Agnes David was among the students that wrote the May/June 2017 West African School Certificate examination.

Her 8 credits and 1 pass were good enough to gain admission into a higher institution of her choice.

Her dream is to become a lawyer, but her parents have something else in mind.

They are insisting she must acquire a skill before considering university admission.

Agnes told Bounce News that her parents’ decision stemmed from the frustrations they face due to her elder brothers who have been without work since they completed their compulsory national youth service 3 years ago.

Agnes has the option to acquire skills as a fashion designer or hair stylist.

Like Agnes, hundreds of thousands of admission seeking young people face the same dilemma.

The high rate of graduate unemployment in Nigeria is removing the shine from higher education, plunging millions of young school leavers into frustration and hard drugs.

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Skill acquisition in Nigeria thrives in the age-long apprenticeship tradition where one undergoes tutelage under a technician for the skills desired.

Bounce News investigation showed that the modern apprenticeship system thrives under an unorganized system that makes it harder for young people seeking higher education to pursue non-academic goals.

*A Hair Salon in Nigeria - (Google Photo)

One of the greatest barriers is the duration of the apprenticeship.

Agnes told me that one of the hair saloons her mother took her to demanded for 50,000 naira for a 2-year training.

But what she really wanted is fashion designing. However, the fashion designer is asking for 100,000-naira training fee and a minimum of 3 years loyal service.

Agnes is 21 years old.

If she accepts to undergo the fashion designing training, she would be 24 years old when she is done with it and by then, she would need to study extra harder to be able to pass JAMB.

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“It’s a tough choice,” she said.

“By 24 years of age, I should have forgotten most of the things I was taught in school. And I should be planning of getting married and even my parents will not deny that there will be pressure on that end,” she added.

From the look of things, Agnes might be forced to bid farewell to her dream of becoming a lawyer.

And her parents, she told me, have already been impoverished by the years of education of her brothers who are without work and are unable to support themselves let alone her academic ambition.

*A plumber's tools - (Google Photo)

Skill acquisition has been touted to be one of the ways to salvage the country’s unemployment situation.

“But the time it takes to be an apprentice in Nigeria is too much. If you choose to do it immediately after college, by the time you are done, your desire to go to school would have died,” said Nicholas who wanted to be a Pharmacist.

But he became a plumber after a 3-year training on the job with Pa Ifeanyi

“In my case, I didn’t have any help at all. My parents were very poor. I managed to go to secondary school hawking on the streets. And when I finished, there was no one to even help pay for my training. In fact, I had to hawk for 1 year before I raised the 60,000 naira to pay for my training.

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“Initially, I wanted to take the plunge and just pursue my academic goals no matter what it takes. But after seeing the rate of unemployment, I persuaded myself that the best thing would be to acquire a skill first before starting school. But here I am today. I may still go back to school, but I am not thinking of it right now,” he said.

The number of years for apprenticeship varies from one industry to another.

Bounce News investigation revealed that the minimum duration is 2 years for hair stylist.

The industry with the highest duration requirement is auto technicians with at least 5 years.

On the other hand, carpentry and fashion designing requires a minimum of 3 years each.

*A carpenter's tools - (Google Photo)

“With unemployment raging among graduates, skill acquisition is the most attractive option for school leavers,” said Stanley, a graduate of Sociology from the University of Nigeria.

“It provides a fallback option you need to survive should the market not absorb you after school,” he added.

Stanley said he endured what he called a “stigma” after he quit a teaching job to learn cushion-making, an arm of carpentry.

“I think for people without the means and support to pursue formal education straight from college, the dilemma is whether one should do it before university or after. With the way the labour market is today, it’s a tough choice people have to make. For me, getting the education first was a priority and I didn’t mind what people said while I apprenticed for 2 years to acquire the skill that feeds me today,” he added.

“If you are graduate, it’s a bit tougher than you can imagine. First, you will face the challenge of financing the training and taking care of yourself,” started Ugochukwu who went to train as an electrician after graduating from the university as an electrical engineer.

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“Remember, you are just coming out of school and broke. If you do not have parents or relatives to support you, it’s going to be really tough since you are not earning money,” he said.

“Second, when you are a graduate, you are used to years of schooling from primary school. That is close to 20 years of staying in an organized environment and you are going into a different world entirely that is not organized. So, adaptation is going to be quite an issue for you,” he added.

According to Ugochukwu, “It is really tough for people trying to decide when best to do it. Education is supposed to be pursued at that early age when your brain is not already burdened with the challenges of life. However, if the education fails to provide for you, as is the case for millions of graduates today, then acquiring a skill is the next best option at whatever time, no matter what it takes.”

Its painful but true that the former shame associated with school-drop outs and apprentices has shifted to the graduate who cannot feed himself despite the long years in pursuit of a university degree.

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