With the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment held on the 15th of March 2014, which claimed precious lives, a humongous price has been paid for our ignorance and existing mindset, with regards to recruitment in Nigeria. We must learn from this. We will learn from this. And here is the matter: our philosophy to recruitment in Nigeria is fundamentally flawed and everyone is at fault.
To learn successfully from this avoidable incidence, we must unearth the foundational issues surrounding how we in the public and private sectors view recruitment. Much as public and private sector leaders, human resource practitioners and job seekers all participate in the recruitment process, the process still remains a technical domain for the human resources function. Whilst the purpose of the legislative inquiries is to understand people, systems and institutional culpabilities, our purpose is to chart a professional non-political way out of this labyrinth.
What is Recruitment?
This is the process of finding and hiring the best-qualified candidate (from within or outside an organization) for a job opening, in a timely and cost effective manner. The recruitment process includes analyzing the requirements of a job, attracting employees to that job, screening and selecting applicants, hiring, as well as integrating the new employee into the organization (ref. businessdictionary.com).
Put differently by the Australian HR Institute, “Recruitment can be defined as searching for and obtaining a pool of potential candidates with the desired knowledge, skills and experience to allow an organisation to select the most appropriate people to fill job vacancies against defined position descriptions and specifications. The purpose of the recruitment process is to find the widest pool of applicants to provide the greatest opportunity to select the best people for the required roles in an organisation.
Acquiring the best applicants for a role can be a competitive advantage for an organisation whereas ineffective recruitment and selection can result in enormous disruption, reduced productivity, interpersonal difficulties, and interruptions to operations, customer service and long term costs.” From the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, UK comes this description. “It is crucial to organisational performance. Recruitment is a critical activity, not just for the HR team but also for line managers who are increasingly involved in the selection process.
All those involved in recruitment activities should be equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills.” Some key phrases need to be restated here for emphasis: “best-qualified candidate”, “most appropriate people”, “competitive advantage for an organisation”, “crucial to organisational performance”, “critical activity”, “all involved should be equipped”.
Everybody knows but nobody knows
Let’s begin by looking at the first cancer ailing recruitment. Here is a quote from a 2011 article of mine, “Before the Nigerian Capital Market crash of 2009”, everyone ‘knew’ how the market worked. Literally everyone! Most felt the market was easy to understand and ‘manipulate’. I was even told that a CEO of one of the stockbroking firms said, “We don’t need research in this market.”
This was a statement alluding that the market did not require any unbiased in-depth analysis. It seemed, then, that all you needed to do was to read the papers to see who was selling shares at a discount (discount my foot), buy some, then wait for a few weeks and your shares had appreciated. Voila! In short, at that time, everyone ‘knew’ what to do and so no one needed an in-depth analysis. And what happened after all – ‘knowledgeable’ investors had entire or close-to-entire portfolios wiped out. The issue of ‘hiring right’ in Nigeria is just like the Nigerian Stock market before the crash – everyone ‘knows’ what it takes to recruit properly so no one needs to take any lectures from another.
No CEO or leader would admit that what he/she knows about hiring was from many years of trial and error. Most would readily concur that staffing a vacancy doesn’t require any in-depth analysis as such. So, what has been the result – costly, avoidable, poor recruitments, redeployments and promotions. I don’t mean costly in naira or dollar terms only. I
n this trial and error cycle, many mistakes have been made, even by some of the well-meaning amongst us. Every time Executives, Managers and government Ministers assume that recruitment is a no-brainer, something or someone is lost. If anyone were to have told the NIS to conduct an impact assessment of some sort on this planned exercise, that person would have been scoffed at.
Recruitment ‘isn’t’ a delicate process
Devolving from the above, automatically, it is a no-brainer, since everyone ‘knows’ what it entails. It therefore isn’t a delicate or scientific idea with guidelines and processes. We can start and run it in any way we choose and we will still arrive at our desired result (whatever result that is). We are aware of NIS and some other MDAs because of the scale and deaths.
But in public sector and corporate corridors, leaders continue to deploy agbero recruitment methods except that the losses incurred are quietly absorbed by the institution and eventually the economy. Would you hand over your balance sheet to a vulcanizer? Would you start a skyscraper without a plan and an impact assessment? Each of us must decide to bring more intellectual rigor to the process of hiring. If planning is good for bridges, roads and buildings, then how much more do we need it when lives and destinies are involved?
It is a ‘sin’ to be a Job Applicant
The attitude we have towards anyone with the label of “job seeker” is primitive. The huge mistreatment, mal-handling and disrespect meted out to job seekers by both the private and public sectors must stop. The mindset that “there are loads of people looking for work, so we can afford to ill-treat” is wrong. Scores of managers and human resource personnel act as though they are doing candidates a favour. They act as though they weren’t applicants at one time in their careers.
Certainly this is worse with the public sector and that is what culminated in the unfortunate NIS recruitment saga. Treat and address applicants the way you would like to be treated and addressed. You are not allowed to abuse or curse under any circumstance. The demeaning attitude with which we handle candidates shows up in many ways. Do you keep them waiting – intentionally?
