Misan Rewane focuses on employability skills over school degrees. She thinks schools, employers and the government should do the same.
Misan is one of those bright stars you want to hang out with for an afternoon tea. However, I suspect that, instead of tea, she would put you immediately to work. Her passion for solving the youth unemployment gap comes through in every conversation. She said of the founding team, “We are young West Africans who, by accident of birth and circumstances and opportunity were able to get access to some of the best education in the world.” She knows that for most of her peers, that is not the case.
Across West Africa there are around 40 to 50 million unemployed young people. In Nigeria, where WAVE primarily operates, there are around 10 million unemployed youth.
Misan sees that the education system in Nigeria is not preparing young people for employment. Students learn through rote memorization. Many teachers, who are themselves products of this education system, are ill-prepared to help young people gain the skills that employers care about.
Employers circulate job postings, desperately seeking qualified applicants. At the same time the average high-school graduate in Nigeria is unemployed for five years after graduation. These unemployed youth lack qualifications, skills, work experience and networks.
“The government will say, ‘Youth unemployment is out biggest headache. It’s our biggest problem,’” Misan told me. “Young people should not be a problem. They should be such an opportunity.”
Misan describes her motivation this way. “That’s what the driving inspiration and passion behind this is. To fix the education, employment system so that everyone gets access to similar opportunities to make something of themselves.”
West Africa Vocational Education, or WAVE, trains unemployed youth and places them in entry-level jobs in high-growth industry. They identify self-motivated, under-served, unemployed youth. They screen these youths for grit, determination and motivation.
They put their students through an intensive three-week training program where they teach them employability skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, time management and customer relations. They also teach them vocational skills such as hospitality and retail skills. At the end of the training, WAVE assists with job placement.
The training is intensive. Classes are from 8 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Saturday. Classes are taught standing up rather than sitting. This models the expectations of the jobs the students are being prepared for.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Misan Rewane
“They continue to get more unemployable with every passing year.”
“Our school systems are really focused on credentials. They’re not focused on skills.”
“They call them soft skills, but they are the hardest things to teach.”
“For us, it was always important that this had to be linked to jobs and to an income.”
“It is in our best interest that everyone walks out of here with a job in two to three months.”
“Our admission rate is about 30%.”
“We’re screening for self-motivation, for a willingness to learn, for flexibility and adaptability.”
“Some folks will drop out. It’s too intensive for them.”
“Every year in Africa, 11 million young people are joining the labor force and they are unemployable and they are unemployed.”
“You’re getting young people who are coming out of these factories of failure.”
“What [employers] struggle with is finding people who have the right soft skills.”
“This is all R&D. We’re a big lab. I’m the chief experimenting officer. And our job is to figure out how to make this work in the most cost-effective way that actually has an impact.”
“That’s been our mission for the last few years is, building out the system that others can deliver as well.”
“The most frustrating thing about the job is the people, but the most rewarding thing about the job is the people.”
“Start with a vision, that deep dissatisfaction of what is, and that clear grasp of what could be, and let that guide you every day.”
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- WAVE: http://waveacademies.org
- WAVE on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WestAfricaVocationalEducationWave
- WAVE on Twitter: https://twitter.com/waveacademies
- WAVE on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/waveacademies