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Government must invest, regulate artisans in building industry


SEGUN OLUTADE is the Executive Director, Shelter Watch, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that entered agreement with GIZ – German development agency to boost skills in building and construction industry. In this interview with CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, he explains the partnership and other issues in the housing industry.
Nigeria has continued to face serious problems, regarding having skilled artisans in the built environment, what can be done to adequately empower the youths to take over from the ageing artisan population?
The development of any country is largely dependent on the engagement of its youths in productive ventures; the ability of the youths to be so engaged is a function of the stock of knowledge, skills and attitudes they possess. Therefore, the need to empower the youths with technical/vocational skills is highly essential.  

The sub-sector of the building/construction industry, which has been identified as a haven for millions of teeming unemployed youths all over the world has continued to be unattractive to Nigerian youths because of lack of structure. While billions of Naira has been expended on various empowerment programmes by both private and public agencies, it is heartrending to note that most empowerment programmes have failed to provide jobs for our teeming unemployed youths.
Use of sack to carry tools to sites has been identified as one of the major setbacks for the subsector of the building/construction industry. Coupled with the above is the use of archaic and energy sapping tools, most of which have long been forgotten in the developed and developing world. With the above and many more, it is sad to note that neither Nigerian unemployed youths nor their parents want to be identified with any trade in the building sector which is begging for attention of millions of unemployed youths.

The present administration has done wonderfully well in encouraging Nigerian youth to take over from the ageing artisans. With the N-power Build programme of the government, toolboxes with simple and modern tools have been provided. Monthly stipends of N10,000 are provided. The 30 per cent classroom and 70 per cent onsite programme of the federal government will go a long way to give the youth the needed knowledge to take over from the ageing artisans.  

Research has shown incursion of foreign artisans from the West African region, especially Benin Republic and Togo, what attributes make these people exceptional? How can we attain such standards?
It is sad to note that a labourer on site with little or no knowledge of bricklaying will just wake up to turn himself to a bricklayer. If he is lucky to join the association of the trade, then it is assume to be a professional bricklayer. We need to regulate the subsector of the building industry and invest in training and retraining of the artisans. Trainers should be ready to take responsibility for the action/inaction of their trainees. Government needs to coordinate the activities of the trade groups and not use them for their selfish interest.

The unemployment in the country is becoming scary, as the housing sector is partially in a comatose. What is the role of the private sector to address the country’s housing deficit? Do you think that sector has the magic wand to tackle unemployment of artisans?
Nigeria has the biggest construction industry in Africa. Also, the housing need of the country is put at between 17 million and 23 million units.  The building/construction industry is expecting high growth rates, thus in the years to come, Nigeria could be one of the largest construction markets in the world with a high employment potential for the Nigerian artisans. However, the development of local work force and a transparent and easily accessible labour market is a big challenge. The private sector has an important role to play. Manufacturers of building materials should be involved in retraining the building artisans. Stakeholders needs to meet constantly to review government policies has it affects the sector.  
Government policy will go a long way to determine what can be done by the private sector. For instance the issue of affordable housing, cement constitute over 65 per cent of any building in Nigeria, if government should bring down the cost of cement today the problem of affordable housing will be resolved. Use of foreign artisans has done untold damage to the industry. How can we be saying, there are no jobs, few years ago, l lead a rally against the use of 3,000 Chinese artisans in just one firm. Are we saying our people cannot be retrained? The idea of condemning the unemployment situation in the day and bringing foreign artisans in thousands in the night is highly unpatriotic. Insincerity is the bane of our unemployment situation. Millions of opportunities are begging for attention of skilled youth
Today we have graduates that are set to take over from the ageing artisans, hence the appeal to give our new set of artisans a chance. With adequate training and retraining the private sector can help to develop symmetry between mass production of affordable housing and youth empowerment.

The construction industry plays an important role in the economic uplift and development of any country, what can be done by government to improve the sector in Nigeria?
I really don’t subscribe to the idea of government building houses all about the country. Rather than building for the masses, government should just provide the needed enabling environment for the players in the sector, bring down the cost of cement, impose stiff penalty for manufacturers of substandard building materials and promotion of innovations in the sector. Government needs to interface with the private sector and professionals from time to time in order to faction out laws that will improve the sector.

What has been the role of Shelter Watch Initiatives in using housing development to fight youth unemployment?
In 2004, Shelter Watch Initiatives organized the first empowerment programme for building artisans in Nigeria. Over 30 talk shops were put together within five years, courtesy Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), public and private agencies. With module from the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) coupled with over five years experience of intensive interactions with the artisans, we commenced retraining of building artisans whose experience ranges between five and 42 years in 2009 at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State polytechnic and Federal Polytechnic Ilaro in Ogun state.

Over 700 artisans were also sponsored for the retraining programme at LASPOTECH by the Lagos state government. About 2, 000 artisans have been retrained in all the trades in the building/construction industry. While seven of our retrained artisans are currently working outside the country, one is lecturing at the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro in Ogun State.

We have established a bridge between the retrained ageing artisans and youth interested in learning building trades, ensure job creation by a better organized and easily accessible market platform for artisans and easily accessible market platform for artisans under a Job Centre Initiative (JCI). Each retrained artisan is under obligation to empower two to four youths to sustain the system and or for continuity when the strength of aging artisans begins to wane. At the job centre, the youth are encouraged to learn at least two trades. Though most of the graduates turned artisans started in March this year, it is interesting to note that most of the empowered youth are already working on sites with little supervision. It is worth mentioning that attitudinal change; effects of hard drugs among others are discussed freely during our interactive class. The center is responsible for all actions/inactions of the retrained artisans on site. The essence of the project is to empower 2000 youth free in every state in Nigeria. What has been your relationship with state governments and agencies in ensuring your products are engaged in building projects?

Our relationship with federal and state government agencies has been very cordial. While administrative and technical support for the establishment of JCI has been widely provided by GIZ- (German International Cooperation), the Ogun state government provided the structure for the Job Center project in the state. With our experienced and retrained artisans we have empowered about 450 youth in Ogun state. Over 200 of these youth are from the Federal government N Power program. With toolboxes, modern tools, monthly stipends and other forms of encouragements by the federal government, grabbing the skills from the ageing artisans have been much easier by the youths. We have worked for Ogun state Housing Cooperation, Ogun state property investment cooperation (OPIC), retrained artisans for various organizations including Lagos state Development and Property corporation (LSDPC).

We have worked more for corporate organizations and individuals than for government agencies. Rather than picking artisans on the streets, Nigerians now call us from all over the country to provide them with experienced and retrained artisans. That we are responsible for the actions and inactions of the artisans on sites has continued to adhere us to the hearths of our clients. Relevant agencies of state government are already talking to us on the need to establish such centres in their respective states.          

What type of partnership has enabled you to empower the building artisans? What has been the role of schools and National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB)?
The support we got from NIOB has gone a long way in helping us to realize our goals. The body provided us with the module to retrain the experienced artisans. Our partnership arrangements with polytechnics involved in the retraining arrangements helped tremendously in retraining the ageing artisans.
The above notwithstanding, we discovered that about 40 per cent of the polytechnic retrained artisans who performed creditably well in the polytechnics could not perform on sites. In view of the above, we commenced 70 per cent onsite, 30 per cent theory training and retraining programme for the artisans and youths respectively. The project is designed to identify 1, 000 good artisans in each state of the federation capable of empowering two to four youths.
With our partnership arrangement with the National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB), it is compulsory for all our trainees to sit for the Board modular examination.

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