ITF To Provide Skills Acquisition Hubs: To Be or Not To Be?

In an attempt to reduce youth unemployment and restiveness, the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF) of Nigeria, Mr Boss Mustapha, suggested to the management of the Industrial Trust Fund (ITF) to establish skills acquisition hubs in every local government in the country. While the suggestion seems laudable, however, it would probably not be a very judicious and effective way of utilising government’s scarce and limited resources – material and money – in addressing a monumental issue like youths’ unemployment in Nigeria. According to the World Population review “When it comes to the average of a Nigerian citizen, the country is relatively young. For both males and femalesthe median age of the country is actually 17.9 years of age.” According to the National Bureau for Statistics’ 2016 Report (PDF) “…out of a total youth labour force population of 40.74million (representing 50.2% of total labour force in Nigeria of 81.15 million), a total of 19.3million of them were either unemployed or underemployed in Q4 2016.”. Hence, the problem of youths’ unemployment is a ticking “…time bomb…” (if already the problem has not been manifesting itself in different ways in the country) as rightly said by the SGF.

The Nigerian National Youth Policy (2009) defines youths as those between the ages of 18 – 35 years. (Contrary to the global trend, it excludes those 15 – 17!) Nigeria’s total population in 2016 was projected to be 193,392,517 (NpopC July 2017). Youth population was estimated at 61,306,413 or 31.7% of the total population. This is one of the highest percentages of youth in any country.

Professor Atahiru Jega

Administratively and financially it would be a herculean task for the ITF to efficiently, effectively and successfully manage the establishment and operation of a skills hub in every local government in the country. The country has 774 local government councils, and already there are existing local government authority offices in all those places, hence, the program might be better driven at the local government level, while necessary support can be provided by the ITF.

One of the core elements of the establishment of the ITF according to the Industrial Training Fund (Ammendment (PDF)) Act, 2011 is that “The Fund shall be utilised to promote and encourage the acquisition of skills in industry or commerce with a view to generating a pool of indigenously trained manpower sufficient to meet the needs of the economy.”. Also, part of the role ITF plays is to provide “funds provided by the Federal Government for the students Industrial Work Experience Scheme…” for industrial training experience of undergraduates in Nigerian universities. However, my experience during my undergraduate years with regards to the ITF was that – the ITF did not in anyway actively engage with students in their training process in the industry. Not for once did I or hear of any of my course mates mention any on-site supervision by an ITF staff during our Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) program. Although, that was about two decades ago, hence, a lot might have changed since then.

While the SGF’s suggestion is laudable, there are some challenges with the ITF setting up skills acquisition hubs in the 774 local governments in the country, and some of these challenges are:

  • Staffing
  • Salary
  • Providing the necessary facilities
  • Rents or acquisition of properties for the hubs
  • Providing the necessary expertise on different sectors and skills set
  • The programs might become monotonous and not evolve according to the needs of the society and industries that they are to serve
  • Coordinating outreach programs in order to advertise the programs and reach out to participants, this will lead to additional overheads due to the need to place adverts in the mainstream media and also employ field officers along with the necessary facilities they will need to successfully engage with the general public, particularly the youths.

In a “Study on Skills Development for the Informal Sector of the Nigerian Economy”, the report states that:

Available statistics tend to indicate that formal sector employment opportunities in Nigeria can no more keep pace with the number of entrants into the labour market. The informal sector of the economy has come to the rescue by providing employment and income for the youth and those retrenched from the formal sector employment (Akerele, 1997) …

Years of experience have produced abundance of information, guidelines and best practices on how to effectively train the informal sector operators. The main policy challenge has been how to support and regulate the various training programmes at the informal sector in order to promote employment… One common factor which characterize many of the programmes discussed, is the lack of post training support for persons who aspire to set up own businesses. The success of training, therefore, becomes inextricably linked to the economic and social circumstances of the trainee as well as the availability of the 45 necessary support to assist them to set up their trades or businesses. The provision of loan is integral to the attainment of the objectives of skills development programmes. The poor may not be able to access loans from banks and even from micro finance banks which still require traditional forms of collateral…

World Bank’s 2009 Report

With further research into the informal training sector, the ITF should not need to provide similar trainings that are already being provided by the different training providers in the country, rather the ITF should consider providing:

  • Administrative oversights on skills acquisition training in the country
  • Provide external quality assurance officers to such programs
  • Conduct skills training analysis, identifying sectors and areas that need more attention; Engage with industries, institutions, businesses and employers in the area of skills acquisition, using different methods of skills training and acquisition like apprenticeship, supported internships for disabled individuals and work based learning
  • Engage with the informal training sector
  • Provide work based training assessment trainings to on-site assessors
  • Engage more with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and
  • Provide supportive frameworks for the NVQF & IEI qualifications in the country.

Finally, the ITF should position itself as an institution that drives the growth of the acquisition of skills and Vocational education and training in the country. It should also continue to engage with both the public and private providers of vocational education and training, as well as the informal training sector, by providing institutional supports like funds and staff training.

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