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We’ve achieved 70% success on FG’s 2m training target – Juliet Chukkas-Onaeko, Director General, ITF.
Juliet Chukkas-Onaeko, Director General, ITF
She was given a tall mandate when she took the mantle of leadership at the Industrial Training Funds (ITF), mid last year, to train two million Nigerian youths annually as part of the Federal Government’s strategy to address the overbearing problem of unemployment in the country.
Looking back at the agency’s performance at the close of the year, Dr. Juliet Chukkas- Onaeko believes the ITF has not let the government down despite the challenges confronting it, especially in the area of funding. According to Chukkas-Onaeko, the agency has achieved 70 per cent success, but noted that ITF does not go into training just for training sake, rather it feels satisfied when those trained are gainfully employed or become self-employed. In with with this sentiment, she speaks on the collaboration with Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), the Bank of Industry (BoI), SMEDAN and other international agencies, aimed at ensuring that Nigerian youths are well trained to be engaged and invariably knock unemployment into oblivion.
No doubt a strategist, Onaeko speaks more on her plans to expand the horizon of the organisation and ensure that companies and employers of labour diligently remit the 1 per cent contributions for the running of the training centre.
The Industrial Training Fund (ITF)’s mandate has always been the same – training, training, training. But it’s just that recently we’ve been given a specific number, just to guide us to remain focused. ITF is now mandated to train not less than two million annually, in that range. This is derived from the fact that currently the unemployment level is high and considering the fact that universities and polytechnics are graduating not less than a million every year. It’s important that we attempt to train that number annually to ensure that many more youths are skilled enough to be employed or to become self-employed, and that way keeping the unemployment level at the same rate of 23.9 per cent, rather than allowing it to escalate every other year. If we can’t reduce it drastically, we must make every effort to maintain it at the level it is right now and that is why we have to do more.
Mission so far
We’ve done a lot considering the fact that these past six months have been like a preparatory time for me and the rest of us in ITF. For the past six months, we have looked internally, we’ve worked within ourselves, re-inventing ourselves in different ways, carrying out the audit of the training centre, the trainers and looking at what we need to put in place to train more people. Who and who do we need to collaborate with, to be able to train more people, which I think is very important, because laying the foundation for a brighter tomorrow starts by working internally to review what you have. Also, we have collaborated with lots of key stakeholders to carry out more trainings like we have done with Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and the Technical School of Singapore. We have graduated about 30 in Abuja around June last year. We’ve also commenced first phase of National Industrial Skill Development Programme (NISDP), where we trained 1,000 per state, and all together; we are to train 37,000 all over the states of the federation. I believe we’ve done a whole lot in the area of optimising programme for organisations and state governments. In Kano, we trained about 1,250 people in one batch in July. We would also train more, and recently they have graduated almost that same number. We have done that in so many other states as well because we have a lot of training activities going on all over the place. The NIRDP would be rounded off this January, God willing. We have also mandated our Area Managers to go out there and also develop strategy on how they can train a good number of the citizens of their states towards meeting the two million mandate and they’ve come up with lots of ideas on what they want to do and how we can go forward in 2015. We have also taken inventory of the training centres existing in the states. What we want to do is to be able to coordinate these training centres because that is what ITF was set up to do. We are standardising the training institutions as well as training that comes out of the centre.
So for the first time, they are waking up to their responsibilities of standardising and also coordinating some of these activities. There are still lots of positive things coming out from that.
Feasibility of training two million annually
I don’t believe in impossibility as a person and, of course, that doesn’t mean we ignore the challenges that exist. When we are looking at that we will be paying more attention to opportunity that abounds at the end of the day. ITF is tailored in such a way to provide short term and long term training programmes. The opportunities are there and we believe we can do it. It is feasible and it is achievable. The only thing is to work on the mindset of our people to make them really see the possibilities that will encourage them go the extra mile and that means to think outside the civil servant ways of thinking. We must think outside the box, to look at what we can do, what idea can we bring in, who can we reach out to, what can we discuss, what organisation can help us, trade groups, organisations, the facilities they have that can improve the training of youths. We are going ahead to collaborate with them and I believe we will achieve a whole lot more by doing that. It is achievable.
Success so far
We started mid year in 2014 and considering the fact that a lot of planning has to go into it and all that, I was not expecting that half of that would be achieved in the concluding year. However, whatever we achieved, whether a quarter or half of the number we have set as an annual target, was still good enough. It’s fantastic. So we are not thinking of achieving anything more than half of what we have projected for the year.
