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‘Training is crucial to sucess of Lagos employment fund’


 Akin Oyebode

Akin Oyebode

The N25 billion employment trust fund established by the Lagos state government will facilitate access to funding for over 100,000 entrepreneurs in the state. However the training of the entrepreneurs is an important part of the process. Akin Oyebode, the executive secretary at the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund joined CNBC Africa’s Wole Famurewa to talk about this.

A good place to start is to tell us about where you are with this project. Tell us how this is going to work.
So it works on a few levers. Obviously one of them is access to finance, so funding micro, small and medium enterprises, that’s a call out function. But outside of that, you also have to build capacity so there’s access to capacity, there’s access to markets. To help these businesses grow and succeed, and especially grow sustainably, you’ve got to impart some business skills to these companies.

So you don’t only train entrepreneurs. You also need partners to support them as they grow. You need to help them create new markets and ultimately ensure that the loans are paid back and that the fund runs sustainably and that the ultimate goal of job creation is attained.

Absolutely. We look forward to that, but on the training side of things, how are you looking to execute this plan?
There are different layers of training. On one side it’s training beneficiaries of the loan scheme, and on another it’s matching the people of Lagos State to jobs and ensuring that blue collar workers have the right accreditation and are trained to a certain standard so that those people can take up positions as freelance artisans or take existing jobs within the private sector.

We’ve heard complaints from different corporations within the private sector about the difficulties associated with the search for skilled technicians. These jobs could be blue collar jobs or technology related. The important thing about the second layer is for us to demonstrate that if we get people to the right level of skill they will find employment.

This is a great opportunity to address this issue. If you speak to those in the construction and housing sector they’ll tell you clearly about the skill deficit that exists in Nigeria. They actually import skills when they are trying to execute quickly. Can you tell us how long you expect this training process to take, for us to get a good chunk of the local artisans engaged in the market here?

One of the things we must be careful about is jumping in head on. These trainings will vary. What we’re doing at the moment is identifying the skills that the market needs. Some might take as long as year to build the people from scratch to the level that these organisations want. Some might take as long as three months, and in some cases the technical skills are available. It’s the personal effectiveness skills that need to be developed! So it will vary, depending on the skills gap. For some it might take a month, but for some others it may take as long as a year.

Let’s take it to the educational institutions in Nigeria. To what extent do you think that the institutions need to up their game to accommodate the needs of the environment?
There are a few things that we need to think about here. One of them is the curriculum. Entrepreneurship isn’t something that people are often exposed to early on. It certainly doesn’t happen in secondary school, it may happen a little bit in university if you do some work study program. For example, when I was in University, I had colleagues who were doing work-study programs and it was a great experience for them.

It helped them go through school with some cash in hand, and it provided a great platform for them to learn a thing or two about entrepreneurship. That’s one of the things that we need to do. We need to ensure that at secondary school for example, we have lots of business clubs where people are exposed to businesses and they receive a level of mentorship. We need to get entrepreneurs to talk to them at an early age. You’ve got to show people that you can be successful by running businesses the right way.

You don’t have to get the Dangote’s and the Tony Elumelu’s to do it. You only need the people who own micro, small and medium enterprises, who are really the engine of the economy, to go there and say, “Hey guys, it is not all rosy. It’s not like you’re all going to be billionaires but this is how I’ve been able to build my business from one store to five stores. This is how I’ve been able to run this business for twenty years and transfer it to someone else.” There are some basic skills we need to teach.One of our biggest challenges today in Nigeria and Sub Saharan Africa, is that we’ve got this culture of transferring ownership of businesses based on parentage.

So people give their businesses to their children not considering that their children may not be the best people to run the business. Those are some of the cultural skills that we need to start to unlearn. To unlearn those skills it will take time. It’s not going to happen in a two or three day workshop at the Faith foundation or the Lagos business school. It’s going to happen through continuous interaction and continuous exposure to the principles behind running a good business. There’s no better time to start that than secondary school.

How do we get the private sector behind the initiatives that your trust fund supports? It’s so important that we get more people involved, because everyone speaks about the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians in particular. We really need to unleash it, because that’s the only way we’re really going to plug this unemployment hole that we have.
One of our core mandates is that we ensure that the private sector with both local and international actors matches the efforts of the government. The government contributes N6.25 billion. Governor Ambode of Lagos State released the first part of that in March and we expect that by showing credibility by executing in line with our strategy, we’ll encourage private bodies to support a lot of our initiatives. Apart from the supply of funds it’s also essential that they be a part of the development of some of these programs. One of our roles is to provide leverage via policy and policy advice. We’re in the right place to get feedback from businesses and then use that to assist the government in making the right decisions that will make Lagos a more attractive business environment.

It’s great to see that this is happening in Lagos, the commercial centre of Nigeria, but I’d really like you to speak about the efforts of the other states in Nigeria. There is an opportunity for them to craft similar programs to get behind entrepreneurs.

To be fair with a lot of things with done in Lagos, Governor Ambode has been very clear about the state’s parnerships with other states. If you think of Lagos state’s partnership with Kebbi where the rice is grown in Kebbi and milled in Lagos. Those developments show that there are opportunities to collaborate. Other states also have their own entrepreneurship drives. Kaduna is doing some great things, and a few other states are thinking of joining the bacd wagon. Our goal is to be the gold standard for solving the unemployment problem, not just for other states in Nigeria, but for Sub Saharan Africa and other similarly afflicted parts of the world.

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Akin Oyebode

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