‘Unemployment is a critical issue that needs to be solved’
Ukinebo Dare is the Managing Director at the Edo State Skills Development Agency (EdoJobs). Her passion for youth engagement, employment and job creation is the core of what she does with the state government. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her experience on the job and how she is positively influencing young people of Edo State on productivity and innovation.
What spurred your passion for personnel development especially among young people?
My passion for personal development is almost inherited; my father drummed it into us from a very young age that a persons ‘nurture’ and not his/her ‘nature’ determines their destiny. This gave me the push and interest in helping others around me to discover how to nurture themselves and take charge of their lives.
I recently received a message from a long time friend from secondary school; she sent me a picture of a letter I wrote to her decades ago giving her advice on how to manage certain issues. Though neither of us could remember what the issue was, it was emotional for me to remember that long before I officially started acting as a trainer, mentor and teacher, I was already playing that role unknowingly. I remember writing many of such notes through secondary school and university. Consciously, owning personal development as my purpose and passion started at the Benson Idahosa University after reading books and being blessed enough to meet people like Mr. Miles Munroe in the leadership sessions organised for students.
Considering that job creation is a critical issue among our teeming youth, how have you used your position to address this?
Job Creation has been my life for over a decade and I certainly agree that unemployment is a critical issue that needs to be solved from many perspectives. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to tackle job creation through social enterprise, civil society, education and most recently in government, as the Managing Director of the Edo State Skills Development Agency (popularly called EdoJobs). We have been tackling unemployment first from the individual’s perspective. One thing I can say about working in this field is that nothing beats the fulfillment of seeing a person who was once dependent on you, find their strength and go off into the world to make their own way. This for me is where job creation starts. I regularly advocate that no job creation programme should become a crutch or play their role in such a way the beneficiaries cannot repeat the process on their own. Based on that paradigm, at the Agency, we do a lot of work in personality development and soft skills. We believe that our work with a job seeker or potential entrepreneur only truly begins after they have seen themselves as the force that can change their lives. As I always say to young people, ‘you are the superhero in your own story’.
We invest in the individual first, to help them discover themselves and what they can do on their own. That way, they are able to strive for opportunities and keep on growing on their own, with or without us. Being in Government also gives us the opportunity to work in different sectors where we see largest overlaps between opportunities available, local comparative advantages and interest of the job seeker/ potential entrepreneur. For Edo State, we implement interventions to create employment and employers in agriculture, information technology, manufacturing, construction the creative industry and others. We make a conscious effort to work in these sectors to attract the demand for highly skilled talent and then we provide the supply locally.
For example, at Edo Innovation Hub, startups and existing businesses have access to not just workspace, Internet and constant power; we also work closely with them to provide access to markets and access to funds. We also introduce people to the GIG-economy in fields like Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, Web and App Development and so on. Also, we recently celebrated one of the artisans at Edo Production Centre for being selected to install foot operated hand washing machines at the Benin Airport; a job he got without our intervention.
To compare, as close as two years ago, many people in their shoes would not have bothered to bid for a job like that, because they would expect that only those with top connections would get it. This is why we are constantly going beyond just training, or provision of workspaces. We try to help our people develop the confidence, drive and exposure that make them a partner in their own economic transformation and that of the state
Almost three years after, what has working in the public sector taught you?
I have learnt a lot of things from working in the public sector, most important of which is that, we need a whole army of people with integrity and strength to descend on government by working inside it. That’s how we will fix Nigeria; the systems of corruption run deep and they fight back. These systems don’t only fight the Governor, Deputy Governor and Senior officers, they fight viscously at all levels as soon as they identify that you are not going to join them. However, I also learnt that with the right resolve and strength, being in government, gives you the opportunity to implement and accelerate positive social and economic change at such a scale and pace that I could only dream of as a social entrepreneur. We just need to make Government work right and everything good will be achieved in this country.
What are some of the achievements of the government as it relates to job creation in Edo state?
The last three years have been a flurry of activities because we designed our work in such a way that we create and enable systems that create jobs. The Edo Innovation Hub alone has impacted over 27,000 individuals and businesses. We are constantly working in partnership with organisations that drive simultaneous programmes. By enabling their work rather than competing with them, we are able to create an ecosystem with many independent parts all working in the same direction.
Edo State is not a manufacturing state, how are you able to engage especially the not too educated people?
EdoJobs is for everyone; this is our mantra. So, we focus on creating jobs by targeting various groups of people in the society. For Example, we have groups of welders, tailors, furniture makers, polythene producers, machine fabricators and so many other groups of artisans getting 24-hour power supply, access to funding, training and access to market at Edo Production Centre. They also get opportunities to deliver jobs directly from Government and within a year, the businesses had employed more people and grown financially. Our job portal also matches people with all educational qualifications to jobs from drivers to Managers. I already mentioned a little but about the work we do with farmers.
Being in the public sector and having worked in the private sector, how has it further helped you execute your work?
My experience from the private sector served a good advantage to my work in government. Being result driven and being used to doing things right helped us a great deal to play our part in the Governor’s drive to transform the Civil Service and how it runs.
Edo is known for illegal migration, how has your job impacted on this trend?
Hopelessness and desperation were two emotions that were almost tangible when we did our first set of assessments of the situation in Edo. People were willing to risk their lives, because they could not see anything else coming their way. I can assure you that the situation has changed in Edo State. One of the battles we fought was to ensure that people earned opportunities by merit and not by lobbying or by connections. I cannot describe the scars from that battle, but what that did for us is related to what I said earlier; young people started to see people like them building better lives, getting jobs and making progress by applying themselves positively. By the second year, we had a critical mass of youth who began to open up to us that they were on the verge of leaving Edo when they came in contact with us, today they are our ambassadors telling other youth how to take advantage of opportunities around them.
How are you able to manage your home front, your job and still be at your best?
On the home front, I am eternally grateful to God for my husband, my parents and my kids. Taking this role turned all our lives upside down for a while but we are making it work by God’s grace. I already had a reputation for being a workaholic so you can just imagine putting me in a situation where I have a fixed amount of time to make as much impact as is humanly possible. I cannot describe it. I thank my team at the Edo State Skills Development Agency who have kept up the pace and worked tirelessly alongside me to make all these things happen.
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