FUTURE SKILLS & INNOVATION IN CORPORATE ORGANISATION: STRIKING PARTNERSHIP WITH UNIVERSITIES
My sincere appreciation to the University of Ibadan for the establishment of the UI Research and Development Fair (UIRESDEV) to promote research and discovery and to contribute to national and global development through creativity and innovation. I also acknowledge the progress made to date since the commencement of the fair three years ago. No doubt, it is a laudable initiative that should be supported by all.
To us in the business world, creativity, innovation and skillful manpower among other factors are critical to running a profitable and sustainable organization. It is also a known fact that any company that will outperform competition must embark on regular researches with a view to being able to plan adequately for immediate and future needs especially in the areas of product innovation and manpower skills requirements as well as keep tab on consumer demographics, trends and preferences. It is therefore inevitable for an existence of synergy between the universities and the business world for an enhanced focus and funding on continuous research to be on top of the game.
Many studies have been carried out to assess the incidence and extent of skills mismatch among employed university graduates in the Nigerian labour market and findings showed that there were gross inadequacies in the supply of all the skills’ sets (except problem-solving skill), as needed by the employers and by extension the labour market. A skill mismatch of 60.6% was identified among recent graduates. Communication, Information Technology, decision-making, critical thinking, interpersonal relationship and entrepreneurial, technical and numeracy skills were found to be critically deficient (Pitan and Adedeji, 2012).
Various surveys on labour market skills demand and employer assessment of the performance of graduate employees across private and public organizations in Nigeria, point to the prevalence of a mismatch between the job skills possessed by employees from academic institutions and the actual skills set required to execute tasks in the labour market. Although many employers confirm that graduates possess a broad and respectable understanding of the knowledge base in technical disciplines, they expressed disappointment with the preparation of graduates in those applied technical skills necessary for solving problems and enhancing business productivity. Many companies characterize the universities as emphasizing “too much theory and too little practical training” (Pitan and Adedeji, 2012)
A systems approach to improving education service delivery in Nigeria that is responsive to labour market demands will be key to increasing labour productivity, and thus enhance economic growth in the long-run. More importantly, the selection of specialty areas at the tertiary institutions should be based more on the current and future skills needs of the labour market. In this regard, the Nigerian government should articulate a workforce planning framework that matches the supply of workers and skills to the jobs available at both the federal, state, and local government levels. Such proactive steps will ensure that the supply of skills meets the labour market demand for skills. (Uzor and Nwabuikwu, 2016)
The government therefore has to play a leading role in intentionally strengthening the link between industry and academic institutions, through incentive structures such as providing tax rebates for medical technology companies that collaborate with researchers in tertiary institutions in the country. This relationship will facilitate the exchange of information, which will keep academic institutions more informed about current trends across industries. With the huge cost of training and retraining, given skills mismatch, firms are likely to intensify the outsourcing of technical roles to employees from other countries, especially given increased globalization. (Uzor and Nwabuikwu, 2016).
Given the changing labour market demands, universities need to facilitate the conduct of researches on the emerging skill requirements of the current and future labour market. This is especially important given the rise of new technologies globally and their rapid diffusion in Nigeria as well as the mandatory need for the structural transformation of Nigeria’s economy from a predominantly oil dominated economy to meet the emerging needs of the on-going diversification in the economy.
The consequences of neglecting investments in human capital is the loss of desired productivity of the next generation of workers. In countries with the lowest human capital investments today like Nigeria, it is regrettable that the workforce of the future will only be one-third to one-half as productive as it could be compared to when people received a high-quality education and enjoyed full health.
Investing in human capital is therefore the priority to make the most of this evolving economic opportunity. Three types of skills are increasingly important in labour markets: Advanced Cognitive Skills such as complex problem-solving, Socio-Behavioural Skills such as teamwork, and Skill Combinations that are predictive of adaptability such as reasoning and self-efficacy. Several stylized facts have dominated the discussion on the changing nature of work.
First, technology is blurring the boundaries of the firm, as evident in the rise of platform marketplaces.
Using digital technologies, entrepreneurs are creating global platform–based businesses that differ from the traditional brick and mortal production process in which inputs are provided at one end and output delivered at the other. Platform companies often generate value by creating a network effect that connects producers and providers to customers and consumers, while facilitating interactions in a multi-sided model. Compared with traditional companies, digital platforms scale up faster and at lower cost. Meanwhile, platform-based businesses are on the rise in every country—such as Jumia, Konga in Nigeria which are following the footsteps of Amazon of the US.
Second, technology is reshaping the skills needed for work. The demand for less advanced skills that can be replaced by technology is declining. At the same time, the demand for advanced cognitive skills, socio-behavioural skills, and skill combinations associated with greater adaptability is rising. Already evident in developed countries, this pattern is starting to emerge in some developing countries like Nigeria as well. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Driving etc are the new language of technology and the current race to 5G network deployment is the highway for the realization.
