Conventional jobs, not entrepreneurship solution to youth unemployment


By Muhammed Abdullahi

The campaign for unemployed youths to consider entrepreneurship as antidote to joblessness has been there for quite a while. With its YOUWIN entrepreneurship contest, the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan made the campaign a policy and indeed drove it with all the energy and passion it could muster.

For any YOUWIN applicant to be successful, his proposal must convince the government that the business he proposes has the capacity to employ others and create jobs. The government of Mr. Jonathan wanted to use entrepreneurship to drive job creation and reduce the rampant unemployment in the country. What impact has the Goodluck Jonathan’s YOUWIN delivered?

Depending on the type of business idea they proposed, many successful YOUWIN applicants got grants running into millions. And since the money was released in piecemeal, coupled with the inspection of the applicants’ business locations carried out by the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN); many applicants truly started the businesses for which they were availed the grant.

However, despite the training that was an integral part of the YOUWIN contest; many successful participants struggled with their businesses as they began to wobble and coggle not too long after they were launched. And the moment Goodluck Jonathan was ejected from Aso Rock, many of the YOUWIN entrepreneurs began to close shops and rejoin the queue of job seekers.

The reason why many of the fledgling entrepreneurs failed and continue to fail is not rocket science – they do not actually wanted to be entrepreneurs to begin with. They simply were frustrated to think of creating jobs for themselves since they couldn’t find any, after studying to earn their various degrees and diplomas.

Recently, the fairy-tale of how entrepreneurship could be our only way out of the unemployment crisis has again began to spread from ear to ear. From governors to ministers to analysts and even roadside commentators; everyone is talking about entrepreneurship as the best and only way out for youths who are jobless. Even many of our universities now have departments of ‘business and entrepreneurship’.

Those who have made it a job to encourage youths to consider entrepreneurship have a very interesting way of presenting their argument. They would first regale us with case studies of successful young entrepreneurs, after which they would harp on the good feeling of being your own boss and the chance to avoid doing the dreaded 9-to-5. But when you remove the fact that you can choose when you wake up and the hours to spend at work from the equation, the truth about entrepreneurship begins to look less sexy.

This time last year, a research study was published which “estimates entrepreneurship as the percentage of adult population who either own or co-own a business that has paid salaries for more than three months, but less than 42”. That report punctured our belief that the economies of developed countries were propelled by massive entrepreneurship.

The first developed country, according to that research finding, which has the highest rate of entrepreneurship was Australia at No.26. Most other world developed economies, including France, Germany, Japan and Italy, were all at the bottom 15 of the surveyed countries. One way of validating this interesting research on our own is to ask why the Gross Domestic Product of rich countries go up as entrepreneurship go down. There must be a reason why entrepreneurship is not appealing to the

citizens of our ‘role model’ countries, ins pite of the business-friendly climate they are endowed with.

Capitalizing on the frustration of people as a motivation is like using fear to instill discipline. At some point, the fear factor would disappear and everyone would go back to being himself. This is exactly the problem with the strategy we have chosen to adopt in our desire to promote entrepreneurship among Nigerian young people.

Imagine a young man who went to school with the thought of finding a good job after graduation. He went round and round for many years looking for job without success. In frustration, he saved up some money and started frying akara. Now, he might be making a lot of money selling his bean cake, but remember that our man never wanted to be in that business. He was frustrated into creating a job for himself since he couldn’t find any. If he studied electrical engineering in the university for instance, you can be sure that this fantastic akara seller would embrace the first opportunity he gets to become an employee in Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

Sure, a lot of young men in Nigeria have the potentials to be successful entrepreneurs. What I don’t know is if all the unemployed youths in Nigeria that we are asking to go open shops and be entrepreneurs are all endowed with the capacity to succeed as business owners. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. We have to give our young people a choice in life and stop harassing them into creating unsustainable businesses. As the statistics from the research I mentioned earlier indicate, only 1- 2% of people choose the riskier route of self-employment in countries like Germany and Japan where young people are not forced into entrepreneurship as a result of lack of gainful employment.

Many of the young graduates we are preaching the concept of entrepreneurship to are from poor homes. For many of them, their parents have waited and invested patiently in them, expecting that they would soon gain employment to start giving back to the family. While a patient entrepreneur can make a lot of money in the long run, many of our young graduates neither have the patience nor the inclination to live the suspended life of a typical entrepreneur. Many young graduates have plans already. They need job security and a steady pay cheque to start a steady life. Let’s even assume they can wait till when their businesses begin to yield, what happens to the poor parents many of them need to cater for? This in itself is a distraction that could dampen the spirit of the most tenacious entrepreneur.

In their book, Poor Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed that when poor parents were asked their aspirations for their children, over 75 percent said they wish their offspring could secure a government job after school, another 18% said they wish for their children to be salaried employees of a company.

“The poor don’t see becoming an entrepreneur as something to aspire to. The emphasis on government jobs, in particular, suggests a desire for stability…the enterprises of the poor often seem more a way to buy a job when a more conventional employment opportunity is not available than a reflection of a particular entrepreneurial urge… it is entirely possible, therefore, that many business owners, and especially female business owners, do not particularly enjoy running a business, and indeed, dread the thought of expanding it”, the authors wrote.

I love the idea of creating entrepreneurship departments in our higher institutions of learning. Let those who have passion for self-employment go into those departments and be deliberately groomed to become entrepreneurs. But the government must not abdicate its responsibilities by seeking to make entrepreneurs out of unwilling young people. The government must no doubt continue to think up ways to create jobs, since conventional employment still remains the best way to lift poor people out of poverty.

The gift of planning, executing and managing a business idea is an endowment that not everyone is blessed with. So, if most young adults leaving our tertiary institutions are not particularly keen on owning or running a business; then it would be a waste of time spending a lot of money trying to convert them into emergency entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship should not be a backup plan for the jobless. It should be a deliberately chosen path for those who desire to think up and implement creative business ideas. People are more likely to do well in something they have committed themselves to do.

Indeed, this idea of forcing the bitter pill of entrepreneurship down the throat of every graduate would not work. However, there is a better alternative to grow our economy and create jobs. Instead of training and giving money to unwilling the sorts of jobs that could engage those unwilling to travel the self-employment path. There are many businesses doing very well across Nigeria, and they just need additional capital to expand and employ more people. When government assists these companies with their expansion plans, there is the likelihood of an unimaginable employment revolution that could lift our unemployment burden.

young people to start businesses that may ultimately fail, it is better the government help to sustain already existing businesses and boost their capacity to create the sorts of jobs that could engage those unwilling to travel the self-employment path. There are many businesses doing very well across Nigeria, and they just need additional capital to expand and employ more people. When government assists these companies with their expansion plans, there is the likelihood of an unimaginable employment revolution that could lift our unemployment burden.

It is likely that 9 out 10 businesses started by emergency entrepreneurs would fail. If this is a possibility, it is a matter of common sense therefore to assist established businesses that would not only derive increased capacity to employ more people, as a result of such assistance, but will also train young people in skills that they can immediately begin to use. And since the companies will be training the individuals in line with what they want them to be able to do for them, it is also likely that this type of training will deliver more impact than the many non-targeted entrepreneurship and skill acquisition trainings that have yielded little or no result. No doubt, preaching entrepreneurship to hungry and angry youths is a campaign that will lead to nowhere; and it is indeed a push towards a future that does not exist.



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