UNILAG seeks to improve artisans’ competitiveness

C ONCERNED over heavy reliance on foreign artisans in the sector of the Nigeria’s economy, owing to the  dearth of well trained and qualified indigenous practitioners, the Construction Industry Development Research Group (CIDG) of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos, has embarked on a mission to arrest the situation.

The Faculty, in a research it embarked upon,  titled “Informal Economy and Competitiveness of Artisans in the Nigerian Construction Industry”, is to be funded by the Kaiser Foundation for Social Development.  Leading the team are Messrs Iniobong Beauty John as lead researcher and Julius Olajide Faremi as co-lead, with the expectation that the outcome of the research will enable CIDG to train Nigerian artisans participating in the informal sector of the construction industry on becoming “construtrepreneurs”, to be certified as eligible to do good business in the built environment.

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Artisans occupy a strategic position in the construction industry as they are trained to translate the architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical designs into reality. Therefore, a building or infrastructure plan is only as good as the artisan who is able to translate designs into reality.

Speaking  during the CIDG artisans workshop held at the University of Lagos recently, Iniobong John, who doubles as a lecturer in the Department of Quantity Surveying, said that the research was prompted by clients’ complaints on the difficulties in finding qualified artisans capable of delivering quality services in the construction industry.

The research, according to her, focuses on examining the challenges limiting artisans in Nigeria’s construction industry, bearing in mind the existence of aging population of indigenous artisans and the influx of artisans at various skill levels from neighbouring sub-Saharan African countries who compete with indigenous artisans.

“CIDG’s research aims at investigating why indigenous artisans have been operating mostly in the informal sector and their level of competitiveness. The University of Lagos signed MoU with Kaiser Foundation for Social Development to enable it give back to the society through scholarship for undergraduate students studying construction-related courses, training of  undergraduates on soft skills and giving internship opportunities to UNILAG students and funding CIDG research,’’ John explained.

In conducting the research, she said, CIDG found that there was capital flight in millions of Naira from Nigeria to neighbouring West African countries every weekend made possible by foreign artisans who operate in the informal sector and do not pay tax.

‘’The study adopted the qualitative research approach to provide deep insight into the artisans segment of the construction industry. Interviews and focus group discussions have been used to unravel artisans’ experiences, understand how competitive they are and to know how to improve on their competitiveness,” she added.

In his view, Adelaja Adekambi, chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) Lagos State Chapter, who participated in one of the focus groups, said that foreign artisans secure job more than Nigerians because of economic factors that enable them to offer low pricing for their service, without quality assurance.

Stating that quality and standards give Nigerian artisans competitive edge over their foreign counterparts, Adekambi advised Nigerian artisans to adjust to the real time economic situation without tampering with quality delivery.

“There is a need to train and retrain Nigerians in the construction industry in order to build the capacity needed in the industry and to create more jobs for Nigerian youths. Patronising foreigners creates capital flight in the economy because majority of them end up repatriating their incomes to their home countries without paying any tax to the Nigerian government,” he added.

Meanwhile, a cross section of the participants said that integrity and quality service delivery are the main factors that make Nigerian artisans more competitive and enables them to standout from their foreign counterparts.

According to them, quality and standard service delivery enable artisans to get constant job, especially through referrals, adding that pricing of construction jobs by artisans was determined by the quality of input resources such as tools and materials used.

“Quality service delivery must be paid for and incidents of building collapses occur due to not engaging skilled and certified artisans, corruption, and cutting of corners,” he said.

The participants at the workshop and focus group discussion comprised of certified artisans, certified trainers, seasoned academics, construction firms’ representatives and policy makers.

However, John, who had earlier stated that one of the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals was the provision of decent jobs in an inclusive business environment, said Nigeria could provide more employment opportunities in the construction industry by increasing its skilled  workforce, including artisans, thereby growing the economy by developing indigenous artisans, who pay taxes to government unlike their foreign counterparts.

“We want to work with various stakeholders in the construction industry to improve artisans standard and  train construpreneurs who will  bring economic gains to our nation. Empowering the Nigerian youths to train as construpreneurs-  skilled and certified artisans will go a long way to address the issue of unemployment in Nigeria.

“Going forward, we will scale up our findings to see how the Bank of Industry (BoI), Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board and other related agencies, can work with CIDG to rapidly develop construpreneurship and build capacity among artisans in the Nigeria construction industry,” she added.

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