (2012) and Philips Consulting (2014). have carried out some researches on graduates’ employability skills, unemployment, entrepreneurial human capital development, economic future of Nigerian graduates and labour market prospects of university graduates in Nigeria but the gap identified by the researcher was that none of these mentioned researchers among others focused on labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence for a relationship test in North-west geo-political zone of Nigeria. The researcher, therefore, considered it highly essential to carry out a study on labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria. However, the specific purposes of the study are to:
1. examine categories of classes of degrees required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria;
2. assess areas of specialisations required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria;
3. identify work-related experiences required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria;
4. examine the ages required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria.
5. assess the competence level of university graduate communication skills in North-west, Nigeria;
6. examine the competence level of university graduate basic computer skills in North-west, Nigeria;
7. determine the competence level of university graduate analytical skills in North-west, Nigeria;
8. examine the competence level of university graduate entrepreneurial skills in North-west, Nigeria and
9. examine the competence level of university graduate interpersonal skills in North-west, Nigeria.
10. examine the relationship between labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
The following research questions are raised to guide the study:
1. what are the classes of degrees required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria?
2. what are the areas of specialisations required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria?
3. what are the work-related experiences required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria?
4. what are the ages required by employers of labour from university graduates in North-west, Nigeria?
5. what is the competence level of university graduate communication skills in North-west, Nigeria?
6. what is the competence level of university graduate basic computer skills in North-west, Nigeria?
7. what is the competence level of university graduate analytical skills in North-west, Nigeria?
8. what is the competence level of university graduate entrepreneurial skills in North-west, Nigeria?
9. what is the competence level of university graduate interpersonal skills in North-west, Nigeria?
10. what is the relationship between labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
The following hypotheses are raised to guide the study:
Main Hypothesis (Ho)
Ho: There is no significant relationship between labour market core skills requirements and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Ho1: There is no significant relationship between classes of degrees and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Ho2: There is no significant relationship between areas of specialisations and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Ho3: There is no significant relationship between years of work-related experiences and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Ho4: There is no significant relationship between age demand and university graduate soft skills competence in North-west, Nigeria.
Significance of the Study
The outcome of this research would provide useful information to educational managers, employers of labour, policy makers and analysts, curriculum planners, students and academic researchers in identifying the critical factors affecting the employability of Nigerian University graduates and the nature of such effect.
The outcome of the study would help educational managers to look inward and devise series of means and strategies to produce students that would meet the required skills and knowledge of modern labour market. It would also enlighten government on how to plan for graduates in the country and to equally put the necessary machinery in place geared at repositioning the educational system to be more responsive to the needs of the society. The outcome of the study would help in identifying and adopting strategies to overcome skills shortages which will make university administrators be more responsive providers of quality education.
The finding of the study would provide an opportunity to employers of labour to know the areas of weaknesses of graduates and how to organise training programmes to address these weaknesses. The findings of the study would provide the need to develop closer synergy between employers of labour and universities administrators that would help in the production of more quality graduates and the creation of employment opportunities.
The findings of the study would help policy makers and analysts to be more concerned with the understanding of graduate employability and offer a realistic description of the factors affecting individuals’ journeys in the labour market. The outcome of the study would also assist analysts and policy makers to move towards more sustainable long-term labour market strategies by helping to identify the range of labour market factors that hinder young graduates from moving into suitable work as well as the necessary interventions and their interconnections.
The result of the study would enable curriculum planners, university senates, directorates of academic planning in Nigerian universities to revisit academic curricula of their institutions for the purposes of including those labour demand that could possibly enhance the marketability of the university graduates in a more proactive way. It is hoped that the findings of this study would charge all the Nigerian universities to reflect on the need to equip graduates with ‘deep’ intellectual capabilities and a battery of applied practical skills which would make them more ‘work-ready’.
Students may also find this study very useful as they prepare for the world of work. The findings of the study would enlighten students on the skills they are supposed to possess. A basis for further research in this area shall be created as the findings of this study might filled part of the gap in the empirical research literature for the benefit of educational researchers and reviewers.
Scope of the Study
The geographical scope of the study is North-west Geopolitical Zone of Nigeria. The zone comprises seven States namely; Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Jigawa and Zamfara. The North-west is selected for this study because it recorded the highest rate of unemployment of 30.0% (Ajaikaye, 2015). However, four States will be selected for the study, these are Zamfara, Jigawa, Kaduna and Katsina States. These States are selected for the study in the North-west zone because they recorded the highest rates of unemployment (Zamfara, 42.6%, Jigawa, 35.9%, Kaduna, 30.3% and Katsina, 28.1%) in the zone (Ajaikaye, 2015).
Labour market core skills requirements are identified as the independent variable of the study while university graduate soft skills competence is the dependent variable. The study will focus on the labour market core skills requirements and the university graduate soft skills competence with specific emphasis on classes of degrees, areas of specialisation, work-related experience and age. University graduate soft skills competence were measured through communication skill, basic computer skill, analytical skill, entrepreneurial skill and interpersonal skill. These are referred to as soft skills. Soft skills are those basic skills acquired by an individual within or outside the school system which the National University Commission (2004) described as non-academic skill. These skills are selected for the study because they are basic and transferable skills. They are generic in nature and could be acquired by all graduates regardless of their disciplines or field of study (Hager, Holland & Beckett, 2002).
The target population of the study will comprise the top management staff in educational institutions, banking sector, commerce and manufacturing industries as well as science and technology industries with the total number of 1,212. The sample scope of the study is selected by using the Research Advisors (2006) at 95% confidence level of 5.0% margin of error to determine the sample size of 306. However, the sample for the study will be 306 top management staff (which include 16 top management staff from SUBEB and 20 from TESCOM, 20 directors and 25 supervisors from the States Ministry of Education, 24 registrars from the 24 tertiary institutions in the selected states, 84 bank management staff across all the selected banks in the selected states, 64 top management staff from commerce and industry and 64 from different organisations in science and technology industry). The selection of these management staff is based on the reason that, as operational managers, university graduates work directly under them; also these management staff are charged with the responsibility of evaluating and assessing the university graduates under them.
The instrument for the study will be a researcher-designed questionnaire titled: “Labour Market Core Skills Requirements and University Graduate Soft Skills Competence Questionnaire (LMCSRUGSSCQ)”. This will comprise two sections “A and B”. Section “A” will comprise personal information of participants such as the name of organisation, types of organisation, locations and positions held. Section “B” will consist of thirty (30) items to be drawn from the research questions raised for the study.
Operational Definition of Terms
The following terms are operationally defined in the study.
Labour Market Core Skills Requirements: refer to the factors considered by employers of labour for university graduate employability. These are classes of degrees, areas of specialisations, work-related experience and age.
Core Skills: refer to those skills acquired in educational institutions which are classes of degrees, areas of specialisations and work-related experiences.
Classes of Degrees: refers categorisation of the university graduates based on academic performance in determining employability. These are 1st class, 2nd class upper, 2nd class lower, 3rd class and pass.
Areas of Specialisations: refer to Arts, Education, Social Sciences and Science and Technology.
Experience: refers to relevant years of work considered for the university graduates before entering the labour market.
Age Demand: refers to the age group of the university graduates considered for recruitment by employers of labour at the point of entering the labour market.
Soft Skills: are soft skills which are not specific to any academic programme but to all complex endeavours. These are communication, basic computer, analytical, entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills.
University Graduates: are those who passed through the university system and certificated as being competent in a particular field of study at first-degree level..