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National policy on skill acquisition for youths – Part 3

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Continued from yesterday

With their proficiency, some Tech-U students engage in technical jobs outside the university at their leisure. The Students’ Start-Up Fund to has been helpful for innovative students who have ideas that have already been transformed into startups.

The fact is that two things happen when the entrepreneurial capacity of youths is developed; the economy is strengthened because it has a direct contribution to the socio-economic development process through the development of indigenous expertise and it also helps to address youth unemployment. Policy and support programmes for TVET, therefore, need to be well-coordinated in Nigeria to achieve desirable results. While awareness for TVET programmes continues to increase, the same cannot be said about the coordination among the different sectors and ministries that offer TVET courses; this is evidenced by their different standards and the many inadequacies being faced. In many centres, the capacity of the trainers themselves still needs to be adequately developed. There is also the issue of financing as well as that of inadequate infrastructure.

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Not only should entrepreneurship education be tailored towards the needs of the industry, but it should also be designed and administered according to the need of the target clientele. It should be put in mind that only entrepreneurial faculties will effectively deliver entrepreneurship instructions. The capacity of lecturers will, therefore, have to be developed from time to time. While the country eagerly awaits the formulation of a proper policy on skills acquisition, private enterprises can support collaborative research to identify skill gaps in the industry and also partner the ivory tower to develop training contents for youth development in response to the identified skill gaps. They could also be of help through the provision of opportunities for industrial work experience for students in training as well as the offering of an apprenticeship programme for unemployed youths.

Though youths are being trained in TVET, the outcome is not yet commensurate with the efforts being put in. And the higher a country ranks in terms of TVET training, the better for the country in the world economy. It is therefore not wrong to say that TVET development has a lot to do with economic and national development in the long run. It is obvious that no country develops without developing its science and technology. As such, enduring technological development may not take place without skilled technicians. Skilled technicians play major roles in the development of a technology-driven economy anywhere in the world. And TVET is the key that can ensure the required potential and productive workforce with the right scientific and technological competence. Matthew Lauer in his article titled: The future of work requires a return to apprenticeship, published in The Nation of March 9, 2020, put it succinctly when he noted that the skills required for the skilled jobs are not taught in the traditional university. He argued that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will eliminate many white and blue-collar jobs. This is perhaps the reason many countries are now prioritising TVET, and he cited the example of Switzerland where 2/3 of young people are pursuing dual-track classroom and vocational training.

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It is undeniable that Nigeria has adopted TVET as an integral part of her national development strategy. TVET that was rejected by many only a few decades back is fast becoming the cornerstone for the development and transformation of education and training. To ensure, however, that the objectives of TVET, which include the impartation of knowledge and skills for increased efficiency in the world of work, personal empowerment and socio-economic development, are achieved, proper execution and management will be of absolute necessity.

Since TVET involves applying skills to support life, it will make a country technologically relevant and internationally competitive. It will also improve the quality of life through technological improvement. And of course, with those, there will be a reduction of poverty and it will culminate in the reduction of social vices. The absence of a national skills policy calls for urgent attention.

It will do the nation a lot of good for the government to invite stakeholders in the industry and the education sector to formulate a comprehensive national skill acquisition policy that aims at arming the youth against unemployment, building self-reliant youths and ultimately improving the economy. The government should also back this up with appropriate legislative instruments to compel and guide implementation.

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The point must be made that nations do not just become great. Greatness is assured only on the heels of concerted investment in their people. Therefore, for Nigeria to emerge as a superpower, as commensurate with its latent potential, there has to be a calculated investment in people and skills. This, of course, will be with a view to fully developing comparative areas of strength and positioning for global relevance.

Nigeria will do well to learn from the stories of such outstandingly successful models as you find in Asia, for instance. The phenomenal progress countries such as China, South Korea and India have made with technology show what is possible when nations own their destinies and follow through with definite strategic roadmap. There are indications that the growth rate of Chinese students studying STEM-related courses in America in the last few decades, for instance, is not unconnected with a covert agenda for technological transfer.

Back home in Nigeria, while it is heartwarming that Technical, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Education is increasingly being considered as potent tools for stimulating the economy, it has become necessary to have it codified in a strategic response for achieving national industrial development.

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Taking a cue from similar policies deployed in advanced economies like the industrially-rich Germany, the imperativeness of the policy stems from its usefulness in providing sharp strategic direction to the overall formal and informal skills development processes in the country. Covering such broad areas as institution-based skills development and sectoral skills development which includes formal and informal apprenticeship models, the policy would assist to align the developmental priorities of the nation with active measures to produce the relevant manpower for both immediate and future needs of the nation.
Sadly, there was a time the country thought better and acted in consonance with best global practices. Just sixty years ago, through the 1959 Ashby Commission Report, the Nigerian government had been counselled on her manpower needs for post-school certificate and higher education over a 20-year period. That report had enunciated both the intermediate and high-level manpower needs of the country, detailing the actual supply rate and estimated capacity of the nation’s tertiary educational institutions.

Parts of the recommendation of the Eric Ashby-led Commission for the nation’s educational system were the production of 2,000 graduates a year by 1970, a proposal on the establishment of a National Universities Commission (NUC) and it insisted that enrolment in the universities should reflect national needs in terms of technical and non-technical fields.

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Also diligently envisaged in that report were recommendations on teacher production and estimation of enrolment rates in our university system by 1970 and1980. One feels very sad that the country failed to implement the recommendations faithfully and also sustain such enviable planning tradition. But, it is not too late to reinvent that culture of diligence. The formulation of a skills development policy and the proper realignment of existing developmental structures are stepped in that direction.

It should be said that Nigeria needs to now urgently implement thorough skills gap analysis to help provide real-time data and on the actual human capital needs of the country. With such data, the nation is better informed on the extent of skills deficiency and the opportunities available for transformation. Anything short of this is tantamount to paying lip-service to solve the current job crises in the country.

Like Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, said, “Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation, there is sure to be a failure”. Without a national policy in place, it will yet be a long walk to the ideal situation in skill acquisition.

Concluded.

Professor Salami is Vice-Chancellor, First Technical University, Ibadan.

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