I recently came across a job advert on Facebook. “Customer service officer roles in a leading bank”. The compensation? Fifty thousand naira per month plus medical cover + 13th month + leave allowance. Qualification: H.ND or B.Sc.
Is it a good offer for a graduate? To answer that question, it helps to consider what a graduate with no prior experience earned 13-15 years ago when the naira was far stronger in terms of both exchange rate and purchasing power.
As at 2002/2004, the following wage levels applied at a time when the national minimum wage was N7,500. Oceanic Bank paid NYSC members 15k per month. Zenith, GTBank and Fidelity paid between 20 and 25k. Oceanic paid 30k for contract staff while staff at entry level with first degree (post-NYSC) earned between 960k and N1.4m per annum. Now, that translates to between 80k and over 100k per month. That was 14 years ago when the dollar was between 120 and 135 naira.
What has happened? One, the economy, especially large corporate organizations have been struggling. Foreign exchange, energy, security, etc all pose serious challenges. Two, and very importantly, that lower cadre of the white-collar job market, especially for service industries, is “over-supplied” with qualified people who are willing to take up jobs for a fraction of what current job holders earn.
Now that problem is not about to be solved anytime soon. Each year, the number of young persons enrolled for UTME (JAMB) and going through NYSC keeps rising, in leaps and bounds. In the foreseeable future wages are likely to be upward sticky (more or less frozen).
What is the solution? One the economy needs to expand and grow, especially in those sectors and levels where jobs can be created in multiples. Yes. We need a wave of new entrepreneurs like yesterday. But unless, industries and big businesses pick up, the opportunity set for small-scale entrepreneurs will remain limited. Two, the operating environment needs to improve in a way that gross margins of existing and new businesses can improve to support wage increases and accommodate expansions in the labour force.
The solutions are not at the level of rocket science but they require a certain level of commitment to real improvements in the business environment. And a deliberate drive to grow industries, including through dispassionate patronage of local businesses.
The practice of using government patronage to create billionaires or multi-millionaires in ventures that barely employ up to 5 persons is patently unhealthy for our society. We need to create jobs, not just fortunes.