A former teller at Sterling Bank, Gift Akpan, left the shores of Nigeria for the United States to pursue her dreams. Gift told The PUNCH that she had always wanted to travel but decided to gain hands-on experience in the local job market first and raise money to facilitate her migration.
“I graduated from the University of Ibadan as the best student in my set. I had always wanted to pursue my graduate studies abroad. So, immediately after my bachelor’s degree, I planned to travel, but I wanted to get some industry experience for a year or two before furthering my studies abroad. After university, I applied for many jobs and wrote tests.”
Akpan eventually became a teller with Sterling Bank as an outsourced member of staff. It meant that she had to earn lower than other tellers who had regular employment with the bank.
This was a role that the bank employed National Diploma graduates and IT students for, so when a bachelor’s degree holder like me got in, there was segregation. As tellers, we had to work from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.
She explained that the working conditions were terrible. “I had colleagues who would come to the office and not eat for the whole day because they couldn’t get up for a break. Because we were tellers, we received bad treatment. They use you so much and pay very little.”
After battling the challenges that came with the job, Akpan said she finally gave in and left the country.
Similarly, the head of the Brand and Communication Department of one of tier two banks who does not want his name mentioned in print resigned and relocated with his family to one of the European countries.
He had spent over 15 years as a banker and attended much training in the course of his job in the bank.
He pointed to the state of the country’s economy and security situation as reasons for his migration.
Akpan’s story reflects what many young people working in the banking sector go through, which has been the reason they decided to migrate to Western countries for greener pastures. Many of them have cited meagre salaries, poor working conditions, inflation and insecurity as reasons for relocating out of the country.
Japa, the slang for migration in Nigeria, which literally means escape, has seen the country many of its skilled manpower to countries such as the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, etc.
The banking sector has been one of the most hit by the japa syndrome, as many bankers have left the country in recent times.
In June, a report by the United Kingdom Home office stated that Nigeria recorded the highest number of migrants to the United Kingdom, thus becoming the third largest nationality group in the country.
According to the report, “The number of sponsored study visas granted in the year ending June 2022 is the highest on record in our time series, with the substantial increase representing both a recovery from lower numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic but also an increase on the pre-pandemic period.”
A source from Access Bank told The PUNCH that various branches had recorded massive resignations in the last two years.
It started like two years ago, immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic. Everybody started feeling uncomfortable, saying what next? What will happen? And, of course, the floor was opened for people to travel. You know we have different types of visas. Also, everything boils down to the information at your disposal.”
The source said that one of the bank’s branches did not open for three days, because the branch manager, head of operations and cash officer left the same month.
“So, they could not open, and the head office had to intervene,” he said.
According to the source, most bank employees who want to migrate usually use their annual and from there forward their resignation letters, adding that most of them did not resign directly before migrating. They go through their annual leave.
The source stated, “A lot of people are resigning, This December alone, a lot of people crossed over. So, in May now, they should expect another set of massive resignations. People are leaving every day. For instance, out of 100 members of staff, 30 to 40 have resigned. It will create more job vacancies, and they will recruit more staff.”
Talent gap widens
The increasing brain drain in banks is already taking a took on the financial sector. Access to finance to fund their migration expenses has made the sector susceptible to brain drain.
Banks spend a huge amount of money to recruit fresh hands to replace skilled manpower who have migrated.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s unemployment rate currently stands at 33.3 per cent.
Despite the huge unemployment rate in the country, the country has been grappling with a paucity of employable graduates due to the poor state of the country’s education.
Japa has led to growing concerns that the relocation will cause a shortage of skilled manpower.
Speaking with The PUNCH recently, Director-General of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, Adewale Oyerinde, said in terms of relocation, India comes first, followed by Palestine and then Nigeria in the context of migration to the United Kingdom.”
“So, it is not a strange thing. Sometimes, when there is the mobility of labour, people will move for many reasons apart from the two predominant reasons, which are economic and security reasons.
“It creates talent issues because businesses also need very strong hands and competent workforce to be competitive and to grow. So, if those workforces are moving, it creates a gap within the system, and some have said every problem creates an opportunity.
“While we were talking about the issue of unemployment as some are moving, it also creates opportunities for others to take those positions. But also, it is a cause of worry for everybody. It is a cause of worry for talent management issues, and it also creates dynamics for talent managers to start building the pool, to be more conscious about succession planning.”
Job market outlook
Partner, Workforce Advisory Services for EY, Lola Esan, told our correspondent that although the exodus would usher in more job opportunities, it posed a major challenge for the economy.
“It is two things. There is a question of quantity and quality. I do not think we have ever had a challenge with the number of resources described as talent. Talent then will be who is available to do the work at the level you require.
“In regards to banks, people leaving means more people have opportunities to join, but there is a big question. What are the skills that are needed vis-a-vis the available skills?
“So, there are still some costs associated with training and retraining to breach the gaps needed in the sector. “
Esan highlighted the issue of dwindling interest in the banking sector as a premium employer of choice.
“There is also the question of whether people still consider banks the premium employers of choice. Remember that after the pandemic, people sitting at home had the chance to develop other aspects of their lives.”
She noted that even if there were vacancies, many Nigerians were avoiding jobs associated with “that whole cutthroat, long hours, the stressful target”.
According to Esan, it is a new world where there is a need for a handshake between employers and employees.
Maintaining her stance on the need for upskilling and adjustments between employers and employees, Esan revealed a general outlook for the job market in Nigeria.
“And there is the issue of tech. Allegedly people are saying the problems with our online payment platforms and systems are because people have relocated. That is what they say.
“As you know, with tech it is hard to fill the gap. They are well sought after and there will continuously be gaps,” she maintained.
Esan stated that employers would get to a point where they would have to make a bit of investment in training.
“There might be a change in the types of contracts available. You will then have specialists selling their skills to more than one financial service.
“But obviously, the level of contracting and caveat around data security protection and confidentiality will heighten. So, will it create an opportunity to reshape the talent market in Nigeria? Absolutely.
“For the banking sector, will they have the skills they need? The sector will have to change or embrace some of the work-life integration themes more,” she asserted.
Director of Research and Strategy at Chapel Hill Denham, Tajudeen Ibrahim, observed that the japa trend in the banking industry would have no impact on the job market.
He noted that such vacancies could be filled by internal hands.
“There are downside risks. We have more graduates coming out of the university which will lead to zero change in unemployment. If you want to be myopic, you will believe that the relocation will create more vacancies. You have to capture fresh graduates, and master’s degree graduates who are there because they don’t have jobs.
“Another thing is that the vacancies created by those who migrated can be filled by promotion. The vacancies are also way too low in comparison with demand for jobs.”
Ibrahim said that upon the passing out of NYSC members in February, “We will have more people in the labour market. Where are we going to put them?
“We will still have a huge unemployment rate. It does not change anything.”
The Chairman of Zedcrest Capital Group and a Director of Shelter Afrique, Bisi Sanda, also said about a 50 per cent unemployment rate for the Nigerian demographic aged 18 to 48 or about 50 million plus.
She wondered, “What effect can the vacancies created of less than 100,000 Nigerian migrants have?
“Definitely, there cannot be any impact. The Nigerian unemployment can only be effectively remedied by massive job creation locally.”
According to Sanda, the railway, telecommunications and computer industries, “all have huge potential for backward integration and can absorb a large number of Nigerians into skilled employment.
“The textile, agric business, and health sectors also can absorb a lot. Most sectors are crying for actualisation.”