Labour Market Demand And University Graduate Employability Skills In North-West Nigeria

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Labour Market Demand And University Graduate Employability Skills In North-West Nigeria

Chapter One


Background to the Study

Education is a means of empowerment to an individual and the society. Also, it is a strong weapon for developing human capacity needed for a sustainable national development. Tertiary education, which comprises universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and mono technics, has been identified as a means of developing human capacity required for sustainable national growth and development. Specifically, universities are saddled with the responsibility of developing high-level manpower within the context of the needs of the nation. Following the globalisation, information technology and revolution in the present day knowledge-based economy, so much expectation has been placed on universities in generating, harnessing and transmitting knowledge for sustainable development and improved standard of living. Therefore, the university plays a crucial role in generating the human capacities for leadership, management and technical expertise.

All over the world, investment in university education is a critical component of national development effort. Nations today depend largely on knowledge, ideas and skills which are produced in universities (World Bank, 1997; OECD, 1996). As a nation’s knowledge industry, the university increases the productive capacity of the labour force. In the developed countries, for example, university’s scientists are able to monitor global technological trends, assess their relevance to national needs and assist in developing the national technological capacity for economic growth.

Going by this trend, there has been high demand for 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 important to note that since then the University system in Nigeria has grown by leaps and bounds. The number of universities has increased 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 university education as stated by the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2009) are to;

  1. Contribute to national development through high-level relevant manpower training;
  2. Develop and inculcate proper values for the survival of the individual and society;
  3. Develop the intellectual capacity of individuals to understand and appreciate their local and external environment;
  4. Acquire both physical and intellectual skills which enable individuals to be self-reliant and useful members of the society;
  5. Promote and encourage scholarship and community service;
  6. Forge and cement national unity; and
  7. Promote national and international understanding and interaction (p. 38).

In spite of these noble goals, Sofoluwe and Etejere (2011) noted that over the years, the tertiary educational level has come under heavy criticisms, 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 challenges facing university education in Nigeria which are poor funding, poor infrastructure, political influence and incessant industrial actions. Others 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 effectively due to human capacity deficiencies. Okojie (2013) lamented that the Nigerian University System continues to lag terribly behind competitive standards in the contemporary world. Engineering workshops, which are meant to train 21st Century engineers are provided with equipment and gadgets that were introduced in the 1960s. Library books and journals date 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 abysmally low level of research facilities in the universities, the future is apparently bleak for Nigerian education.

This situation pervades mostly developing nations of the world, especially 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 poor standard and unemployable (Obayan, 2002). This explained why university education in Nigeria has not been able to fulfil its mandate of producing high-level manpower needed for national development in required quality that can fit and compete favourably both at national and international labour market.

However, the current thinking is that university education should develop in the beneficiary a certain number of generic skills to a level that will ensure the continued creative productivity of the individual. These skills, according to Obayan (2002), include:

  1. 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.
  2. Communication: this includes oral and written as well (as in other possible forms) using the appropriate language and non-verbal form in specific situations to achieve specific objectives.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Creativity: refers to the ability to go beyond the well-trodden path in thinking as well as in action.
  6. Life-long learning skills; 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 attach much importance to graduate employability which refers to work readiness, that is, possession of the skills, knowledge, attitudes and commercial understanding that will enable new graduates to make productive contributions to organisational objectives soon after commencing work (Mason, 2001). Although, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in conjunction with some agencies, at one time or another, have introduced some palliative measures to address this challenge of unemployment by organizing different programmes like 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; and National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) was also launched in 2001 to address poverty and related issues.

Others including You Win that was launched in 2011 specifically to generate jobs by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youth in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas that will lead to job creation; while 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. Even, the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2008 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. Meanwhile, about 213 Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in the country then produced over 300,000 graduates annually; a number that should ordinarily meet the country’s human capital resource needs, but 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 generated about 4.5 million new entrants into the labour market annually.

The Nigeria’s strong 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 work and being highly educated does not increase the chance of finding a job. Those who find work 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 looking for skills that go beyond qualifications and experience. Apart from the sluggish growth rate of the Nigerian economy, it lacks the structural and transformation 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 generate 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 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 exists regarding what exactly constitute what employers are requiring from graduates in the labour market. It is against this background that the researcher is interested in investigating the influence of labour demand on university graduates’ employability in North-West, Nigeria.

Statement of the Problem

The issue of graduate employability has become a worrisome trend in the Nigeria labour market. It has become a serious concern to 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 very 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 & 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 skills demand of the labour market.

In spite of these findings, the challenge of graduate employability still persists in Nigeria. 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% (Ajaiyakaye, 2016).

