Fuad Boluwatife, a final year student of a federal university has been working at a law firm since the Association of Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) decided to embark on a nationwide strike. He started working at the firm in 2020 – the first time he experienced a strike as an undergraduate. He had an agreement with the firm to work there every time ASUU goes on strike. Apart from earning money as he works, Fuad says that working at the firm has helped him gain the knowledge he wouldn’t have gotten in the classroom.
It’s been seven months since the strike began. The unending disagreements between the federal government and the ASUU body indicate that the strike is here to stay. Fuad is just one of the few students affected by the strike and working in the meantime. The majority of students are at home, waiting and hoping that they’d return to school very soon.
Not many students are as lucky as Fuad. While some have found it easier to start work immediately, pending when the strike would be over, others have been stuck at home, sending out applications upon applications with no positive response. Some have started businesses to keep afloat, and others are helping their parents. In all, we must admit one thing: the strike is not only messing with the education of the students, it is messing up the trajectory of their lives.
We seem to live in a world that is now fast-paced. People are taking over the workforce in their teens and early twenties. Recruiters are requesting years of experience even for entry-level roles. Companies are now asking prospective interns to have a portfolio and experience. There’s an age limit and certain grades required for many roles. When you disrupt people’s academics, it not only affects their grades, it affects their career journeys even before they embark on them. It wastes their time and reduces their chances of competing fairly with their counterparts from private organisations and even globally.
With the strike becoming more frequent – the current being the 16th strike in 22 years – we must begin to ask how, as a people, we can mitigate its effects on students’ livelihood, their career path, and their future. One way to do this is to have companies and organisations step in.
There’s an order in which we are expected to progress through life – go to school, graduate from university, get a job… With access to digital jobs and resources, this order has been positively disrupted. But are Nigerian students actually catching up? There’s a digital divide in access to remote learning and technology in Nigeria. A 2020 report shows that 60% of Nigeria’s over 200 million citizens are still not connected to the internet while only 10% are active on social media. This means that more than half of the population does not have access to the internet. While technology has mitigated the effects of unemployment in Nigeria, it may not be the ultimate solution in a country with this high level of poverty and inequality.
What then can we do? We have industrial attachments, internship programs, free courses, and many more. But can we do more to specifically target students and help them earn while gaining real-time experience whenever ASUU goes on strike? These programs will give them financial stability, help them gain experience and knowledge and at the same time give them enough time to study pending when the strike would be over. Perhaps companies can create more internship programs – not the ones that request years of experience or portfolios, or the ones that make interns work as full-time staff while paying them peanuts or nothing. There’s a downside to this; the volatility of the strike would be a barrier to companies that hire these students. But in the same vein, the companies gain from the students’ talent and knowledge. It’s a win-win.
During the strike, many students become redundant and talents are being wasted. The future of the nation rests heavily on the shoulders of the youths, but these same youths are withering away at home. They are losing enthusiasm for the classroom but at the same time cannot be fully integrated into the workforce. There’s a huge gap that needs to be filled.
We all must begin to think of how to tap into this pool of talents. What can we do in our little corners? How can we help these students? As a founder, what can you do? Do you have programs targeting students affected by the strike, that will help them compete with their counterparts globally? Is there a program to also help them maintain their jobs even when the strike is over? As an HR personnel, what can you do to create space for students in the organisation? If companies and organisations start to employ students like Fuad, with the possibility of them coming back during another strike or holidays, apart from helping with their skills or talents, it would also prepare them ahead on what to expect in the labour market when they graduate from school. It’ll also help them build their portfolios and make better and faster career decisions.
Fuad says that since he started at the firm, he has recognised how advantageous companies can be to students during this strike. He’s been financially stable and can take care of some responsibilities at home, which earns him respect and has greatly improved his mental health.
We live in tough times. More than ever before, we must be proactive in securing the future of Nigerian students. We cannot wait for the government to solve this crisis; precedent actions have shown otherwise. We cannot also wait for students to leave school and then join the avalanche of jobless graduates scouting for jobs. In a country where only 10% of people have access to the internet, we also cannot assume that students will easily get remote jobs. And time is running out. So how do we bridge this gap? Have better suggestions? We’re all ears.
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