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‘Economic reforms geared toward employment creation’

By Clara Nwachukwu   |   29 May 2017   |   3:30 am

Babatunde Durosimi-Etti

The major thrust of the present administration is job creation and improving the welfare of Nigerians. To walk the talk, Lagos State has gone ahead to create a Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment. In this interview, the Commissioner overseeing the ministry, Babatunde Durosimi-Etti, a former chairman of the state investment company, Ibile Holding, told CLARA NWACHUKWU, that Lagos plans to reduce unemployment by at least 50 per cent through various initiatives. Excerpts:

You are the Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment; there cannot be wealth without employment. How are you going about creating this employment in order to empower the youth?
I do agree with you on the correlation that you need to be employable before you can be an entrepreneur and subsequently create wealth. The most important thing with the work we are doing here is to make sure that we first of all look at past initiatives, what have gone wrong in the past, the failure of the government to address this lingering crisis over time to be able to develop a methodology. And the idea is to work first, and we must know that what government should do is to create a conducive environment for the private sector. For other stakeholders that will interplay in that ecosystem to be able to create this wealth. What that means is partnering with the private sector. It’s only the private sector that can create jobs by stimulating the SMEs that can create jobs; the small businesses will create job outlets.

But going back into that, we are going back to the schools; there has been a failure of cognitive institutions that reinforces the formal educations that will catalyse the employability skills of our young ones. That is lacking. We need to look at moving back, catching them young, no more volunteer jobs. We need a re-orientation, we need to look at gender; gender is very important when it comes to creating the necessary ingredients that would fit into employability skills, so gender has a strong interplay. When we look at what our international development partners are doing, they and the private sector have filled that vacuum when government failed to address the issues. They set up their own institutions; they have their own initiatives, so the idea now is we need to work with them. We have to be an enabler to be able to do that.

At the state level, we looked at a general policy, whereby we looked at the states sectorial reforms are going. You see, all these reforms are going to work out one day. There are going to be a lot of jobs along the line; how is this going to be sustained? Who are the people going to harness the gaps? Who are the work creators between the value chains? We need to start training our younger ones, starting today. That’s why one of the things we are working on assiduously is going back to our educational system; our counterparts and the Ministry of Education have started taking coding back to the primary schools; we are moving to the universities and the polytechnics. We have a ready set work, which is already an initiative where students needs to work before they graduate to be able build up their employability skills. We are also talking to private partners who probably are going to be setting up call-in centres in Lagos State University (LASU), and in Lagos Polytechnic, in addition to innovation centres where accountants, young science students, engineering students can actually pick from real life situations supported by the private sector. So this prepares our young ones by the time they are leaving, either to become more employable, or to move rightly into the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

On the other hand, for those going into entrepreneurship, as you are aware that his Excellency Gov. Akinwumi Ambode promised, and he is delivering on that promise that over a four-year period about N6.25billion will be appropriated annually, making a total of N25billion. He set up the Employment Trust Fund (ETF), but what’s the difference? In the past we have had other similar trust funds being setup but in the most cases it was run by the government. But now, the reverse is the case. It seats independently and accountable to the people, to be transparent in an inclusive manner and driven by technology. You don’t need to know anybody to be able to access it, and it’s going to be giving out small loans to SMEs and also small businesses and micro enterprises at five per cent per annum. What I am saying indirectly is – the opportunities are there. We need to drive competition amongst our youths. When you create a good ecosystem, and you give them the tools to build up their capacity, you must be able to drive competition amongst the youth, and the more they become competitive the more they become better for the system.

By the way, when you talk about employability, you can have capital employment, and you can have structural employment. But what we are much more concerned about in the Ministry is sustainable employment, which fits in into the GDP of the state, its development and subsequently improves the quality of life of all Lagosians.

In your narrative, you talked about past initiatives and the new trust fund. If the government is voting N6.25billion per annum or N25billion for four years, it means that the fund would only last for the period of this administration. In the light of the failures of the past initiatives you spoke about, what is the guarantee that after this government, whether it gets a second term or not, that this project would be sustained?
It would definitely be sustained because; the ETF was set up by an act of parliament. I will tell you one thing, it constituted a nine man board, seven of them cutting across gender, youths, and entrepreneurs. The only two people that are government officials there basically are this Ministry, and my counterpart in Finance. They have Ernst & Young as auditors, they have PricewaterhouseCoopers as accountants. Independently, the process has been institutionalised, and right now they are in the process of setting up call in centres like customer service whereby you can make enquiries, and you can track your application. I will tell you one thing, for any government that comes in through democratic intervention, anything that has inclusiveness of the people; I believe only a progressive government will always be there. Once there is a progressive government, it becomes very difficult to change.