Based on the persistence and high rate of unemployment in Nigeria, this study placed specific emphasis on the North-west, Nigeria not only because of the increase in the rate of crimes and insurgencies but also based on the report that the North-west recorded the highest rate of unemployment of 30.0% as at the third quarter of 2014 (Ajaiyakaye, 2016). This is traceable to a mismatch between labour market demand and employability skills of graduates. Therefore, a gap exists between what is taught in school and the skills required to perform a job. This gap, Kayode (2009) expressed, is responsible for a high percentage of young graduate unemployment. The researcher, therefore, considers it highly essential to carry out a study on labour market demand and university graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.

Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of labour market demand on University graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.

However, the specific purposes of the study are to:

  1. Identify labour market demands for university graduate employability in North-west, Nigeria;
  2. Examine academic qualifications that determine university graduate employability in North-west, Nigeria;
  3. Assess areas of specialisations that determine university graduate employability in North-west, Nigeria;
  4. Identify work-related experience that determines university graduate employability in North-west, Nigeria;
  5. Examine the age that determines university graduate employability in North-west, Nigeria.
  6. Assess the mean rate of university graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.

Research Questions

The following research questions would be raised to guide the study;

  1. What are the labour market demands for university graduate employability in North-West, Nigeria?
  2. What are the academic qualifications that determine university graduate employability in North-West, Nigeria?
  3. What are the areas of specialisations that determine university graduate employability in North-West, Nigeria?
  4. What are the work-related experiences that determine university graduate employability in North-West, Nigeria?
  5. What is the age that determines university graduate employability in North-West, Nigeria?
  6. What is the mean rate of university graduate employability skills in North-West, Nigeria?

Research Hypotheses

The following hypotheses would be raised to guide the study;

Main Hypothesis (Ho)
  • Ho: There is no significant relationship between labour market demand and university graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.
  • Ho1: There is no significant relationship between academic qualifications and university graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.
  • Ho2: There is no significant relationship between areas of specialisations and university graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.
  • Ho3: There is no significant relationship between work-related experience and university graduate employability skills in North-west, Nigeria.
  • Ho4: There is no significant relationship between age demand and university graduate employability skills 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 a more responsive provider 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 administrator which would help in the production of more quality graduates and 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 curricular of their institutions for the purposes of including those labour demand that could possibly enhance the marketability of 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 fill 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 are 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 highest rates of unemployment (Zamfara, 42.6%, Jigawa, 35.9%, Kaduna, 30.3% and Katsina, 28.1%). Other states in the North-west which would not be focused in the study are Kebbi with 25.3%, Kano with 21.3% and Sokoto with the lowest rate of 17.9% rate of unemployment (Ajaikaye, 2015).

Labour market demand is identified as the independent variable of the study while university graduate employability skills are the dependent variable. The study would be carried out to investigate the influence of labour market demand on university graduate employability skills in the North-west Geopolitical Zone of Nigeria. The study would focus on labour market demand and university graduate employability skills with specific emphasis on academic qualifications, areas of specialisation, work-related experience and age. University graduate employability skills would be measured through communication skill, basic computer skill, analytical skill, entrepreneurial skill, Information Technology 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 comprises top management staff in educational institutions, banking sector, commerce and manufacturing industries as well as science and technology industries with the total number of 1,216. The sampling scope of the study is selected by using the Research Advisor (2006) at 95% confidence level of 5.0% margin of error to determine the sample size of 306. However, the sample for the study would be 318 top management staff (which 16 top management staff from SUBEB and 20 from TESCOM, 20 directors and 20 supervisors from the States ministry of education, 27 registrars from the 27 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 organizations 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 staffs are charged with the responsibility of evaluating and assessing the university graduates under them.

The instrument for the study would be a researcher-designed questionnaire titled “Labour Market Demand and University Graduate Employability Skills Questionnaire. This would comprise two sections “A and B”. Section “A” would comprise personal information of respondents such as the name of an organisation, type of organisation, location and position held. Section “B” would consist of thirty (30) items drawn from the research questions raised for the study.

Operational Definition of Terms

The following terms are operationally defined in the study;

Labour Market Demand:

Refers to factors considered by employers of labour for university graduate employability. These are academic qualifications, areas of specialisations, work-related experience and age.

Employability Skills:

Are soft skills which are not specific to a particular discipline but to all complex endeavours0. 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.

Academic Qualifications:

Refer to the class of degree obtained by university graduates for employability. These are 1st class, 2nd class upper, 2nd class lower, 3rd class and pass.

Areas of Specialisations:

Refers to Arts, Education, Social Sciences and Science and Technology.


Refers to relevant years of work considered for university graduates before entering the labour market.

Age Demand:

Refers to the age group of university graduates considered for recruitment by employers of labour at the point of entering the labour market.

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