BY TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
THE main auditorium of the University of Lagos came alive recently. The 5,000-seater auditorium, famous for hosting social engagements, was crammed with young people. The occasion was not a musical show, an award night or a sports event; rather, it was a company’s aptitude test that brought thousands of youths together for one purpose: the unending search for employment.
By noon when the test commenced, hundreds of youths who could not gain entrance into the already filled-to-capacity hall clustered into small bands around the hall to wait patiently and join the next batch of fresh graduates looking for the opportunity to prove their mettle and brilliance.
From their strained faces, it was obvious they were disillusioned with several failed attempts at clinching just any job. Any hopes placed on a positive outcome from the screening examination were punctured by reports of a gale of mass sack in the same banking industry they were aspiring to.
Some weeks back, Nigerians were regaled with stories of a significant growth in the country’s GDP for the first quarter of 2012 but not much was heard about tales from the other end of the stick – the increasing number of unemployment.
Figures recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that unemployment rate in the country is worrisome, a situation where university graduates now take odd jobs to survive. According to the United Nations, only three out of 10 fresh graduates in the country are sure of employment.
This fact is corroborated by the Statistician General of the Federation, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of NBS, Dr. Yemi Kale, when he said unemployment rate in the country hit an all-time high of 23.9 percent in December 2011 from 19.7 percent in 2009.
According to him, the total number of unemployed Nigerians rose from more than 12 million in 2010 to over 14 million in 2011, with the figure escalating by 1.8 million between December 2010 and June 2011. “The most affected are those in the age bracket of 24 and 44 years,” he said.
To worsen the problem of unemployment is the lack of skilful artisans. This is because many Nigerian youths are not seeing a career in vocations like carpentry, welding, masonry and auto-technician. Those that ventured into it are not well trained and they lacked the technical and vocational skills to excel.
Consequently, many Nigerians are jobless while recent reports claim that the country loses about N960 billion in capital flight to foreign artisans, as they now take over jobs that Nigerians should ordinarily do.
At a forum in Ikeja, Chairman of Odu’a Educational Trust Fund, Sen. Olabiyi Durojaiye, gave a sordid account of what Nigeria annually loses to nationals of Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin Republic among others. His account indeed struck a chord in the minds of stakeholders at the forum when he said about N960 billion is being lost annually to non-Nigerians providing technical services in the country.
WORRIED by this untoward trend and determined to reverse the trend, the Lagos State government has decided to reinvigorate its technical colleges, establish some specialised training centres, including the School Leavers Modern Apprenticeship and Graduate Vocational Employability Skills programmes, to stem crime rates and develop technical manpower in relevant areas of specialty.
Citing dearth of technical and vocational skills, the state government is re-injecting life into its technical colleges by commissioning the newly established Samsung Engineering Academy designed to train and re-train graduates from the state technical colleges and end the use of expatriates as technicians in the country.
The commissioning took place three months after the state government unveiled the School Leavers Modern Apprenticeship (SL-MATP) and Graduate Vocational Employability Skills (GV-ESTP) programmes, which Executive Secretary of the State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB) and former Rector of Lagos State Polytechnic, Mr. Olawumi Gasper, said were designed “to stem crime rates and develop technical manpower in relevant areas of specialty.”
Introducing the scheme, Gasper said it was primarily initiated to create new opportunities for two categories of people – school leavers and unemployed graduates. According to him, Lagos population “grows exponentially and is currently put at 18 million. About 70 percent are below 35 years and we are in danger of harbouring misdirected, unskilled and angry youths ready to engage in criminal activities.
“The first scheme is tailored to engage school leavers who do not secure admission into tertiary institutions. It will afford those who enroll both work-based on-the-job training in industries and accredited workshops and college-based instructions in the state’s technical colleges. The programme seeks to attract the very large school leavers who are often casualties of JAMB and turn them into self-reliant skilled young boys and girls early in life.”
Gasper said duration of the schemes differ and depend on the choice of vocation. School leavers enrolled for SL-MATP will spend between nine months and two years depending on desired trade and occupation while graduates who enroll for GV-ESTP combining vocational trainings with employability skills will successfully complete the programme in nine months.
Following the Samsung Engineering Academy is the inauguration of the CG EKO LLP Automobile Training Centre in Ikeja, an outcome of the state’s partnership with Coscharis Motors Limited, designed to train over 640 auto technicians and put an end to the dearth of technical professionals in the state.
At the commissioning, Governor Babatunde Fashola reiterated that one of the major ways out of youth unemployment was investment in technical and vocational education. “It is the only way to grow our economy, to reduce unemployment and to arrest youth restiveness,” he said.
He canvassed a shift to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), without which the governor said it would be difficult for the economy to grow. “Nigeria is moving into cashless banking. A lot of electronic data will be needed. Where are the technicians to do the job? I see them in the students of this academy and our upcoming children. We need homes. We need power. We need to produce more water. This nation is being run on an infrastructure that is about 40 years old. So, we are going to need the engineers and technicians in very large numbers.”
THE driving force behind the establishment of Samsung Engineering Academy within the complex of Agidingbi Government Technical College according to the Managing Director of Samsung Electronics West Africa, Mr. Nicholas Shin, is aimed at training electronic engineers, who “will be relevant to the company and absorbed 100 percent by the company after graduation.”
The governor dismissed the notion that technical and vocational education is placed below the system of senior secondary school. He blamed the notion on the inadequate attention given to vocational education by successive government, which is a parallel education to senior secondary education from SS1 to SS3 in the orthodox school.
“What technical and vocational education provides is a three-year programme like the orthodox schools. But instead of writing the West African School Certificate Examination, they sit for the National Board for Technical Education Examination (NBTE). It is equally equivalent to WASC with which they can proceed to any university of their choice. Our economy today requires young vibrant entrepreneurs who are willing to create and generate the wealth and employment opportunities in this sector.”
Fashola called on other entrepreneurs to partner with the government on other four technical colleges in Epe, Ikotun, Amuwo Odofin and Ikorodu, in order “to make each of them a model of one technical specialty or the other. We are seeking for other partners to make any of the technical colleges a model of specialty either in carpentry, block making or masonry. We are looking forward to such strategic partnerships,” he said.