Talking about cognitive institutions and training of youths, and collaborating with the education system, how do you determine the kind of skills or capacity to impact on the youths, because one thing the private sector keeps complaining about despite the thousands that are being churned out from our higher institutions is lack of capacity?
There are some generic skills that are quite important when it comes to employability. You talk about time management, about team work, accountability, moral values, and ability to take on responsibilities and write very well. These are the basic skills expected from any graduate. We have seen graduates who studied zoology and work in an accounting firm and became top accountants; we have seen lawyers who moved into the banking system and became top bankers. When I talked about cognitive skills, and going down to the universities and the polytechnics what we are looking at is the entrepreneurial aspect it. For example, the call in centres we intend to put up in LASU, we intend to put up in the polytechnic, which will also be complemented with an ICT Hub in Yaba, and another call in centre in Epe cover practically the whole of the state. We are talking about the Badagry, Ojo Axis, Ikorodu Axis, Yaba taking care of the mainland, and the Epe axis, so it’s a very large coverage. Apart from the ICT in Yaba, which is quite big and going to sit on 15,000 square meters, we also probably going to be looking at situations whereby others are situated in universities and tertiary campuses. When a student has the flexibility to work in a call in centre and starts earning money while in school, that happens abroad but we do not have all those things here. When you start earning money while in school, you become accountable and you know what it means to pay, what to do with you money, and it keeps them also busy. Why do we have all these riots, why do we have all these youths on the streets? It’s because they don’t know what to do. You must start from somewhere, and when you start from somewhere I believe it will expand, and it will also rekindle the trust of the private sector in governance, and will make them to also look on how to invest more into other areas.

You spoke about gender, how do you determine what percentage of men and women or age brackets and other demography in allocating the resources?
I will quickly give you an example. We have a graduate internship programme coming on, and at the stakeholders’ meeting we had, there was a lady, who when the issue of gender came up, she said: “no, don’t go by gender, we do not want male or female, just leave it that way.” And her reason was that she was confident that as long as the process is transparent, we will have more females dominating. You will probably find out that when competition arises you will find out that the females have actually dominated the males even when it is free and fair. Looking at gender is controversial, but gender gives the basic moral values to anybody, all of us here; it is what our mothers start teaching us right from the home that start shaping your values.

Your partnership with international institutions, how many of such partnerships are you working with in this job creation and entrepreneurship programme?
We have an ongoing relationship with the Mercy Corps International, which is being supported by the Coca-Cola Foundation, USAID, Nestle and a few other organisations. What they have done is that they have trained about 7,000 young women within the age range of 18-35 in Lagos State, and in training them we have ongoing engagements in five local governments whereby we intend to take that template up into the remaining 15 local governments. These 7,000 as we are speak are already going through the Employment Trust Fund to be able to access micro loans to support their micro businesses.

We also have an ongoing relationship with Microsoft. Microsoft has been kind to support us with a technology platform to create a virtual market for our artisans. Artisans are quite important in the society; we are going to sort of create a virtual market place for them whereby if you need a plumber, all you need to do is to go online and you get one within your location. You will ask me how we are going to do this. We complained that there is a deficit skill gap in artisanship but the thing is, they really don’t know where the artisans are. But we know where they are we, and we will have them captured in a data base in this Ministry. We also have AfriOne, the mobile phone company supporting us on this, and the idea is that artisans will also be able to have access with that platform into the Ibile micro file and also harness the small loops. In addition to that, we will also support them at affordable rates and capture them on that platform to be able to register for the Lagos State health insurance, which will give them very good qualitative healthcare for family of six. We are also looking at, how we can encourage that environment for them to have access to market and to have access to capital which will also grow their businesses; this will bring them more into the formal sector.

