Job skills Nigerians acquire in the UK

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 10 Jun 2007

Like an abused widow, he came in, looking agitated. It was not as if something was pursuing him. Rather, this young Nigerian (name withheld) was the one pursuing something. He was at the Graduate Centre of Cardiff University to fill some admission forms. Cardiff University has just asked him to withdraw due to poor performance. That does not seem to perturb him. He is seeking admission into another university. If he is successful, life in the United Kingdom continues. Like some other Nigerian students in Britain, he did not actually come to study, but to work and make money.

Work in this Queen’s land is something most Nigerians treasure. This is because an hour’s work here gives you a minimum of £5.35 (about N1, 364.25). International students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week during term-time. They can work any number of hours during holidays. And the easiest way to get jobs here is to register with recruitment agencies. These agencies can help one to secure a job. Most universities and colleges also have Student Employment Services or Job Shop. They help students to find part-time or holiday work. If you already have some experience, you will be at an advantage.

The major work most Nigerian students do is waiting. As a waiter, you need to know the names of the various food items you serve your customers. You need to be able to distinguish between a French mustard sauce, for instance, and English mustard. You need to know that a horseradish is different from tartar sauce. And you also have to stand for the number of hours you are expected to do the job, serving food, picking plates and wine glasses and attending to some other needs of the customers.

Bar attendants have their own peculiar skills. They are expected to know the names of different wines and beers they sell such that if a customer asks for Brains beer, he does not get Carlsberg instead. In most of the pubs and restaurants, bar attendants serve these drinks in wine or pint glasses filled from a tap. Operating these taps requires some expertise.

Kitchen porter a.k.a. KP is another work most people do in the UK. The major skill you require here is to know how to wash plates. On a very busy day, you can stand at a place washing plates for 12 hours. Even if your palms are as hard as a stone, water will soften them. If you are lucky to have a dishwasher, all you do is to wash off the plaques on the plates a bit and then the machine does the rest.

Some other popular jobs here are store assistant, security, chef, care work, cleaning and fund raising. To be a chef, you need to have the training and a certificate. If you are a fundraiser, then you need to have excellent communication skills because you will be required to be in the streets or go from house to house to raise fund for charity. If you are a care worker, then you need the patience to handle old people and the fortitude to bear their mess.

For skilled professionals, there is the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. This is designed to allow them to migrate to the UK to look for work or self-employment opportunities. To qualify for this scheme, applicants need to score 75 points or more and meet the English language requirement. Points are scored in four main areas: qualifications, past earnings, age assessment and UK experience.

There is also the visiting holidaymaker scheme, whereby a Commonwealth citizen aged between 17 and 30 can come to the UK and work. Successful applicants in this case can stay up to two years in the UK. But you must be able to support yourself and live without claiming certain state benefits.

To most Nigerians, this is better than the no vacancy situation at home. Even those working are not sure of retaining their jobs. In the federal civil service, for instance, about 82, 700 workers have reportedly been sacked since the Nigerian government introduced reforms in the public service in 2006. More are pencilled to go.

For some workers, sudden closures of their companies bring them back to the status of the unemployed. In February, a US oil and gas services company, Willbros, pulled out of Nigeria. The company’s exit after 44 years in Nigeria was sequel to the spate of violence and kidnappings in the Niger Delta region. Also in Port Harcourt, no fewer than five manufacturing companies closed down recently due to some operational difficulties. Among them is the tyre manufacturing giant, Michelin.

High rate of unemployment in Nigeria has persisted principally because of the inconsistencies in government’s macro economic policies. At the inception of his administration in 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo pledged to institute different reforms to jumpstart the economy and create jobs for many jobless citizens. To make this work, the government created the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy. One major aim of this policy was to create millions of jobs. Ironically, millions of jobless citizens were created.

Rural-urban migration and the high population growth rate of the country have also resulted in the rapid growth of the labour force. Besides, educational institutions in Nigeria turn out thousands of graduates every year. Unfortunately, these graduates are not equipped with the necessary skills to face the challenges inherent in the production sector of the economy. And the schools hardly teach students how to be self-employed.

In any case, self-employment is not an easy option. Those who summon the courage to establish their own private businesses soon find out that they have to contend with poor infrastructure. Many companies, for instance, run their operations on generators. This results in low capacity utilisation in most industries and consequently retrenchment and unemployment.

The effects of this high rate of unemployment in the country are enormous. In most major cities, criminal gangs flourish. Those who do not have the heart to go into armed robbery suffer depression, frustration, hopelessness and migration to foreign lands.

The best thing the government can do is to create the enabling environment for the informal sector of the economy to thrive. Some Nigerians have shown through their successes that with focus, determination and the right environment, Nigerians will triumph over unemployment.

Wealthy individuals and non-governmental organisations should complement government’s efforts. They should emulate such organisations as the Youth Business Initiative and the FATE Foundation that are helping to raise young entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

The most important thing is for people to identify their purpose in life. Identifying it attracts people, resources and opportunities that will enable you to succeed. Failure to do this brings about a life punctuated by drifting, confusion, frustration and an escape to foreign universities to seek jobs instead of knowledge.

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