‘Skills development key to tackling unemployment in Africa’
In this interview with Collins Olayinka in Abuja, the Director of Sponsorship and Partnership of iCreate Africa, ANNE DIRKLING, insists the continent must incentivise vocational skills to stem youth unemployment.
What influences the establishment of iCreate Africa?
iCreate Africa is a social enterprise that was created as a hub for skill excellence to promote technical skills in Nigeria, and all of Africa. So, prioritising technical skills as global currency and as a tool to empower youths to embrace technical and vocational skills as first choice in their career planning is important.
With technical skills, we are talking more of blue-collar jobs in contrast to white-collar jobs. We know that blue-collar jobs don’t enjoy a positive image in the general society. Parents most times would like to encourage their children to become Lawyers, Engineers and Doctors while a lot of services which are rendered to the society and are also very important for inclusive economies are done by people with handwork. And we found that to curb unemployment in Nigeria, we have to highlight those jobs and celebrate technical labour than those regular jobs because a lot of people don’t have the money to send their children to universities. Also, being a University graduate still does not to translate to automatic employment. So, it is about what skills you have, your talent, passion and what skills you can nurture for you to be of service to the society, and what you can render to the community for you to be an asset instead of liability and that is why we focus on technical skills.
Why is iCreate majorly based on the reality that the manufacturing sector creates more jobs?
Well, manufacturing sector feeds on labour. So, without technical labour for you to do the job in the factory, we won’t achieve industrialisation creativity. Enhancing technical labour is actually feeding industrialisation in the continent for you to be more self-reliance.
Why can’t your organisation have a situation where you incorporate technical competences into a formal education system like the technical colleges?
That is exactly what we do. We are working together with technical colleges. We want to change the image for people to enrol more in technical training. It is not about informal training, it has to go both ways – formal and informal training. But the image a lot of youth and parents have about technical colleges is very negative and that is because they are chronically underfunded, they have been overlooked also in federal budget. So, they don’t get the attention that they need eventually to create the labour that Nigeria needs.
What is the level of partnership between iCreate and government establishments and which establishment are you working with?
We work more with the private sector because we believe technical skills has to be demand-driven and if it is demand driven, then it is the industry and the private sector that can provide such technical skills. But we do work with government as well. We enjoy a great partnership with Industrial Training Fund (ITF), and we were partners during our skills competition. They provided us with expertise, machinery and equipment in order for us to set up some of the technical competitions. The Director General was very committed and also government agencies like the NIPC and various state government have articulated interest and are ready to support us.
We do acknowledge also the Federal Government interest in technical skills as they have come up in several part of the country. I know the Vice President is very keen on supporting those technical skills. Also, it is in line with what we think to do as we plan to set up our first skill hub in Abuja which should be a permanent place for youths to create, learn, interact and to network and have a constant co-creating space where they can horn their skills, get trained as well as collaborate with other youths and launch products and services.
So far, how many people have been trained?
The iCreate Africa programme is just a year old. Our first aim and pilot project was to host a vocation competition in Africa. It was the biggest vocational skill competition we have had in Africa. The first of its kind in Nigeria. It was held on the 26th and 27th October this year. For us, it was to execute a skill competition to create a platform, promote skill excellence and as well to interact with private companies. Technical colleges also exhibited their portfolio as well as panel discussions to discuss the opportunities and chances to further education. So, we have not trained anybody before the skill competition though we opened application and screened candidates from over 500 submissions for us to end up with 84 participants across 14 different categories and we had 45 winners emerge from there. Those winners are the ones we are building training programmes around to open opportunities for others for them to be absolved by the accurate programmes. But there are training that happens in conjunction with our partners in the public sector like the ITF, our partners in the private sector like Sterling Bank which has pledged support to help us train our youths in entrepreneur skills. So, there is a different kind of support system depending on the level of partnership that we enjoy.
What are the plans for the winners in the competition?
Interestingly, all of the winners in that competition were unemployed. None of them had any constant activity going before they entered the competition. A lot of them are looking at opening their own businesses and it is part of our roles as mentors and guardians of the school champions to prepare them for that but until we get to that point they will be involved in training. There will be skills, technical and entrepreneurship training. For us, we are using the school champions as we call them as positive role models to project vocational skills. So, with and through our school champion, we are going to have community and school outreaches to show the importance of skills.
We have plans to take them to Russia for the world skills 2019 in August next year in order to represent Nigeria as a country with a lot of skills labour but not yet as a member country of the World skills Organisation. We are working on this with the ITF for this to happen eventually in five years but for us to do this we have to host competition five consecutive times in Nigeria and the school champions are our first school champions we have at heart and they are going to play a vital role and act as role models for other school champions to come. We will work closely with them, mentor and counsel them to prepare them for self-employment if that is what they want and if they are seeking for employment, we will link them up with companies. We have successfully linked two or three school champions already to companies as brand ambassadors and that is the first time that will ever happen in Nigeria. Our winner in the cooking competition is currently the brand ambassador of Bournvita Abuja and we are in talks with other companies as well for the other school champions.
Does your iCreate liaise with companies on the existence of skill gap with a view to infusing that into your curriculum?
As mentioned earlier, industry is our major access. We look at partnership not so much government. I said earlier, we want to do something, we don’t really want to evaluate what has been done in the past, but we see the outcome, if we see the outcome is not good enough, and then there is a lot of work to be done. So instead of waiting for the government, we feel the industry as well as we as social enterprise, we have a role to play. We partner closely with companies – the media, construction and IT industry – in order to know what kind of labour they want ad with that in mind prepare programmes for the school champions and for the competitors to make attempt at bridging that skill gap.
What is your target in the nearest future in terms of number of people you want to train and link up with companies?
We don’t have a specific number because we are looking at impacting Nigeria, and Africa as a continent. For us, it is important to address the challenge of youth unemployment and poverty in Africa through skills development and if we are able to do this, we are actually building a skill workforce to effectively exploit our natural resources in Africa and take the lead in global discourse. We believe this is a way of emancipating Nigeria and Africa from the dependencies that we have through importing products. Looking more into industrialization and finally producing ourselves because we have the skills labour as well as natural resources and the management set up to do so. So, we don’t have a target number but we want to start this movement in Nigeria as the powerhouse of Africa, include other countries in doing so and lifting up the image of technical skills across the continent. Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana and South Africa have already contacted us as aftermath of the event in order to collaborate with us to take the event over there or just to undertake projects together. We believe this is a right step for Africa as a whole and we all know the number of people living in Africa.