Academy seeks national fund to develop artisans

Disturbed by the shortage of artisans for construction and other sectors, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering (NAE) has called for harmonisation of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) into a new platform for skills development, to be known as National Skills Fund (NSF).

This, they said, should be the leading national skill qualification trainers modeled along the Moroccan OFPPT. The body reiterated the need for apprenticeship training under the new National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) across the country by the polytechnics, federal colleges of education, and technical colleges.

According to NAE, Nigeria currently meets about 10 per cent of its artisans population in specific areas such as plumbing and pipefitting, carpentry and joinery, electrical installation, masonry, welding and fabrication, painting and decoration as well as automobile.

The Executive Secretary, National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Prof. Idris Bugaje led the call at a virtual meeting, entitled, ‘Technical and vocational education in Nigeria-past, present and the future’ organised by the NAE.

He said verifiers and assessors for all training institutions must be done immediately while there should be the establishment of Entrepreneurship Development Bank to support small scale entrepreneurs at very low-interest rates for products of skills training, such as the Panteka Fabrication Hub in Kaduna and others in the different skills sectors.

While emphasising that the future of work globally is based on a new currency, which is skills, he urged the upgrading of technical colleges to vocational training institutes for national skills qualification training.

He said, “Selected departments like welding and fabrication, building, mechatronics, automobile, process engineering must take the lead. Specific budgetary allocation for skills development should be made by the tertiary education trust fund (TETFund) as new modern training equipment must be procured and some of the lecturers/instructors must be re-trained as assessors and verifiers in the Polytechnics and federal college of education/technical institutes.

“Technical colleges must be re-engineered on a new paradigm, skills, and be well equipped to deliver national skills qualification training in addition to NABTEB, this should be our version of Germany’s DUAL System”. Specialised Tertiary Vocational Training Institutes (VTIs) should be established across states wholly by government or as PPP Projects or independent private investments. There should be funding for the development of the skills curricula by the National Occupational Standards, (NOSs) and the training of assessors/verifiers is critical, as presently the numbers are dismally low.

The professor of chemical engineering also states the need to institute a yearly skills and innovations award for the best technical/vocational education training institution that excels in skills training and the creation of innovations in the process. He expressed worries that parents generally prefer degrees to skills acquisition for their children, advising that the mindset must be changed.

“Before the 6-3-3-4 Educational System was established, Technical Colleges were a good option and facilities well provided; now every parent wants his/her child to earn a University Degree”

“Only 123 technical colleges have survived nationwide out of about 15,000, which is less than one per cent of the total number of colleges. The AKK Gas Pipeline Project is a game-changer and we must train our youths to participate. The railway extension across the country is another milestone project and our youths must not be short-changed by imported Chinese labour. Mambilla Power Project is facing a dearth of skilled workers and if care is not taken, the Chinese will take over. The construction industry is one sector of the economy that has defied COVID and other economic challenges and is expanding fast; massons, iron benders, tiling, PoP, are skills that we must get our youths adequately trained in. Francophone West Africa dominates the scene at the moment”, he said.

He listed the challenges of technical and vocational education to include, poor recognition of the role of skills in the local and global economies for job creation, low linkages between polytechnics and industry; absence of a state of the art fabrication laboratory for engineering education and shortage of well-qualified technical and vocational education teachers, especially assessors and verifiers as well as inadequate professional development.

“Vocational training has been neglected all along across Nigeria. In vocational education, Nigeria has only 1,420 assessors compared with over 35,000 in Ethiopia, giving them a 1:50 advantage. We had less than 30 EVs, not until the second ongoing training of another 30 that ended in Lagos two weeks ago.”

“The best-skilled Tillers and PoP even in Abuja are Togolese and artisans from the Benin Republic. In Maiduguri, the best in finishing work in construction are from Chad. In 2019 Bangladesh exported 2.5 million skilled construction workers to Saudi Arabia, earning and sending foreign exchange back home. In The Gambia when Lifts experience failure, artisans from Senegal must be brought in for repairs.”

Contributing, a past president of NAE, Mrs. Joanna Maduka said the situation of technical and vocational education is pathetic, worsened by a lack of organised way of doing things. Specifically, she reinforced the need to revive their technical session, old equipment, structures, and workshops.

Earlier, the president of the academy, Alex Ogedengbe lamented that the skilled artisans who are the constructors of infrastructures and constitute a large portion of Nigeria have been given low attention for a long time. He said the forum is an opportunity to re-energise efforts aimed at promoting skills development in the country.

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