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Where Lies the Dignity of Labour?

Skill acquisition is the antidote to unemployment

Work, work everywhere; but none to do. Doesn't that apply to our society today? I know what I've just said may confound some people, especially when they do not know where I'm headed. But I was compelled to write this piece after a conversation I had in my car with a friend the other day. The conversation centred on a young man who used to stay abroad and even married an American. He later came back home and opened a small but thriving business which he personally runs. My friend was telling me how the young man had settled down to that business which at first made him look out of sorts, especially being a ''Yankee''. Yankee, in this context, refers to somebody who stays or has stayed in America.
Well, the purpose of this discourse is to correct the impression here that there are no jobs here and that one can only survive when one goes abroad. I've decided to torpedo this idea because I have observed that many young men today are either too lazy to work or too naïve to recognize a job opportunity when it comes. Why would they when their focus is only for tailor-made jobs; jobs that will see them as oil company staff, bank workers and other such supposedly high profile and glamorous jobs.
Thus they look down on certain jobs here, deeming them infra dig, but the strange thing is that the same people who frown at certain jobs here, go outside and do worse. They become cleaners of corpses, taxi drivers, waiters and all manner of workers.
But then, who can blame them? We have a system that is warped, a system that has not encouraged the youth to diversify. They grow up believing that it is all about acquiring a certificate. Less emphasis, if at all these days, is paid on the acquisition of skills. The ones we see now are only medicine after death. In the days of yore, there were schools that were dedicated to the teaching of skills. They were called Government Technical Colleges. From the outset the students in those schools knew their career paths. They were taught such skills as carpentry, wielding, auto mechanics, electrical engineering, etc. They thus graduated becoming equipped to be their own bosses if they liked. They didn't have to trudge the streets looking for non-existent jobs with overrated certificates. By the time those with paper qualifications found their bearings, these guys from the technical schools could even be in positions to employ them.
But then gradually, a dichotomy was created by the very government that was supposed to guarantee equality for all. Those that attended the technical schools were discriminated against in employment and rating (that is for those who wanted government work) and soon students began to see such schools as inferior and started to shun them. Everybody focused on acquiring certificates. That was the beginning of our problems.
Thus one can say that the system here did not prepare students for life outside white collar. But countries like China, Japan, Malaysia, et al, saw tomorrow. They encouraged the learning of skills and today there are jobs everywhere in their countries.
The truth we failed to acknowledge is that while education is good, our students should have been told that there is a basic educational level to attain after which those inclined to venture out can do so. They needed to be enlightened on that and encouraged. They were not. Thus today, the youth believe that outside education, fraud pays.
This is why most young men do not take pride in their vocation. That is why they go abroad and do things they won't dare to do here. I believe that if the system had been good, we would have had today mechanical engineers that would own mechanic workshops and be proud of owning them, instead of pushing meaningless files at government ministries and earning peanuts. We would equally have had educated carpenters, and so on. But because the young people have been made to look down on certain vocations, they ignore these alternatives and either wait for jobs that are hard to come by or venture into crime.
This is why I have a huge respect for young people who do their jobs humbly and proudly. Any legitimate business that provides a meal ticket should not be toyed with. No vocation is useless or shameful. I remember when one man in Enugu established a laundry service. People made jest of him, wondering why he should be in the business of washing other people's clothes. But by the time they realised the man was making a fortune from the business, he had gone far.
We may have made this mistake in the past but it doesn't mean we cannot correct it. We can begin now to reintroduce technical education in schools, rather than wait till the students come out and then start exposing them to hurriedly packaged skill acquisition programmes.
Most times, those who partake of it are the frustrated ones who do so as a last resort after years of fruitless job hunting. Such people aren't those we should place our hopes of rubbing shoulders with industrialised nations on. The exposure to skills should begin early so that those who toe that path will do so willingly and happily. And when they are such people, they will be proud of their vocations.
Parents are challenged not to force university education on their children who do not want it or are not ready for it. If our education system were working as it used to before the war and immediately after, one who attends college should be equipped enough to face life's challenges as they pursue their destiny without necessarily furthering their education.
The truth is that we must not all be university graduates, especially when many of the graduates can hardly defend what their certificates contain. Everyone should be encouraged to pursue their destiny once they acquire basic education. That way, the country's employment crisis will be contained.

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