We talk about the lively informal sector but today technology has actually brought everyone together. As woman, I’m sure if you want to order fish, you can call your fish seller on the phone, and say: “this is what I want” and you can see how it has driven the market, how it has driven communication, brought reduction in overhead cost. With the state at 50 years, we have to be able to provide something all-inclusive.

We are also working with the American Embassy, the Consulate General has been kind enough to give quite a number of grants to Lagos entrepreneurs, and the one we are just concluding with is the Street Foundation; they just trained about over 100 young ones in the area of creative arts, culture, theatre and also drama, and they sort of brought out the talents in them. We are going to pull in about 46 of them into our graduate internship scheme. We have created outlets for artists who are probably going to be fitting into another gallery, and we are going to take few of them and put them through into our collaboration with Ruff n’ Tumble, to train those who show talent in sewing and train them in the garment industry

Quite a lot of these entrepreneurs will also have gone through trainings, they have gone through capacity building, which will also encourage them and make them available in the pipeline for the ETF, and be able to access small loans. And we are not stopping on that at the ETF side; we’ve got start up consultants working on business development support services for all these people. , So it’s not as if we are telling them to just take a loan the way other financial institutions will do, the social impact is also very important. We have offices in five local government, we have complementary support services from ETF in the 20 local governments. Eventually, what we’re doing with Mercy Corp is to go back to the days of guidance and counselling. We will train about 30 of our personnel, who will be like Training of Trainers (ToTs). If you’re in Badagry, students can go in for career guidance and counselling to determine what they can do. We are also working with the Ford Foundation on technical capacity building for the Ministry. We are also working with General Electric in the area of entrepreneurship support, and I know ETF also has a relationship with the UNDP.

Information is power, so how does the target audience get to know about all of these initiatives, or what are the awareness creation measures that the Ministry has adopted?
First and foremost, through the good work you are doing talking to you, and our next step is that Microsoft has been graceful to support us they are donating an interactive board. Eventually, that interactive board that we are working on with Poise and with a lot of encouragement from Ford Foundation is to be able to create electronic platform whereby all employers and all trainers will be able to key in into what we are doing. For example, if you’re looking for a job, you go to the board and you’ll be able to pick up Jobbermann, Joblink to see what is on offer and training schools. Information is key, and that is what our young ones really need. The good thing is that the board makes sure that we know those that are advertised on it. We create that enabling environment that they are genuine offtakers, and that they are genuine facilitators so that we don’t have cases of people being duped. We are advocating an end to scams where by unemployed youths are being exploited because they don’t have information.

In terms of partnership, apart from international institutions you have mentioned, are there other collaborations with the corporate institutions like the banks, oil companies, and others?
Yes, we launched our graduate internship programme, which is being done with a lot of offtakers and collaborators whereby we intend on the competitive bases to have 2,000 graduates with an age limit of 30, to have three months internship in quite a number of all these organisations. We’ve had a meeting with First Bank recently, looking at taking between 20 and 50 interns to start up with. We are working with Mactay as the consultant for this, to make sure that it is devoid of political process. We are working with the offtakers and on the board you will find that all the employers can see the interview scores for every single applicant that is being screened online. The applicant will get pin codes because as you are being interviewed, in front of you, I have a laptop doing the assessment, asking the questions and everything and your scores and grades are being uploaded right there. So if you are an employability partner, you have a pin code, you go online and could see what everyone scored. So it’s transparent and you don’t have to know anybody.

We are also working on how to make sure that our employability partners also have to sit down on the interview panels to look at how it goes. The good thing about this is, with 2000 as a pilot, some partners have said: “three months is too small, how can it fit into my structure programme, can you move it to six months?” and we look at them and make sure they don’t use it for personnel support because we are paying their salary for those three months. So we also ask them, what is the career plans you have if you want us to extend it up to six months so we know that the young ones are not being used and after six months they come back. Like I told you, what we are looking at is sustained development.

You said it would be devoid of politics and nepotism. Does that mean that any Nigerian, irrespective of tribe or religion can access these facilities?
Yes of course, so long as the applicant passes the eligibility criteria. This is clear – you must be up to 30, you must have a Lagos State residency and Identification and a few other things.