Providing job for trainees
Training is one and getting them to be gainfully employed is equally another. We don’t go into training just for training sake. We feel quite satisfied when those we train are gainfully employed or become self-employed and that is when we feel our mission has been accomplished. In doing that, we not only based it on our relationship with the organised private sector, with the employers of labour and I’m happy we are collaborating with organisations like NECA because they have members in companies, agencies and organisations that are always recruiting people and working with them; we’ve been able to achieve not less than 65-70 per cent success. We are adding to those who are gainfully employed either by the organisation that worked with us to train those people or other organisations with similar services. That is encouraging. We also trained multitude.
Recently, there was a group trained in Abuja. We have to write to organisations, construction firms, other institutions that have places for these people, that are providing services that these trainees are skilled in. They actually took them in as interns and in the process they found out that they were good and write to us that they wanted to retain them. That was how they were gainfully employed. We have achieved more than 60 per cent success rate, which is more encouraging but we are hoping that we can achieve 100 per cent. Nigeria is still a growing economy, considering the population of the youths that are unemployed because we may not have all the industries that would absorb those youths in Nigeria; that is the truth. But we also want to encourage these youths to go into their own businesses, that is, to become self-employed. We are working out a lot of logistics in that direction with SMEDAN by forming them into co-operatives, so that they can also access some forms of funding in some other organisations like Bank of Industry (BoI), so that they can be self-employed. I am also talking with some companies who can package some loans for these people to start off on their own. When that comes fully on board, I think more and more of them will become gainfully employed and self-employed. So I will say maybe 30 per cent of those we trained are still unemployed. But that is better compared to those 70 per cent that are gainfully employed. I think that is a success story.
Collaboration with NECA
The collaboration with NECA is something that has been around for about six years or so. It is borne out of the necessity to have skilled workers that would have relevant skills for the industries, more like mapping the market needs of the industries, but at a very small scale. We are just trying to make it bigger. It is also something that is almost similar to the Germans, but it’s just that this one is mainly ITF and the companies. ITF is providing the funding for equipping facilities for those centres to train the people, while the companies are providing the skills and the enabling environment for the trainees to work and giving them the opportunity to practice what they are learning there, just like an intern. NECA, being the umbrella association of those companies, is providing the platform on which we can have the collaboration. ITF cannot go from one company to the other individually, to say, we want to partner; that is a lot of work. So NECA helps us to bridge that gap. They become the foot soldiers to reach out to their members. So a lot of the trainers at the industry level are also staff of the companies where the training is being carried out. So its a win-win arrangement. They have more hands working with them in the form of the trainees who are attached there. There are times when they become better at what they do and become more useful to the companies. Though they may not all be retained by the company after completion of their training, some of them do get retained. For example, when we visited Truckmaster during our tour recently, the company said it would retain one of them who specialises in body spray of automobiles. Even though the boy would like to go somewhere else, but they were offering him opportunity to stay back because he is passionate about the job. There are others as well who have distinguished themselves that the company equally wants to retain. It’s a success story. It helped the trainees to be able to imbibe the culture of the company where they are working, to be able to learn in a structured environment closely. I think it’s a good way to begin to mentor the younger generation to imbibe best practices and be able to start up in an organised way.
ITF is at the fore front of funding this collaboration because we provide all the funding most of the time and help to set up the equipment as well as pay the facilitators. We also provide stipends to the youths, for feeding and transportation. In some instances, we also provide them grants to start up if they cannot access any loan or form of funding from any other agency or organisation, which really is a stretch for ITF. We would like to have other agencies intervening because this is a very noble cause. I must emphasise it. I believe this is the way Nigeria should go in the area of job creation. You can’t have it any better. It’s time saving and it’s focused on the industrial need and it’s relevant to the company. It makes it easier for the company to employ or absorb these people. So we see it as a very good opportunity to create job for the younger ones. So it’s not really about what it’s costing us, it’s about the result we are getting. We would not escalate this, but ITF has not got all the money, we have limited resources with so many responsibilities to take care of. So we are calling on the Federal Government and other agencies who can come in to fund them. Intervention funding is required in this programme to be able to take it to a higher level, to escalate it to where we can reach out to all the states of the federation and be able to impact more youths and empower them. But right now, ITF is actually carrying out the funding and I cannot be able to specifically say a figure right now; it’s really costing us a lot of money. Talking about technical or vocational equipment, the automobile equipment, it’s huge and they don’t come cheap. They cost a lot and this has been running for couple of years.
