MIT Open Learning, a strategic division of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology focused on growing global innovation ecosystems through education invited me to MIT to be a coach in the MIT Bootcamps programmes in 2018. Since then, I work with innovators from all over the world to develop new ventures or scale existing ones with a focus on technical and leadership skills, problem identification and solutions building. I coach hundreds of learners in forming and sustaining effective teams and building innovation-driven enterprises with a product-market fit in an experiential learning environment. This is one of my favourite things to do because I enjoy interacting with diverse groups of innovators from all over the world working in various fields and building transformational solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
This singular endeavour, more than any other really exposed me to the immense roles of skills in not only innovation but economic growth. I also get a direct view of the shift in the type of skills that are relevant in today’s fast-paced world. When I think about Nigeria and its skills needs, I can’t help but agree with a World Bank study on skills and inequality which concluded that low skills perpetuate poverty and inequality. Skills development is essential in reducing both unemployment and underemployment, increasing productivity, and improving standards of living. Helping people develop and update their skills makes economic sense. However, this is only achievable when skills development is done right.
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Because of the endemic problems that have beleaguered Nigeria and are causing the dysfunction of our education systems and economy, I dare say that a skilled workforce is most crucial for our economic development. Most of us broadcast the rhetoric of entrepreneurship being the panacea for our unproductive economies, unemployment, and insecurity when the very necessary ingredient for a successful enterprise; a skilled workforce, is frail and inadequate in the nation.
The shifts in the nature of work and skills demanded to get it done is no doubt as a result of global megatrends such as technology, climate change, demographic shifts, urbanisation, and the globalisation of value chains that are taking hold of every aspect of human life today. However, I am not only referring to technical skills here. Through my work with MIT, I have come to realise that there are other equally important skills to master in order to succeed in the 21st century labour market:
First of all, Socio-emotional skills refer to the ability to navigate interpersonal and social situations effectively, and include leadership, teamwork, self-control, and grit. Most work environments are diverse and require polished socio-emotional skills to fit in.
Secondly, cognitive skills, encompassing the ability to understand complex ideas, adapt effectively to the environment, learn from experience, and reason are absolutely essential as almost everything now happens in real-time, requiring you to understand new concepts and often apply them as you go. Simple foundational literacy and numeracy, as well as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving, are all cognitive skills and one could certainly never overemphasise their importance.
Technical skills, referring to acquired knowledge, expertise, and interactions needed to perform a specific task, including the mastery of required materials, tools, or technologies are also incredibly crucial in today’s world and guarantee not only jobs but invention and innovation in multiple areas of society.
Lastly, cross-cutting and drawing on all of the above skills are digital skills. Today, it is almost incomprehensible that any size of a country’s population remains digitally illiterate. Digital skills describe the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, and create information safely and appropriately. This is non-negotiable in today’s connected world.
It is proven that an investment in a high-quality workforce can create a virtuous cycle, where relevant and quality skills enable productivity growth and foreign direct investment, which result in more and better jobs for the current workforce and more public and private investment in the education and training system. Whereas most of Nigeria’s SME-minded initiatives are honest attempts to check youth unemployment, I don’t think the clamour and blind spending is working at all. No amount of tailoring outfits, shawarma joints, make-up saloons, printing centres, or corner kiosks can give you the value in terms of revenue, employment and growth of a single enterprise grounded in innovation with a global outlook and utilising this great shift in local and global human consumption and lifestyle.
We are not alone in this. According to the World Bank, most countries continue to struggle in delivering on the promise of skills development. “Large-scale international assessments of adult skills generally point to skills mismatches as well as the large variation in the returns to education across fields of study, institutions, and population groups. Employers in many developing countries report that a lack of skilled workers is a major and increasing bottleneck for their operations, affecting their capacity to innovate.”
Nigeria’s approach towards education, skills, enterprise and jobs must change. We seem too comfortable and satiated with our status of consumption and non-creation of valuable goods and services. To break away from this complacency, even as a rocket breaks from gravity, Nigeria should be deliberate and precisely calculated in developing the skills of Nigerians along the lines of the current and future trends of the world.