You talked about creating jobs on so many platforms, how many jobs does this administration envision to create before the expiration of its term?
When we look at the numbers, these are very catchy. I owe it to my mandate and the oath of office to tell the truth, but it’s very difficult to put in numbers when you are rebuilding an ecosystem. Is it sustainable? Is it cyclical? I can take the N25billion and give everybody N100million each, and I will tell you I have created 25 million jobs and put up photograph. But in six months’ time they will come back hungry. Like I said, so far we have trained 7,000 within the past one year through Marcy Corp, and we have created opportunities for about 10,000 people, another 2,000 coming up under the graduate internship programme and we have other initiatives.

But I cannot tell you it is the end of the game and then I can tell you: “yes, these people are actually kidding.” Once a conducive ecosystem is there, it’s easier for you to track. If you want me to tell you how many people I have captured through my employment centres, I have about 50,000 registered as at today seeking for employment. In in the process, we also have some people that currently working and still they are underemployed, so I think what is most important is for Nigerians to really understand how to define employment and what kind of employment makes us fit in a positive manner.

I’m happy you raised the issue of underemployment, and increasingly, because of the economic situation, we are having a whole lot of that. In determining who to assist first, do you take this into consideration – those who are already working and looking for better placement against those who don’t have anything at all?
You need to be able to balance that and that’s why we believe it has to be inclusive and transparent, and it must be competitive. Is there anything wrong if am a graduate, and a clerk today and I see another opportunity and I compete for it and I top the class? There are also those graduates who are unemployed because they refused to take the job of that clerk, so it’s a very ambiguous situation. This is one the reasons why I said when we start looking at numbers, which has been the bane of this country. You ask, what samples have you taken? What are the samples for? Do we know how many people come into Lagos every day and how many people go out? There are a lot of factors that we need to consider. If am asking for a World Bank loan, that’s when I’ll talk about numbers. Basically, what we should do is to say that we are reconstructing a conducive ecosystem to boast employment and employability, and in the process of reconstructing, you need to look at where you are and where you are going, and your strategy and the opportunities inherent.

In terms of sustained employment, one of the things I found out since I started this journey, is, there needs to be a lot of reorientation amongst our young ones. They don’t want to work, they don’t want to volunteer, and we must realise that this is the message we really need to send out. When we have to talk about numbers, we are not helping the system because once we do, we get distracted. In fact I get so annoyed when people insist on this. One thing is, I talk to a lot of youths here every day because I created an open door policy, and I don’t have any appointment days. I see everybody, and a lot of them that have done excellently well, we have encouraged them in terms of entrepreneurship. There are also some that come and they feel that it’s government so it has to be driven.

When I assumed office here, I met huge files of training proposals, and I said: “we are not going to train because there are a lot of international partners doing that already and we would support what they are doing.” We will only support training whereby there is an employability outlet. When you train people, you come with rising expectations that there is job at the end of the day, and when you don’t give them that job, then deprivation sets in and you make them worse than they were before.

Finally, Lagos is targeting to become the top economy in the continent and right now, we know that wealth creation and employment play a huge role in growing any economy’s GDP. What level of unemployment does this government want to leave behind at the end of this tenure?
If possible, this government does not want to leave any behind. One of the things I think this government would want to do is to see unemployment reduced by 50%. This might sound ambitious, because when you look at unemployment, you are looking at opportunities that you would have created that would have brought unemployment down to 50%. Opportunities include mind-set reorientation, for them to on a competitive base fit into that ecosystem, which we have created for them to harness these opportunities. We keep saying that people are unemployed, it’s not their fault; when we don’t have our Boys Scout, we don’t have Girls Guide, and we don’t have our Red Cross again. We don’t have our swimming pools any more. It’s not going to be only the Ministry alone; the ecosystem is being reinforced with all sorts of sectorial reforms in the area of creative arts, tourism, which are areas that our young ones never looked at because the ecosystem wasn’t there. With the State Government creating six new movie theatres and arts, the way Terra Culture is going in the state to create jobs in that industry. With tourism coming up, and Ministry of Tourism taking a look at it and saying: I am creating tourist sites and it will create jobs, as we will have tourist guides that will take visitors around, telling them the history of Madam Tinubu and lots more. If you take a look at sports, we have swimming pool and mini stadia coming up in many places, and then you have malls spring up. It is not something only the Ministry is doing but the state is creating all these sectors, they might be in silos but they are all part of the value chain and ecosystem.

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