10 Oct 2014

Career Guidance: It's Time.

Career Guidance: It’s Time.

In the motif of education and consequent employment in Nigeria, one thing has been beaten constantly into the heads of every Nigerian Student, your fancy B.Sc does not guarantee you a job, here or anywhere else. All around the world, technology and a host of other factors (population growth, corruption, decaying infrastructure) mean that conventional jobs in formerly certain fields such as automotive engineering, earth sciences, languages and administration are either being scaled back or are simply no longer available. In Nigeria, it is even worse, as corruption and a significant dearth in scientific, infrastructural, social and technological advancement in the job market and even in the university ecosystem creates a vacuum in fields that elsewhere would guarantee jobs and career fulfilment for its graduates. Physics, Chemistry, Lab Sciences, and Traditional Languages which normally hires thousands of young graduates in the developed world into satisfying, progressive and innovative jobs in the west is a dead pool here into which many unprepared Nigerian graduates find themselves mired. The government’s ‘initiative’ (my, are they fond of that word) on this is that everyone learns a side trade in conjunction with their academic studies. But that begs the question, if we are going to just end up in the drudgery of a blue collar trade then why waste four years, spending government money to get an education you aren’t going to use?

Obviously, the government’s approach to solving the problem of job availability is not good enough. What we need at this point, is Career guidance. What is exactly is career guidance? An offshoot of guidance counselling that specifically focuses on offering university undergraduates factual information about their chances in the labor force and advises them on the right internships and additional training to improve their chances of landing their dream jobs. Of course we have guidance and counselling units in every university in Nigeria, but they are practically invisible, except for that time of the year when students run around for their state bursary allowances.

This invisibility of Guidance counselling units can be traced all the way back to the Nigerian mentality of keeping one’s problems to one’s self and trying to solve them privately with limited resources even when there are better options available. Except for Federal Universities and exclusive private schools at the secondary level, no Nigerian student has access to guidance and counselling. By the time they enter university, the average Nigerian student has no idea what a G&C unit is or why they should bother with them.

Ideally, the first year of university a student should be unattached to any discipline, allowing them the freedom and flexibility to find their strengths and weakness and the discipline they have an affinity for. Nigeria is far from an ideal state academically. Nigerian education starts to streamline learning from senior secondary school, dividing students up into broad groups of Science, Art, Commercial and Technical Disciplines. This division is in preparation for WASSCE, the Nigerian equivalent of a GSCE, an exam that expressly test students along those four broad groups. Post WASSCE, each student leaves secondary education academically crippled, having tested in subjects that only allow them to try for a handful of disciplines in the Universal Tertiary Matriculation Exam (UTME). If for example, a ‘science’ student decides she wants to study English language, she would have to re-sit WASSCE with a whole new roster of subjects that she has been purposely denied access to in secondary school, pass them sufficiently to qualify for UTME. Even the system is against the Nigerian student, the student enters university stuck in a faculty with only a handful of disciplines available to her (him).

For this reason the guidance and counselling units should be the most visible non-academic department in any Nigerian university, providing vital guidance in the volatile Nigerian academic landscape rife with corruption and a system that is designed to punish the student instead of encourage them, Especially with the limited scope of disciplines available to each student on entry. A big part of this approach should be career guidance. Many of the jobs available now are available to specialists in the broad fields of science, art, agriculture, medicine and technology. Sometimes jobs require a potpourri of skills instead of one discipline. These are some of the ways in which career guidance could change the possibilities available to a Nigerian student.

      Experience of work spaces. This already exists in the form of SIWES and Industrial training programs most students must go through at some point in their university career. 9jeducation even works with the University of Ibadan in a specialized program for students undergoing Industrial training. But this is not enough. Most students are basically foisted on to companies and then forgotten about. Career guidance can help streamline the process of Industrial Training and make it more productive with regular sit down sessions with the students on training, using their on-the-job experience to offer them valuable advice on how best to proceed with the rest of their education.
          Linking Curriculum to Career Guidance. Teachers in the secondary and tertiary levels have more access to the students than a guidance counsellor will and as such gain peculiar insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the students they teach. At the tertiary level, lecturers are first exposed to any changes or improvements in the field in which they teach through journals and papers and as such can help improve curriculum with the help of career guidance counsellors. If a symbiotic relationship can be created between the student, the career guidance counsellor and the lecturers of their disciplines, it would be much easier to empower students to take control of the direction of their education.
           Encounters with Employers. At the end of the day, careers have to start with employment and the employer, not the lecturer or the guidance counsellor or even the student knows who is employable and who is not. Career Guidance counselling could facilitate interactions between prospective employers and students, and allow students hear from the source how best to streamline their education to make them more attractive to employers. It would also provide the ‘pull’ that students need, the irrefutable assurance that there truly are jobs out there for them.
         Analyzing Labour Market Information. It’s quite simply impossible for even the most hardworking guidance counselor or teacher to know everything there is to know about a profession, especially how it is changing to suit the labour market requirements. Access to up to date career information (innovations that are influencing change in the industry) is something guidance counsellors can provide students and allow them make necessary changes to their academic plans.
          Personal Guidance. The importance of personal guidance for every student cannot be overemphasized. A career guidance counselor would allow students a safe place to discuss fears and problems with academics, worries about failure and can even help freshmen choose the right course for them preventing many mistakes further down the line. Personal guidance provides much needed motivation and ‘guidance’ in the one place where no one seems to care about whether a student fails or succeeds.

Career guidance can only solve some of the problems that the average Nigerian faces, but tackling the Nigerian mentality that Medicine, Nursing, Law and Engineering are the only ‘respectable’ disciplines a student can devote themselves too will also go a long way in changing attitudes and reducing the phenomenal rates of unemployment we currently face. A shift in the way blue collar jobs are perceived and a debunking of the myth that everyone must have a university education to succeed at life will also go a long way. Whether white collar or blue collar, whatever discipline we decide to face should be treated with dignity and pursued with singular purpose, with a career guidance counselor offering advice every step of the way.

Okolo Edwin


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