WITH more Nigerians now seeing skill acquisition as the way out, the stigmatisation of vocational training is lessening gradually. And now that it evidently positions youths for international opportunities, the scale is tilting in favour of skill acquisition with many now talking about TVET – Technical and Vocational Education and Training. The Federal and State Governments as well as some philanthropists and even politicians now have skill acquisition programmes, through which they are trying to make things better. The irony, however, is that while there are strategies on skill acquisition and vocational education, an articulated national policy is still lacking. Policies are meant to guide the decision and actions of managers and their subordinates in strategy implementation. In other words, the strategies should derive from a policy, which would ensure proper coordination and uniform application. In Nigeria today, our efforts in this regard can be likened to directionless and aimless efforts. Without articulated national goals encapsulated in policy direction, we can neither track the success or failure of our activities nor objectively determine the efficiency of our programmes.
What a national skills development policy does is that it inspires a deliberate attempt to incentivise productivity along clearly defined developmental pathways. Unlike the model obtainable in the country today where there is a litany of strategies put forward to regulate the skills acquisition process in the country, a properly defined skills acquisition policy would provide firm guiding framework to support rapid and inclusive growth. It will also support the drive for enhanced citizens’ employability and capacity to not only adapt to contemporary work demands, but also significantly contribute to national productivity and living standards. Also, experiences from developed economies where such a wholesome policy is obtainable demonstrate an opportunity to carefully implement competitiveness drive while also ensuring sustained and coordinated investment in human capital development for the ultimate good of the nation.
As things stand now, all Nigeria has to show for skills acquisition are results of scattered efforts without a clear-cut policy; a situation that looks like going somewhere without a direction. The government and citizens agree that skill acquisition is essential but there is no clear cut policy to drive the many strategies being used. Without mincing words, Nigeria has had enough of knee-jerk efforts at skilling our youth. It is time to walk the talk! The truth is that not much can be achieved without putting a policy in place and the best time to have a policy to drive it was yesterday, the next best time is now while the wrong time for it is tomorrow! Outside the three tiers of government and associated agencies, the Dangote Group, believed to be Nigeria’s biggest employer within the organised private sector,could only employ about 30,000. As commendable as this appears, it is only a drop in the ocean of frustrated and unemployed Nigerians. Since it has been discovered that most employers are SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), attention needs to be paid to them, to the benefit of the country’s economy. It is thus safe to conclude that SMEs are the drivers of new jobs. And if one looks closely, there is an SME behind every job now.
Interestingly, the First Technical University, (Tech-U) Ibadan, was developed with the need to focus on skill acquisition and not just certificates. This impelled the injection of entrepreneurship into the curriculum; Tech-U’s response to the unemployment problem.
There are, indeed, some lessons from the Tech-U education model. The university is going to the basics with its new Tech-U Advanced Academy; from primary to the secondary level, Tech-U has started inculcating the entrepreneurship culture into the youth right from childhood, from where they will be nurtured into adulthood. This is premised on the fact that entrepreneurship principles, values, and skills can be developed and nurtured through educational processes. At the tertiary level, the Triple P Model is effectively deployed. First, they are taken through the principles; which include subject matter instruction through entrepreneurial orientation as well as lectures through faculties and the assessment of personal entrepreneurship characteristics. The next phase is the process; that is, the procedure for translating principles into entrepreneurial outcomes. Students at this level also have the benefit of entrepreneurial mentorship. The practice is the third inevitable part and it involves hands-on TVET training, industry experience, introduction to mentors and industries, the finishing school stage and the point where the students have their own start-ups. The poster boys and girls of this initiative are branded as Tech-Uprenuer ambassadors that comes with some institutional incentives.
Knowing full well that TVET training is not restricted to students alone, the University’s TVET Centre has also made provisions for artisans who need to be reskilled. In its two years of existence, Tech-U is making a statement through its entrepreneurial edge which has been famously dubbed “the Tech-U advantage”. As part of its target to train 1,000 youths before the end of 2019, the university has been able to train over 700 not-in-school, not-in-training and not-in-employment youths in various technical and vocational skills while more than 300 artisans have been up-skilled and retrained. I make bold to say the University has the database of the youths trained. Apart from training, re-training and re-skilling of artisans, the university’s Institute for Sustainable Development is training people on how to meet the human development goals. Two Tech-U students were among the 17,000 applicants across Nigeria that passed through the first stage of the screening exercise for the International Breweries ‘Kickstart Business Plan Competition’ held last October, with one of the Tech-Uites making the last phase and award night. Tech-U students also won prizes at the Ventures Platform Startup boot camp for undergraduates on ‘moving from idea to market’.
These did not happen by chance. From their first year, all Tech-U students are taken through entrepreneurship orientation while entrepreneurship development training is also made compulsory at all levels. The university has recorded a number of other feats; every Tech-U student is proficient in one technical or vocational skill or the other, thanks to the compulsory Diploma Certification in Entrepreneurship and Technical Skill Development for all students. The paints used in the university are produced by students who also take up the painting jobs at the university. With their proficiency, some Tech-U students engage in technical jobs outside the university at their leisure. The Students’ Start-Up Fund too has been helpful for innovative students who have ideas that have already been transformed into startups.
The fact is that two things happen when the entrepreneurial capacity of youths is developed; the economy is strengthened because it has a direct contribution to the socio-economic development process through the development of indigenous expertise and it also helps to address youth unemployment. Policy and support programmes for TVET, therefore, need to be well-coordinated in Nigeria to achieve desirable results. While awareness for TVET programmes continues to increase, the same cannot be said about the coordination among the different sectors and ministries that offer TVET courses; this is evidenced by their different standards and the many inadequacies being faced. In many centres, the capacity of the trainers themselves still needs to be adequately developed. There is also the issue of financing as well as that of inadequate infrastructure.
Not only should entrepreneurship education be tailored towards the needs of the industry, it should also be designed and administered according to the need of the target clientele. It should be put in mind that only entrepreneurial faculties will effectively deliver entrepreneurship instructions. The capacity of lecturers will, therefore, have to be developed from time to time. While the country eagerly awaits the formulation of a proper policy on skills acquisition, private enterprises can support collaborative research to identify skill gaps in the industry and also partner the ivory tower to develop training contents for youth development in response to the identified skill gaps. They could also be of help through the provision of opportunities for industrial work experience for students in training as well as offering of apprenticeship programme for unemployed youths.
Though youths are being trained in TVET, the outcome is not yet commensurate with the efforts being put in. And the higher a country ranks in terms of TVET training, the better for the country in the world economy. It is therefore not wrong to say that TVET development has a lot to do with economic and national development in the long run. It is obvious that no country develops without developing its science and technology. As such, an enduring technological development may not take place without skilled technicians. Skilled technicians play major roles in the development of a technology-driven economy anywhere in the world. And TVET is the key that can ensure the required potential and productive workforce with the right scientific and technological competence.
To be concluded
- Professor Salami is the Vice-Chancellor, First Technical University, Ibadan