But 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.
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.
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! 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.
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 come 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.
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.
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.
Matthew Lauer in his article titled: The future of work requires a return to apprenticeship, published in The Nation of March 9, 2020, put it succinctly when he noted that the skills required for the skilled jobs are not taught in the traditional university. He argued that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will eliminate many whiteand blue-collar jobs. This is perhaps the reason many countries are now prioritising TVET, and he cited the example of Switzerland where 2/3 of young people are pursuing dual-track classroom and vocational training.
The point must be made that nations do not just become great. Greatness is assured only on the heels of concerted investment in their people. Therefore, for Nigeria to emerge as a superpower, as commensurate with its latent potential, there has to be calculated investment in people and skills. This, of course, will be with a view to fully developing comparative areas of strength and positioning for global relevance.
Nigeria will do well to learn from the stories of such outstandingly successful models as you find in Asia, for instance. The phenomenal progress countries such as China, South Korea and India have made with technology show what is possible when nations own their destinies and follow through with definite strategic roadmap. There are indications that the growing rate of Chinese students studying STEM-related courses in America in the last few decades, for instance, is not unconnected with a covert agenda for technological transfer.
Taking a cue from similar policies deployed in advanced economies like the industrially-rich Germany, the imperativeness of the policy stems from its usefulness in providing sharp strategic direction to the overall formal and informal skills development processes in the country. Covering such broad areas as institution-based skills development and sectoral skills development which includes formal and informal apprenticeship models, the policy would assist to align the developmental priorities of the nation with active measures to produce the relevant manpower for both immediate and future needs of the nation.
Sadly, there was a time the country thought better and acted in consonance with best global practices. Just sixty years ago, through the 1959 Ashby Commission Report, the Nigerian government had been counselled on her manpower needs for post-school certificate and higher education over a 20-year period. That report had enunciated both the intermediate and high-level manpower needs of the country, detailing the actual supply rate and estimated capacity of the nation’s tertiary educational institutions.
It should be said that Nigeria needs to now urgently implement thorough skills gap analysis to help provide real-time data and on the actual human capital needs of the country. With such data, the nation is better informed on the extent of skills deficiency and the opportunities available for transformation. Anything short of this is tantamount to paying lip-service to solving the current job crises in the country.
Like Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, said, “Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation, there is sure to be failure”. Without a national policy in place, it will yet be a long walk to the ideal situation in skill acquisition.
- Professor Salami is the Vice-Chancellor, First Technical University, Ibadan.