In 1863, when John D Rockefeller built his first refinery, the old model of nation-building was to start with agriculture, use the funds from agriculture to industrialise, use the funds from industries to build more infrastructure (making opportunities in construction) improve commerce, communications and the private sectors then scale this across the states in the country.
This model worked really well, the Americans used it, the Chinese used it, the Japanese used it, and Brazil, India and Malaysia followed. But Nigeria didn’t.
It worked until digital technology came.
Why are technology start-ups making the waves? Why are they attracting so much investment that VCs, private equity and co are closing down some of their assets and re-investing capital in the tech start-up industry?
It’s because, for the first time in ages, a small business can create a never seen before kind of value, grow fast, take out incumbents, claim and retain market share and hold an unfair advantage over new entrants, the best part is that they can do all these without the need of an army as workforce, the turmoil of supply chain and logistics, hefty equipment and, of course, without regulations or bottleneck policies.
Just a team of three ambitious folks in their dorm room can build technology in three months, within a short period of time competing with institutions that have been around for decades. It is truly a marvel.
But there’s an angle, they require a unique type of skill set, one that is hardly taught in school nor exists in academic curriculums. They speak a different language, JAVA not English.
The fact that they don’t speak English further threw the HR team of big corporates in jeopardy because now they can’t hire simply based on well-written resumes they must hire for talent!
This language swap did two things, It globalised the tech talent industry, (Java is java whether in UK, the USA, China or Nigeria) this is both a blessing and a curse depending on how you see it.
The skills of Java don’t require the experience, patience and poise of the over 40-year-olds’ ideal corporate candidate, it requires the curiosity, restlessness and childlike imagination of teens and young people.
We are now in a curiosity-driving economy and a curiosity-driving economy requires talent.
Nigeria has over 40 million young people, what it lacks is main streaming technology skills. If it can do this it will unlock the destiny of the 40 million plus people who ironically currently make up the bulk of its unemployed citizens and by so doing it will unlock the destiny of the nation.
This article isn’t a rant but a catalyst for action, so I will share some ideas on what the next Nigerian leadership must do: it begs the question, what can we do now to achieve this, and what must we do quickly? There are many vehicles that can be used to drive this initiative but, in my opinion, the fast and most effective vehicle would be: A lifelong partnership between academia and already existing tech talent-development companies—Andela and Unilag among others.
All IT and computer science or engineering students should be mandated to have a laptop and to take the programmes all through their four years, other department students who are interested in developing tech skills should also be allowed into the program and each cohort must build products.
Creating the talent is the first part, the other part is where they get the jobs. Global market. Federal Government must interact with talent outsourcing and freelancers marketplaces like Fiverr, Upwork etc. to remove bottlenecks that hinder Nigerians from thriving on these platforms, most of which are trust and capacity to deliver excellent work. Creating an API to the NIN data point that allows freelancer platforms access to soft data to verify the identity of talents might be a good starting point as identity verification is the bedrock of trust.
Also, the Federal Government must encourage, support and incentivise existing talent development platforms like Utiva.io, alt school Africa, Andela etc. to create a marketplace and build a credible brand that can compete globally.
This is what countries like India have done, it’s not hard.
Imagine a young Nigerian graduate who has spent the last four years coding and building solutions earning $3,000 per month working for an American start-up from his home, with no overheads, transportation or logistics. Imagine 100,000 of them, now imagine 10% of that population 4,000,000 young people earning an average of $3,000 monthly, that is $12bn monthly into the Nigerian economy! To put in perspective the entire income from oil export in 2020 was $20.43 This will be a huge source of FX.
Now with the METAVERSE, BLOCKCHAIN coming more than ever there is an increase in demand for tech talents and creatives who will build the future of communication, commerce, business and payments. Nigeria can fill this talent gap, we have the people and we have the specific demography (being one of the youngest populations in the world) we just need to unlock it by retooling them with the right skill set and we must act now!
We cannot keep preparing people for jobs that used to be, but we must prepare people for the jobs that are today and are to come.
Good roads are good but they won’t save us, industrialisation is good but we are late, if we must thrive and leapfrog the economy quickly we must create wealth for the masses otherwise commerce will never thrive, innovation will be short-changed, small businesses will fail and the bulk of the people will continue to suffer in the same fashion that they are today.
The Nigerian government needs to “JAVAlise” the Nigerian education system.
- Daniel Folley, a Nigerian-born, London-based technology and digital entrepreneur, writes via [email protected]