How does the Nigeria's labor market work?

In comparison to other African countries, Nigeria has a leadership position in terms of its robust labor force exceeding 80 million persons. However, challenges persist, particularly regarding high unemployment and underemployment rates. The complexities of these challenges necessitate a difficult understanding, taking into account the complex interplay of demographic factors, economic conditions, education levels, and the informal sector’s dominance.

The Nigerian labor market, while facing a number of challenges, is also witnessing positive shifts. The commitment to addressing the skills gap through vocational training and entrepreneurship programs reflects a proactive approach to workforce development. Additionally, efforts to formalize aspects of the informal economy and enhance legal frameworks demonstrate a recognition of the need for a more structured and regulated labor market.

Nonso Onowu on February 22, 2024 Average reading time: 5 min
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How does the Nigeria's labor market work?
Nigeria has a very large and young labor force

Nigeria, distinguished as the largest economy in Africa, houses a labor market characterized by vibrancy and complexity. With an extensive labor force exceeding 80 million individuals, with 41.6 million men and 38.6 million women in the workforce, according to Statista.

One important thing about jobs in Nigeria is the age of the people. Nigeria has a lot of young people, with most being less than 18 years old.

In fact, more than 40% of the population is below 15 years old.

This makes Nigeria a youthful country, and it affects how jobs work. This demographic characteristic presents both an opportunity and a challenge, acting as a reservoir of untapped labor potential while concurrently necessitating substantial job creation initiatives to accommodate the continuous influx of new entrants into the workforce each year. The youthfulness of the population contributes to a substantial pool of unskilled, low-cost labor, adding a distinctive layer of complexity to the labor market. Recent data suggests that out only 9.8million Nigerian youth aged 15-24 are employed, with 4.8million fully employed and 5.09 million underemployed.

A complex economic situation

The economic conditions in Nigeria play a pivotal role in shaping the employment market. While the nation’s economic engine heavily relies on the oil and gas sector, contributing significantly to GDP growth, it is not without its hurdles. High inflation rates, currency fluctuations, corruption, and a dependency on a singular economic sector pose persistent challenges to achieving consistent economic growth. The complicated economic situation directly affects the normal job market in Nigeria. This leads to a lot of people, especially young ones, not having jobs or not having enough work to do. The need for a more critical examination of the informal sector becomes apparent, given its critical role in absorbing surplus labor, even with vulnerabilities such as low wages and a lack of comprehensive employment protections.

Educational influences on employment

Education levels within the labor force constitute another important aspect influencing employment dynamics in Nigeria. While literacy rates have seen improvements, reaching 62% which is a 10.9% improvement from 2008, the quality and attainment levels of education remain comparatively low. A significant proportion of the workforce possesses only a primary school education or less, constraining overall productivity and limiting the development of higher-skilled formal sector jobs. Consequently, addressing the existing skills gap becomes imperative for enhancing the competitiveness of the labor force in the global marketplace.

Formal vs. Informal employment

The dominance of the informal sector looms large over Nigeria’s employment sector, providing a livelihood for approximately 80% of the workforce, according to the world bank. This sector includes diverse areas such as retail trade, agriculture, and services, forming the backbone of employment opportunities for many. However, the informal sector also presents a difficulty, characterized by its vulnerability, low wages, and the absence of comprehensive workplace protections or benefits. For a significant portion of the workforce, engagement in the informal economy becomes a practical choice, highlighting the crucial need for boosting formal employment opportunities to ensure comprehensive job security and improved working conditions.

Exploring further into the informal sector, it becomes evident that while it serves as a lifeline for many, the lack of formalization poses challenges to sustainable economic development. The absence of regulatory oversight in this sector often results in a lack of job security, leaving workers without access to essential benefits such as healthcare, pension, and social security.

Government interventions and legal frameworks

Government-led interventions aimed at addressing the challenges of the labor market are diverse. The establishment of vocational training centers and entrepreneurship programs represents a concerted effort to bridge the skills gap and equip the youth for formal employment. However, the impact of these initiatives is contingent upon broader systemic changes, including improvements in the education system, targeted investments in sectors with high growth potential, and a sustained commitment to creating an enabling environment for business growth.

Moreover, legal frameworks and regulations play a crucial role in shaping the labor market sector. Nigeria operates under the Labor Act of 2004, which sets the groundwork for critical employment matters such as minimum wage rates, working hours, and workplace conditions. Additional regulations, including the Employee’s Compensation Act, the Pension Reform Act, and the National Health Act, further govern employment-related issues. However, the effectiveness of these regulations is dependent upon enforcement mechanisms and the ability to adapt to the evolving nature of work in the contemporary landscape.

A critical lens on the labor market trends in Nigeria reveals the transformative impact of globalization and technological advancements. While digital tools open new avenues for employment and economic growth, traditional sectors face disruption pressures. Employers, in response to globalization, are optimizing operations to remain competitive on the global stage, leading to shifts in employment models and skill requirements. The intersection of technology and globalization presents both challenges and opportunities, necessitating a proactive approach to skills development and adaptability within the workforce.

Unemployment and Underemployment Challenges

It is important to highlight the persistent challenges faced by the Nigerian labor market, particularly in the space of unemployment and underemployment. Discrepancies in reported rates underscore the complexity of the issue. While Trading Economics cites a relatively low rate of 4.2% in Q2 2023, the National Bureau of Statistics reports a significantly higher figure of 32.1%. Projections by KPMG suggest a potential rise to 40.6% in 2023. These variations in reported rates reflect the diverse nature of unemployment, influenced by factors such as informal employment, underutilization of skills, and disparities in economic opportunities across different regions.

Underemployment, standing at 13.7% in Q4 2022 and 12.2% in Q1 2023, poses a parallel challenge. The underuse of skills and the prevalence of part-time or low-wage employment contribute to this phenomenon.

Youth Entrepreneurship Support Program

The specific challenge of youth unemployment merits special attention. Recognizing the unique vulnerabilities faced by the youth in the labor market, the government has initiated programs such as the Youth Entrepreneurship Support Program and the Youth Employment and Social Support Operation. These initiatives aim to provide targeted support to young individuals, equipping them with the skills and resources necessary to navigate the complexities of the job market. However, sustained efforts are required to create an environment conducive to youth employment, encompassing not only skills development but also fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem and addressing broader economic challenges.



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