Just as you would like people to have respect for your time, then have respect for their time. I have even heard of the practice where some people deliberately let people wait for hours on end, in a bid to test their ‘hunger’ for the job. Are you kidding me? Who told you that psychologists have discovered a correlation between ability to wait and performance on the job?
You can’t just design a process that suits your ego. When you sent them the invitation did you as much as inform them that the interview or test would run for the whole day so that they can prepare and plan? Do you know if he or she has a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon? Even when we are constrained and have to keep them waiting, can we at least be humane about it? Offer an endless stream of apologies. Offer drinks and snacks. Some people have even been known to reschedule with such impunity you would think they are junior God. “Tell them to come back tomorrow.”
Did you bother to find out if they had planned to help their ailing Uncle that next day? What about testing and interviewing conditions? Can we all just use this incidence as a wake-up call for us to put in place much more civil and thoughtful processes? Are they going to be in the sun for hours because they have the misfortune to be looking for a job in your organisation? Would they sit on the floor or even have to lap each other? If your facilities can only accommodate ten people COMFORTABLY, then invite ten or less per batch, or hire a bigger venue.
In this modern age of technology and innovation, why not use technology? There are many online assessments available for graduate recruitment, used to prune down the volume of candidates, and screen online. Why not do this? Is the process not more transparent and objective? This ‘oga-at-the-very-top’ attitude to applicants must be curbed by each of us. This ‘they don’t have a choice, aren’t they the ones looking for work’ has got to end, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s dedicate our new resolve to the lives that were lost.
Mass recruitment is massively flawed
Hiring en masse has too many flaws and inherent dangers that the best thing is to do away with them. This applies both to the public sector, oil and gas companies, and even banks who, from time to time conduct nationwide recruitment campaigns. If you must hire a lot of people, then it should be staggered into several steps and batches and conducted over a reasonable period. If you have ever been involved with conducting tests for large numbers, you would know that crowd control is always an issue – you may have gotten away with it but the odds are always stacked against you.
It also seems that with unemployment and corruption running high unabated, youth restiveness is increasing every day. A large number of candidates, in one location, puts pressure on all your resources, such as security, personnel, technology, test administration instruments, candidate management etc. Any slight glitch or delays on the part of the recruiting company is multiplied in proportions when you have a large number. But with a smaller number, you can quickly correct and salvage the situation.
With better planning, a longer period can be used, resulting in less risk and better outcomes. Recruitment is a job, it is not a corporate social responsibility and so let the people who are being paid for the job be resourced to do their job. Planning is the beginning of that job. Human resources practitioners and consultants should ask for more time and hiring organisations should budget more time.
Who should fund recruitment?
Talking about budgets, naturally brings the question of funding. Who should bear the cost of recruitment? Let it be known that the direct or subtle practice of charging applicants a fee is professionally wrong and insensitive. Applicants already bear some costs in their bid to become employable and accessible. It is institutions that charge money from applicants that make it possible for scamming schemes to exist. When the money is made is it returned to the Federation account?
If so, are we then saying that a country that isn’t providing unemployment benefits is now funding its activities, not from tax, but from the blood of job seekers? Thankfully, that isn’t our case in Nigeria. It costs money, time and efforts to hire people. Henceforth, we should adequately budget for it. Recruitment costs must be clearly articulated and planned for. The approving Minister or CEO, shouldn’t retort with, “What are you going to spend all this money for? Isn’t it just recruitment that you are doing?” We are not advocating that recruitment budgets should not be questioned or vetted. If the right philosophy on hiring is in place, if it is understandable with bridges and roads, then more investments must be committed upfront to the recruitment process.
Public Private Partnerships against unemployment
Also underlying the NIS RecruitmentGate is the sheer number and heightened desperation of unemployed youths. This calls for everybody to get involved much more than ever before. Government alone cannot skin this elephant. At least they haven’t succeeded in doing so all these years! So shall we continue in apathy and ask that grace abound? I made this comment in a publication, “Should we then fold our hands until millions of people and dreams die? Never! That which you can pitch in, pitch in. However, there is strength in unity.
I propose more public-private partnerships (PPP) against unemployment. PPP is a business relationship between a private-sector company and a government agency with the purpose of completing a project that will serve the public. Financing a project through a public-private partnership can allow for project completion sooner or make it a possibility in the first place (investopedia.com).
What stops us from having collaborations between the Federal and State Governments and the Private sector? A lot of effort is being expended against unemployment but it is happening in silos. Wouldn’t we gain much more if we harnessed and pooled our resources? Some groups and corporate organisations are loosely concerned about unemployment. They don’t think it is their concern. How many more lives must we lose before you know that it should be our concern? And we must go beyond agonizing. Every organisation should have a scheme targeted at crippling unemployment and youth unproductivity. If you don’t have one, start one within your industry or contribute towards one.
Professionals and business people should look out for ways they can contribute. Churches and mosques most certainly must contribute. Start a small venture capital fund with friends with the intent to sponsor some of the best business ideas you hear – you would be surprised at what one hundred thousand naira can do for some. Consulting and auditing firms should come together to conduct free business clinics for existing SMEs. “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” – John Wooden. “If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it” – Anthony J. D’Angelo. Finally I leave us with this Arabian proverb, “If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.