Determining countries’ economic status may not be an exact science but oftentimes we rely on data from the Gross Domestic Product (for comparison sake. However, a country’s GDP does not always tell the whole story about the overall quality of life therein. In fact, the well-being of citizens in a given nation is dependent on other metrics; one such important indicator is employment.
Using this as a yardstick, it goes without saying that Nigeria is a hotbed of massive unemployment and underemployment. Or how would you describe a country where over 33.3 per cent of the entire working population is unemployed and 22.8 per cent is underemployed? According to the same report by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, youth unemployment stands at 42.5 per cent. Fittingly, this figure has earned Nigeria second place on the list of countries with the highest unemployment rates.
The state of unemployment in Nigeria is climbing to epic proportions. Even worse, there seems to be no definite end in sight. In anticipation of the 2023 general elections, the priorities of our lawmakers have shifted as contestants are doubling down their efforts to emerge as the next crop of leaders. And yet on the other side of the spectrum, we have Nigerians who are stuck in low wage (or even toxic job environments), while struggling to eke out a living for themselves in a broken economy. Nigeria is as far from utopia as possible; little wonder the ‘Japa’ revolution is gaining momentum among the youths.
Despite the actions or inactions of successive governments in Nigeria, unemployment has always been a sore point for its citizens. Playing the blame game does no one any favour. Now is the time to think, not just think but to implement a way out of this mess. Nigerians are frustrated, youths are restless and angry and the naira continues to lose value every day. It is a deplorable situation all around. In my opinion, technology still remains one of the lowest hanging fruits that our leaders can leverage to address unemployment.
Technology, in recent times, has brought about disruption in the way we work. The future of work which is characterized by flexible working conditions, virtual interaction and reliance on digital tools is already a familiar concept to many. And what is more, the emergence of the gig economy shows this to be true.
The following questions may come to mind: What is the gig economy? To what extent can the gig economy curb the continuous rise of joblessness in Nigeria? How can the government strengthen the gig economy? Let’s attempt to give an answer to each of these questions.
Zooming in on the gig economy
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gig economy in Africa has expanded significantly. The gig economy is an umbrella term for a wide array of employment types, including agency, part-time and temporary work, short-term contracts and platform-based roles.
Technology has driven the adoption of the gig economy on a global scale. It has created more seemingly flexible opportunities for people to earn income. Interestingly too, the rise of digital labour platforms provides workers, including women, people with disabilities, young people and those in underserved communities with income-generating opportunities that may not be readily open to them in their immediate environment.
Thanks to remote working, many Nigerians, particularly the youths, are able to surmount geographical boundaries to earn from abroad while residing in their home countries. Ranging from techies to creatives, these skilled freelancers offer services that include but are not limited to programming, virtual assistance, accounting, data analysis, video production, content writing, UI/UX design and content marketing.
In a developing country such as ours, gig jobs are not only regarded as a promising source of work opportunities but as a means to augment salaries gotten from formal employment. Depending on the nature of their work, an individual could be in a 9 to 5 job and still work as a freelancer on the sly. For less experienced ones, the gig economy represents a training ground where they can try to build relevant experience, try out different roles, and network with other professionals in their area of interest.
Nigeria is home to a handful of startups that focus on outsourcing talents to companies that are in need of their set skills. As much as the startups are trying to solve the problem of unemployment, it only raises another question. Apart from social media expertise, how skilled are Nigerian graduates in the use of digital technologies?
In light of the current digital transformation, the government needs to invest in the IT sector and the talent economy. One effective way to do this is by training people with no digital knowledge while upskilling those who want to transition to tech jobs.
Another way the government can strengthen the gig economy is by expanding Internet infrastructure to facilitate digital growth. Even now, the rate of broadband penetration still drags at 39.98 per cent despite the government’s desire to achieve a 90 per cent penetration rate. Other associated problems include poor network infrastructure and epileptic power supply.
To establish Nigeria’s position as a talent base, the government needs to compete with other African countries by creating an enabling business environment, regulatory and tax incentives and facilitating easy, seamless cross-border payments for workers.
Although workers in the gig economy reap somewhat adequate income, it is not without some less desirable outcomes. For one, gig workers are not employees. As a result, they do not qualify for perks such as paid leave, health benefits, insurance and so forth. Also, there may be issues with labour rights due to having to work for uncertain hours, poor pay, involuntary overtime and short dismissal notice.
In the advent of such scenarios, some governments across the world especially in Europe are looking to design regulatory policies that support and protect the gig workers from exploitation. Nigeria as well as other African countries can follow suit.
Inasmuch as the growth of digital platforms in Africa has the potential to offer opportunities to bridge the employment gap, there is a need for Governments to develop new frameworks and models for providing workers with a minimum increment of support.
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