How Nigeria’s economy can bounce back after COVID-19 — Sir Ari

The Director General of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Sir Joseph Ari, on resumption for second term in office, speaks with journalists on his plan for the next four years amidst economic distortion by COVID-19 pandemic and other related issues. ISAAC SHOBAYO brings the excerpt.

As you commence another four-year term as the Director General of Industrial Training Fund, what will be your area of priority?

Management is concerned about the challenges ahead even as the second term sets out to encapsulate a new phase of the vision we had and the nine points outlined to address the challenges we envisaged. Direct training is very crucial now that we are battling with economic distortions as a result of COVID-19 pandemic; we are very clear about the focus and about our vision. The major priority of ITF is to empower as many Nigerians as possible with requisite skills, what can take this country above its present situation is nothing but skills acquisition. This is what other developed nations had done to get their nations and their economies to the present status. So the ITF has what it takes to do this, once we are able to equip Nigerians and empower the youth, they would not depend on white collar jobs which I always say are either non-existent or difficult to come by.


What is the ITF doing to inject skill acquisition into the school curriculum? 

We have a robust relationship with the Federal Ministry of Education; the means of doing business by the Federal Government has brought many agencies of the government together. One of the key relationships we have with the Federal Ministry of Education is that all of us are members of the Economics Sustainability Plan and ITF is on the steering committee of the two schemes, the survival fund as well as the Guarantee Opted Scheme. At the ministerial level, the Ministry of Education is also a member. On educating the young ones, the ITF has continued to say that the issue of skill empowerment or equipping Nigerians with skills should start right from the primary and secondary schools, they should begin with some of the skills programmes so that we can catch them young and build them up young, so that by the time they grown up, they would be able to embrace skills. That also means that the government has to change the educational policy to ensure that technical, vocational and educational training is injected into the educational curriculum. This is very important, if you go to Holland, Dutch system emphasises on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some of these are good and  viable for us; it will enable us to have home grown system and have inbuilt system even from the kindergarten because that is the only way you can change the perception of Nigerians who hitherto have regarded skill programmes as dirty, dangerous and dreadful. The perception can be changed if we begin that kind of curriculum right from the lower level.

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What strategy do you intend to put in place to overcome some of the challenges you enumerated earlier?

I would like to say that a life without challenges is not worth living, if you don’t have  challenges it means you are dead, even dead people have challenges. We did not plan for Covid-19, it is a challenge that has come and ITF is ready because we have drawn up programmes to address that positively. You cannot quantify the positive impact of ITF to Nigeria’s economy. One of the ways to show that government appreciates the efforts of the ITF is the reason ITF belongs to some of the MSME clinics; ITF is a member of the MSME Star partner award and MSME Council headed by the Vice President. This sustainability plan has only 10 members, from Ministers to three agencies which are the ITF, Bank of Industry and SMEDAN.  ITF is into collaboration with the Bank of Industry and SMEDAN on what is called National Enterprise Development Programme and all these are meant to boost the activities of MSME which is regarded as the greatest drive of the economy and engine of growth and also one of the sectors that employs a huge percentage of Nigerians. In order to address the expansive nature of the challenges we get, we have also expanded our operations and for the avoidance of doubt, we have just upgraded our units to departments. So in addition to the 10 departments that we have, we have now created four additional departments, these are upgrading of the legal unit to the Legal Department, upgrading of the Public Affairs Units to Public Affairs Department, the upgrading of Internal Audit unit to a fully fledged Department and the creation of a new department to be known as Standardisation and Certification Department, we have also created Estate Development Unit. So for now we would have 14 departments and two units, the creation will address the expansive nature of the ITF and also the fact that the top is heavy.

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What is the expectation of the Industrial Training Fund in line with government’s expectation to revamp the ailing economy messed up by COVID-19?

Our expectation is that in the next four years, the ITF will further escalate and amplify its activities especially with regard to skill acquisition and empowerment of the youths and indigents segments of the society as a well as strengthening the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise sector through non based training in view of the vital importance of the sector to national growth and development, especially in the light of the economic diversification agenda of the Federal Government. The fund will also continue to invest in expanding its infrastructure in order to create opportunities and open up our services to all Nigerians desirous of acquiring skills. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that the development of physical infrastructure alone is not enough. We will therefore, aggressively invest in the development of our Information and Communication Technology facilities for deployment of our training activities. From our summation, the online training we recently conducted for free for our clients in the areas of re-engineering the workplace in challenging times, digital marketing for profitability, workplace health and safety programme to augment the efforts of the employers of labour in raising the productive capacities of their workplace at a time like this may become a real alternative to classroom type training that we have been conducting even after covid-19. We are fully prepared, from the targets we have set for ourselves and from the economic distortions as a result of covid-19, the next four years will be challenging for us in very many ways but we shall overcome.


How prepared is the workforce for these challenges?

As a result of Covid-19, many organisations have either rationed their workforce or even closed shop because of the very difficult operational environment. This will no doubt have negative implications on the revenue generation of the fund. It also means that we will need to be parsimonious in the application of the meagre resources available to us. For the staff, they know what is at stake and I am sure they are willing and ready to key into the new arrangements.


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