Challenges of bridging skills gap in technical fields
Achieving sustainable development requires integrative approaches that embed formal and informal education.While Nigeria is making efforts to encourage technical and vocational training, as part of steps to tackle unemployment, there is still a yawning gap at forging an integration that is formidable enough to achieve the required impact.
Over three decades, formulators of Nigeria’s educational policies have been subjected to severe criticisms for deliberately designing educational curricular for white-collar jobs in silos. Indeed, that has led to the gradual demise of technical colleges, and the departure from the ideals that formed the establishment of Polytechnic education, which was meant to bridge mid-manpower needs of the country.
This departure, which led to the rivalry between the university and polytechnic graduates is now a threat to national development, as paper qualification prioritised at the expense of technical education.With most technical and vocational colleges around the country in comatose, Federal Government’s later day posture of encouraging vocational and entrepreneurship education has been largely academic.
Experts are of the view that the neglect of technical and vocational education is already hampering Nigeria’s technological advancement.They argued that neglecting technical and vocational education is perhaps one of the reasons for the importation of technical skills from neighbouring countries.
The shortage of technical expertise, according to them, is part of the challenges preventing the practical application of the Nigerian Content Act 2010, and stressed the need to revamp technical and vocational education in the country.
For instance, the School of Technical Education (STE), formerly Technical Teacher Training Programme (TTTP), was designed by the Federal Ministry of Education to provide the needed manpower in the area of primary, technical and secondary levels of the national education system.
The TTTP started in the Yaba College of Technology, during the 1992/1993 academic session for the award of B.Sc. (Ed.) degree in Technical and Vocational Education in affiliation with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Similarly, the military administration of the then General Olusegun Obasanjo promulgated Decree 33 of 1979 (amended by Decree 5 of 1993), to give legal backing for the establishment of federal polytechnics for the training of middle-level technological manpower for the nation’s industries.
To make the polytechnics attractive, attempts have been made to rate Higher National Diploma (HND), at par with university degree.Unfortunately, today a dichotomy exists between university degrees and higher national diplomas, and employers of labour, both in the public and private sectors, are in favour of the former.
This development has done a lot to drastically reduce the interest of Nigerian youths in polytechnic education.
Matters are also not helped when youths perceive white-collar jobs as being more prestigious, and therefore more respectable, while technical jobs in the factories are seen as demeaning and for dropouts who could not acquire university education.
Speaking at the presentation of Austrian-German-Swiss Business Outlook (AGSBO) 2019, a delegate in the German Embassy, Dr Marc Lucassen, noted the huge skill gap in the technical fields, adding that the Embassy is willing to partner with government on training.He also said the embassies of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, are very active in the area of skills development across the country, noting that development collaboration is very important.
According to him: “We are willing to partner with Nigeria in solving the problem of skilled labour and one of our major constraints is the availability of skilled labour. One of the things we want to do is to establish a large German vocation centre which will not necessarily be for Germans, but whoever is willing in being part of the vocational training scheme in terms of financing, on job and off job training.
“In Adamawa, I established 10 vocational training centres, with 2,800 apprentices. Therefore, I understand clearly what the issues are, especially the needs and reality and how to bridge the gap. But it is very long way. If you want to train somebody professionally, you need two or four years. You need to train people on the job, they have to learn and understand the craft, and it is expensive.
“It is an issue and it is constraint from the political perspective. What the German companies are doing presently is that they are training in house which is very expensive.”
The immediate past president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM), Udom Inoyo argued that a labour surplus economy like Nigeria should not have any reason to import certain skills if we are truly desirous of tackling unemployment.
“For example, if you visit some of the building sites with on-going construction projects, you will realise that a lot of the workers are from neighbouring countries.He stated: “In addition, the shortage of technical expertise is part of the challenges preventing the practical application of Local Content Act 2010 in the country. So we cannot over emphasise the need to revisit and revamp technical and vocational education in Nigeria.
“I always tell young folks that the era of white shirt and tie is gone. People need to get their hands dirty and take pride in any job that they do. The housing sector is still untapped in Nigeria and yet we are not prepared for the opportunities. Buildings don’t have straight lines, tiling is a problem, painters are in a hurry and plumbers are unavailable. What of the power sector with huge skilled and semi-skilled opportunities?”
Recently, Edo State opened a collaborative effort with the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and ITF (Industrial Training Fund) through the NECA-ITF Technical Skills Development Project to develop skills for youths in Edo State as well as job creation and employment through Public Private Partnership.
Governor Godwin Obaseki, who paid a courtesy visit to NECA Secretariat in Lagos, also sought the development of vocational and technical skills of students of the Benin Technical College. ITF- NECA initiative is a Public-Private Sector initiative aimed at developing vocational and technical skills in Nigeria.
The NECA-ITF TSDP initiative is to train students to acquire more skills and manpower development that will equip them for employment after College.Its objectives, he said, are to provide employable skills to trainees to meet the middle-level manpower of industry needs in specific trade areas as well as prepare trainees for life-after-school by empowering them with entrepreneurial skills for job creation.
The TSDP Project was established as part of a policy response to the outcome of a Joint Survey of Contemporary Manpower requirement in the Nigerian economy, which was presented to the Public in March/April 2008.Officer in Charge (Regional Office), of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Dr Chuma Ezedinma said for the country to confront the current unemployment crisis, emphasis must be placed on education that support the development of technical and entrepreneurial skills and competencies.
Ezedinma in a book titled, ‘Nations Are Built By Skills’, said there is need to re-align the schools curricula to focus on the development needs of the country. He added: “One important area is the re-alignment of the curricula to highlight the importance of skills training and entrepreneurship. In this respect, there is need to involve industries and strengthen public-private partnership in education. Improving employability requires closing the gap between the education and work worlds.”
On the way forward, many experts opined that most the Nigerian technical colleges are not fulfilling their mandates. They argued that the dearth of skilled and technical hands contributed to this collapse. They said there is the need to go back and address the challenges confronting it.
Vice Chancellor, Veritas University, Abuja, Prof Michael Kwanashie noted that the standard of technical schools in the country gradually collapsed over the last three decades. He said the dearth of skilled and technical hands contributed to this collapse.
“There was once a conscious effort by the government to develop technical and vocational skills. So, we used to have technical colleges, teachers’ colleges and others.“But presently, education has become more elitist. Everyone wants a degree. Nobody even wants to go to these technical colleges anymore because the values being espoused by our leaders tend to support this position.
“Most of the technical colleges we have presently have collapsed. They have no equipment and lack the required teachers. It is so bad that today, if you need a very skilled plumber or any other artisan, you have to go to Benin and Togo; you have to leave the country to be able to get them. This is so because the government and the citizens have neglected technical and vocational education.”
Everyone wants to have a Bachelor’s Degree.“It is our value system that is faulty. The mind-set of Nigerians is to look for white-collar jobs and sit in offices. People don’t want to work with their hands. What we can do is to bring back values and development programmes that will encourage vocational education and skills acquisition.
“The government is trying to encourage people through the provision of capital to establish themselves in business. But we still have to go back and address the challenges facing our technical schools,” he submitted.
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