Every year, we have a list of equipment we want to procure. For instance, the Government College in Ikorodu was equipped by ITF to enable the students learn and be exposed to how to use those machines. They are not cheap, but we would appreciate when we have the intervention probably from the government one way or the other and we reach out to a couple of people if they want to make a donation of equipment, we will be happy to receive that. We are not doing as much as we need to because of the limited funding. I also wish to use this opportunity to reach out to industries, organisations that wish to please feel free to collaborate with us, reach out to ITF because its of great benefit to them. They would have the opportunity to upgrade some of their equipment, which they can also use for their own jobs or functions because while the trainees are working they can also use the same machine like servicing a vehicle. So long as the equipment are well maintained and operated by the trainees. I think it’s a win-win arrangement. The companies that are contributing to ITF also get to benefit a lot. They are having more hands coming to work in their system, they are also having quality trainees to work with. So it saves them a lot of cost in hiring and firing. I see it as a win-win arrangement for both the industry, the government and the unemployed in the country. And I believe this is what the government is about. The Federal Government has been hammering on job creation and we are happy to help in that direction.
We budget over a billion naira annually and would like to do more. Looking at what’s on ground, we require money in billions to achieve that because it depends on the sector. We have not even talked about the oil and gas sector, because to set up facility in that industry would cost us some good billions of naira. We can also move into automobile sector, which is directly supporting the automobile policy of the Federal Government. We are looking at the agro allied sector, like it was in the farm we visited. We look at the light manufacturing and fabrication sector. A lot of these sectors are capital intensive when you talk about installing lots of equipment for these trainees to work with. A lot of the organisations do not want to risk their equipment by exposing an apprentice to use equipment they invested so much money on. That is why ITF had to come in and provide the equipment so that the trainees can have the freedom to use them, to learn with them and get better. It costs a lot and they are all modern equipment. We don’t go for the obsolete ones, because they are modern they come at a premium and we are happy to do that. We want to do more and that is why I’m speaking about some other important people coming to work with ITF in that direction. Whatever we need to do to empower these youths to become employable or self-employed is not too expensive. It’s better than leaving them to roam the streets looking for jobs th not equipped for. When they are well equipped they will create the job, that is more important for us right now.
Role of ITF in industrial revolution
The Industrial Revolution is one of the most robust development plans that have ever come to be in Nigeria. It’s fantastic. It touches on key sectors of the economy, like the growth sector and government is focusing on that; looking at how to support growth in those sectors – the agro-allied sector, of course, the oil and gas sector is there, and manufacturing. They are all lined up. Then the support sector, and when you talk of this, skill is one of these, it’s fundamental. Other things that are fundamental include structure, access to finance, among others. Skills come in as well, skill is one of the key supportive structures in the NIRP document. When you talk about skill, you talk about ITF. ITF is the only government agency set up to provide skill, to train. From the first day it was set up that was its mandate; to be the foremost training institution in Nigeria, to build the indigenous capacity to fill both the private and the public sectors of the economy. So doing that is its major responsibility, especially when it’s been highlighted in the industrial revolution plan. There are so many gaps, so many things that ITF needs to begin to look into, like matching the skills being developed with the market needs, because right now, it is not aligned and that’s why employers are complaining that graduates are not meeting their needs. It is a gap, it’s a major gap. I was at an education forum last year and I listened through the session, and it was clear to everyone there that this is a big problem. How can we realign the products coming out from the schools with the market needs? It’s not something that can be achieved overnight, really. What the ITF is concerned about is to come in as an intervention institution to bridge that gap quickly.
How do we do that? First and foremost, we are carrying out a broad and holistic fill-in-the-gap survey. We are carrying it out in collaboration with United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). For the first time, this will help us to know clearly where the gap exists, which sector would be the major job creator in the next five to 10 years and what type of skills are being required in those sectors in the next two, five, 10 years. How can we now begin to train our youths to fill those gaps? We need to know in the power sector, how many skills are required in the specific areas? Is it five thousand or 10 thousand? So many things we have not been paying attention to will come to the fore. The beauty of it is that we will have a clue about those things and we will begin to channel our limited resources to producing people specifically to fill these gaps. As they are trained, they are not idle, they are fully engaged. They are trained to fill a gap, they are not trained to be static. We ensure that even if its 10,000 trainees, those 10,000 would be gainfully employed because they are needed in the sector. I think its a very beautiful arrangement and that is really the fact.