Furthermore, with the rapid changes in the business world, companies all over the globe are increasingly anchoring innovation as one of their strategies to ensure business expansion, profitability and sustainability. The role and place of innovation in the expansion of industrial activities and the general performance of an economy have long been established by economists and historians since the 19th century Industrial Revolution in the West.
The majority of business firms in less-developed countries like Nigeria are small- and medium-sized and face various challenges including limited human and financial capabilities, poor infrastructural base, and unfavorable government policies which hamper their innovation activities.
Effective partnership between universities and such corporate companies on robust research especially on product innovation and new technologies will be of immense value for accelerated economic development of the country. Any company that desires to be innovative in any of product, process, organizational structure, or marketing must invest in research & development. Jumia and Konga in Nigeria are not brick and mortal manufacturers but technology-based companies that are invoking cutting edge supply chain to deliver products and services to consumers at their convenient locations. Some aptly call it ‘’Disruptors’’ that do not comply with conventional norms and conventions that the business world is used to.
Innovation being a product of research is the process of discovering new ideas that deliver geometric value and realizing those ideas at large scale which changes the ways we live and work. Innovation has transformed many developed economies through the development of automobiles and highways, airplanes and aviation, telecommunications and the internet, all of which have made it progressively easier for businesses to market their products globally and connect their best workers to one another.
Innovations like these drives economic growth by helping businesses produce more with less i.e. progress that is measured as rising productivity. As businesses and workers become more productive, the prices of goods and services fall and workers’ wages rise, improving our standard of living.
Innovation will continue to accelerate and developing countries like ours will need to take rapid action to ensure we can compete in the economy of the future. We will have to invest in our people with a fierce sense of urgency to harness the benefits of technology and to blunt its worst disruptions. Relevant researches are a sine qua non to the achievement of this.
In today’s economy, innovation serves as a decisive factor for not only value creation, but also growth and employment. Innovation also results in new businesses and leads to the enhanced competitiveness of existing companies. In this context, it is also important to note that the momentum of both industrial and economic progress is directly proportional to the endeavours made for research and development, which actually functions as a well-founded barometer of a country’s capacity to innovate. Universities therefore need to create platforms like this to engage captains of industries with a view to earning their commitment to support research and development.
Therefore, I enjoin the UIRESDEV to create more awareness by spreading its dragnet to big corporates with national and international outlook who often times have budget for research and development. Attempt should be made to share the outcomes of key researches and innovations with them which will inevitably attract their interests to extend support through funding especially when such outcomes are beneficial to their organisations.
Corporate organisations that identify with the UIRESDEV are also able to institute professorial chairs on relevant areas of research to enhance economic development in the country. Furthermore, such awareness will easily metamorphose into commercialization of the research findings and consequently impact the economy significantly in visible growth and development.
The mandate of Odu’a Investment Company Ltd is to be the engine room for the economic development of the South West and our current mantra of ”Thirsty for Growth” is borne out of the consciousness of the Board and Management to strategically embark on new businesses inevitably out of innovation to enhance the economic viability, stability and competitiveness of this part of Nigeria. UIRESDEV should therefore be on the lookout for organisations with similar strategic intent for partnership and collaboration in different areas.
In concluding, Innovation is self-sustaining when the output is rewarded. When Jeff Bezos looked at the major store-based Retailers in the US (e.g. Wal-Mart, Target etc) and decided to create an online Retail business that offers same products but with the added convenience of doing this on your computer or smart phone and having it delivered to you without driving to the store. His reward today is being the World’s Richest person with personal worth in excess of USD100billion. Jeff’s fiery tale became reality courtesy of the existence and effectiveness of Patent Laws and a complimentary infrastructural environment. Businesses and the academia should also engage the political class on how to strengthen and enforce our Patent laws (Intellectual Property) such that ‘’Innovators’’ can adequately reap the reward of their efforts.
On this note, let me leave us with a poser as it relates to how the academia can noose for opportunities to innovate on specific areas that will interest the business community. Innovations typically are to attend to a need or challenge or enhance the delivery of the need. The story of how Telephone moved from “Fixed” (Box) to “Mobile” and now to “Smart” on which 5G is going to rely on is well known to us. Look at the ancient part of the city of Ibadan without structured layout and house numbering system. How can we overcome this shortcoming that will enable Jumia or Konga to deliver products seamlessly to consumers living in these areas? What we come up with can easily be scaled to other parts of Nigeria and even Africa.
Thank you for your listening as I urge all participants in attendance today to please make maximum use of this programme and be an ambassador of UIRESDEV in creating awareness for partnerships as we return to our respective offices.
Thanks and God Bless. Amen.