NYSC: Shaping the Nigerian youth

Many countries prepare their youth for workforce through several different programs which can either be mandatory or voluntarily. Israel has a mandatory military service while countries like the United States have optional national service programs such as AmeriCorps. In Nigeria, we have the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), a program for university graduates to ease transition into the workforce by developing various skills and exposure to key professional experiences.

NYSC was established in 1973 after the civil war in an effort to unite the many different tribes of Nigeria. The program was designed to target the Nigerian youth, the future leaders, to serve in communities away from their home state in other parts of the country in the hopes of building cultural tolerance and in addition contribute to their professional growth.

Structure of the NYSC program

NYSC is a 12 month program where the first three weeks is a military boot camp followed by professional service for 11 months in any of the 36 states (including Abuja, the capital). Once a week, corp members or corpers, as they are commonly referred to, are expected to participate in a community service project in their posted area.

NYSC is a prerequisite for all Nigerian citizens before they can work in the country and as such, the government provides a monthly stipend for the duration of the service year. Many debate the relevance of NYSC today since little to no amendments have been made with the changing state of the country, age of international graduates with terminal degrees, relevant prior work experience and so on. Regardless, NYSC as a community service entity still serves a purpose to the vast Nigerian youth and economy. 

  1. Broaden horizon: Many Nigerians still don’t venture far from their home state, thus NYSC still serves as a means by which different cultural ethnicities interact as a unit and learn or gain new perspectives from the other cultures in the country. This undoubtedly fosters acceptance and tolerance, breaking down stereotypes, cultural and religious barriers.
  1. Employment: Without the NYSC program and a growing competitive job market, scores of university graduates would be without jobs upon graduation. NYSC functions to fill that initial unemployment gap by temporarily providing entry-level career opportunities to ease transition to permanent employment. Many graduates usually get retained by the organizations they worked with during NYSC.
  1. Workforce Skills: Undergraduates are able to gain relevant work experience in their field of study and hone necessary skills through hands-on training. NYSC also enhances soft skills i.e. public speaking, leadership, team work and so on. The development of these skills starts at the three week camp where corpers are expected to pick an area of self-development, which are then honed over the next 11 months. 
  1. Entrepreneurship: NYSC teaches vocation skills such as bead making, leather works, clothes & accessories making and so on. Graduates who pursue this route are able to learn the trade and establish their own business. Government grants are also available to start agro-business (small scale farming, fish farming and e.t.c.).
  1. Networking: There is no better place to expand one’s professional and social network than NYSC. Networking begins at camp where you are surrounded by people from all walks of life for three weeks. This not only includes students, but also government personnel, small business owners, private and charitable organizations.
  1. Volunteer & Community Service: A mandatory requisite for the successful completion of NYSC is community service. Thus many corpers are posted in low income, high risk communities where exposure to less privileged areas of the country, typically ignites graudates to raise awareness, volunteer and/or organize community service projects. Such notable students are officially recognized by NYSC as outstanding corps members that made an impact in the community.
  1. Unique Life Experience: Overall, the NYSC experience is typically what you make of it. The mass congregation of graduates from across the country living and working together is a once in a lifetime experience. For some, it is almost like an initiation stage, transforming dependent young adults to independent working adults, positively contributing to society.

I completed my NYSC in October 2013 and had a very challenging experience especially during the three weeks at camp. Regardless, there are two memorable highlights from my NYSC experience which involved community service, which I blogged about here.  I was part of a training session on adolescent reproductive health and HIV prevention and care, which gave me the opportunity to raise awareness among secondary school age students on the subject. I was also part of a pilot holiday camp for children ages 6-16 called Summer Camp Nigeria (www.summercampnigeria.com). I was able to network with like-minded people and afforded the opportunity to partner with an education NGO that made this dream of mine a reality.