ACHOR ABIMAJE in this piece looks at the efforts that government has made to eradicate poverty by reducing unemployment
Recently the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its unemployment updates, informed that Nigeria has over 27 million unemployed persons. That figure raises a red flag that there is a major problem facing the nation.
The problem of unemployment especially among the youths with its attendant consequences of high crime rate, banditry among other social vices, has been a major challenge facing the nation.
It is as a result of this, that the federal government has at one time or the other introduced different measures including the Sure-P programme, the N-Power programme as well as different intervention programmes to support small and medium enterprises so that they can create more jobs.
Of course in all these, the place of skills acquisition cannot be over emphasised, that of course is one of the mandates of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and the Industrial Training Fund (ITF).
The ITF which was established in 1971, has in the four decades of its existence, has helped in generating a crop of skilled indigenous manpower which has been manning and managing various sectors of the national economy.
As it is, the main thrust of its programmes and services is to stimulate human performance, improve productivity, and induce value-added production in industry and commerce. Through its Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) and Vocational and Apprentice Training Programmes, the Fund also builds capacity for graduates and youth self-employment, in the context of Small Scale Industrialisation.
The current director general of ITF, Sir, Joseph Ari, upon his appointment in 2016 took it upon himself to address the many challenges that made it difficult for the institution to perform its assigned mandate.
It was against this background that the DG without wasting time hit the ground running along with his management team by unveiling the ITF Reviewed Vision: Strategies for Mandate Actualisation. This culminated into the training of over 500,000 Nigerians that are today using the skills acquired to earn sustainable livelihoods.
Apart from that, the fund also expanded its training infrastructure by completing and inaugurating several projects including: the Mechatronics Workshop and Administrative Block at the Industrial Skills Training Centre (ISTC) Kano, Katsina Area Office Complex with an Administrative and Vocational Wing, Lagos Island Area Office Complex, e-Library Complex and Stores in the Headquarters and Classroom Blocks at the ITF Staff School.
It is noteworthy that most of these projects had been abandoned for decades.
The Fund also established six new Area Offices in Lafia, Gwagwalada, Badagry, Owerri, Rumoukwuta, and Abakaliki. These new offices is to make access to services of the ITF much easier leading to an exponential increase in the number of Nigerians that are trained in different skills.
In addition, in order to ensure more efficient and effective service delivery and to promptly respond to the needs of Nigerians and clients, the Fund automated most of its processes including training services, financial transactions, remittance of training contributions and the Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) and reimbursement activities.
Today, most of the activities are paperless as they are seamlessly performed digitally, and in real time. As a mark of government’s appreciation, in 2018 and 2019, the Council for the Development of the Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), which is headed by vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, rewarded ITF with the prestigious Award of Excellence as Outstanding MSMEs Clinic Partner and the Award for outstanding contribution to the development of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Nigeria respectively, even as other individual and corporate awards poured in torrents from all corners of the country.
Again as further indication of the appreciation of the federal government for the fund’s contributions particularly to the development of the MSMEs sector, the ITF was recently included in the Federal Government Steering Committee to drive the implementation of the various support schemes for MSMEs in the country as part of the national response to COVID-19.
This initiative, which is part of Government’s Economic Sustainability Plan, has brought to the doorsteps of Nigerians two stimulus programmes; the Survival Fund and the Guaranteed Offtake Stimulus Scheme, which are meant to empower MSMEs and cushion the effects of the pandemic.
However, in view of the Coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged economies across the world, unemployment has risen just as many Nigerians lost their jobs, in a national emergency such as this, therefore, as the leading capacity development institution in Nigeria there is need to urgently and significantly contribute to assist stakeholders and the economy to overcome this challenge.
To sustain the achievement already made, the management of the Fund recently unveiled the 2nd phase of the ITF Reviewed Vision: Strategies for Mandate Actualisation. The plan, which implementation has already commenced and will terminate in 2024, is targeted at rectifying the pitfalls that were observed in the implementation of the first phase, build on the achievements thereof, and directly address emergent challenges of stakeholders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Plan has nine focus areas namely: Direct Training Services, Revenue Generation and Sustainable Funding, Resource Utilisation, Special Intervention Programmes, Human Capital Development, Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES), Research and Development, Automation of Business Processes and other Programmes and Services.
These focus areas are to guide the Fund going forward and will further escalate and amplify its activities especially with regard to skills acquisition and empowerment of the youths and indigent segments of the society as well as strengthen the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector through need-based training The Fund as a matter of fact has continued to invest in expanding its infrastructure in order to create opportunities and open up services to all Nigerians desirous of acquiring skills. To that end the fund have completed eight projects, which are awaiting inauguration.
They include the Gusau Area Office Complex and Vocational Wing, Minna Area Office Complex and Vocational Wing, Aba Area Office Complex and Vocational Wing, Awka Area Office Complex and Vocational Wing, the Headquarters Conference Centre, Auditorium and Gymnasium, as well as the Multipurpose Building in Maitama, Abuja.
It is in furtherance of this that the Fund recently completed the purchase of Jossy Royal Hotel, following the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) earlier in the year.
The facility, which has 59 rooms, a conference hall, an annex, a kitchen and restaurant as well as a laundry section and workshops, will be used to train Nigerians along the hospitality value chain.
Obviously, coronavirus pandemic has shown that the development of physical infrastructure alone is not enough. Therefore, the Fund has aggressively invested in the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities for deployment of their training activities.
Addressing staff during his assumption of office for second tenure, the director general of the Fund, Sir Joseph Ari said the online training they recently conducted for free for their clients in the areas of Re-engineering the Workplace in Challenging Times, may become a real alternative to classroom type training that they have been conducting even after COVID-19.
The DG noted that from the targets they have set for themselves and from the economic distortions as a result of COVID-19, the next few years will be challenging for them in very many ways adding that as a result of COVID-19, many organisations have either rationalised their workforce or even closed shop because of the very difficult operational environment.
According to him, this will no doubt have negative implications on the revenue generation of the Fund. It also means that they need to be careful in the application of the meagre resources available to them. By implication, they will have to cultivate a culture of doing more with less.
Ari further argued that in times of economic difficulties such as the whole world was passing through, the first option of most managers is to cut expenses on human capital development. This will no doubt impact the number of people they train and the revenue generated therefrom. “What this calls for, is to be more creative and innovative, and above all develop the spirit of persistence and resilience in the marketing of services,” he said, adding, “It also means that everyone from the DG to the clerk will become a marketer, otherwise we will fail and the consequences of such failure are only best imagined.”
He also stressed “In the absence of white- collar jobs, skills acquisition is the only sustainable solution to effectively tackle the problems of poverty and unemployment and the attendant implications on the society.”
The director general also warned staff that the tendency for a segment of the workforce, to standby, inert and unwilling to contribute to the development of the Fund will no longer be tolerated adding that management has resolved to completely stamp out through appropriate sanctions all negative tendencies that are obstacles to the wheels of our progress even as it is equally committed to ensuring that the entire workforce is carried along and is empowered to effectively perform its duties optimally.
He urge supervisors and responsible officers not to hesitate to apply all necessary and appropriate sanctions to rid the system of indolence, truancy, harmful gossip and other such abhorrent attitudes, as they have no place in their dear institution.