Apart from the fact that graduates’ turnover surpasses available jobs in the economy, the disconnect between market demands and available skills has been identified as one of the reasons for the acute rate of unemployment in Nigeria. Expectedly, the National Bureau of Statistics, in its latest report, revealed that about 1.8million young Nigerians enter the already saturated labour market yearly while the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity estimated that more than 41 per cent of tertiary institution graduates were usually
unemployed after the mandatory NYSC programme, It is against this background that the various initiatives by the Bank of Industry, BoI, and a few other development-oriented and futuristic organizations, to link the nation’s skills to industrialisation, have continued to elicit reactions from economic development analysts in recent times. Apart from the vocational skills competition programme, the bank, in furtherance of the Federal Government’s poverty alleviation and inclusive development strategy, has been proactive in addressing the financial inclusion challenge of small business operators in the country. Some of the programmes include, the N2 billion Graduate Entrepreneurship Fund (GEF) designed for serving members of the National Youth Service Corps; the N10 billion Youth Entrepreneurship Support (YES) scheme aimed at developing the entrepreneurial capacity of youths within the age bracket of 18-35, with a view to funding their business plans. Under the YES scheme, each beneficiary is eligible to access a loan up to a maximum of N5m for the procurement of machinery and equipment as well as for working capital. However, of all the interventionist efforts of the BoI, industry analysts have rated the vocational skills competition scheme high, describing it as one programme with the most practical step towards aligning the nation’s skills to market demands.
Organised in partnership with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), the programme is aimed at supporting and promoting the acquisition of vocational skills among the Nigerian youth. In the competition which featured 82 participants drawn from Vocational Enterprise Institutions accredited by (NBTE), contestants were tested in seven vocational areas which include: Automotive Mechatronics/ Mechanic, Carpentry & Joinery, Electrical & Electronics, Fashion Design, Painting & Tiling, Plumbing & Fittings and Welding & Fabrication While 20 contestants attended the regional competition which took place in Kaduna, 62 candidates attended the Lagos regional session out of which 21 successful candidates, three from each vocation qualified for the competition’s grand finale held in Abuja last Thursday Also, while first to third in each category got key business tools, equivalent of cash price of N2 million, N1.5 million and N1 million respectively, other participants were given N50,000 each as consolation prize to cover their logistics expenses. Apart from cash prizes, winners are also expected to enjoy internship with key government institutions and access to loans. Speaking during the first leg of the competition in Kaduna, the bank’s Acting Managing Director, Mr. Waheed Olagunju, explained that the programme was initiated as part of the bank’s strategies to provide the needed linkage between the nation’s available skills and market demands. He lamented that although the nation’s institutions churn out thousands of graduates year-in, year-out, there had been consistent dearth of required skills for the industry because the skills being produced by the institutions do not relate to industrial demands.
The BoI boss noted that the lack of requisite skills was what forced Aliko Dangote to source for over 30,000 wielders from outside the country to work in his cement factories. Olagunju said:”This programme will address the challenges of unemployment in Nigeria. Industrial analysts have revealed that we have a lot of youth who have certificates but do not have the requisite skills to be employable. The programme they went for do not relate to the real industry or the world. Most employers of labour do not find them employable. They have to seek for such skills outside the shore of Nigeria. “If you look at the seven key areas that have been identified, five of them have to do with the construction industry which has been identified as one of the drivers of our national economy. In terms of employment generation, construction industry has precipitate potential for empowerment. “If you look at the carpentry and electrical electronic, painting and tiling, plumbing and wielding and fabrication, they all have unique roles to play in the nation’s growth and development. In a country where we have housing deficit of 17 million, there is no way we can bridge that gap without quality home-grown manpower. The Head, Strategy and Corporate Transformation of the bank, Mr. Yinka Adegboye, noted that the competition was organised to support and promote the acquisition of vocational skills amongst Nigerian youth.
According to him, the larger outlook of the scheme is to help the country in its quest to develop the requisite technical skill base to achieve the goal of industrialisation. “We also believe that building value-adding incentives around such a competition will rejuvenate the interest of the youth in acquiring these skills, which are key requirements to achieving industrial growth. It is also aimed that this initiative will spur other institutions (both private and public) to follow suit by developing initiatives along the lines of supporting vocational skill acquisition and growth,” he added. While formally declaring open the launch, the Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, said his ministry would partner all agencies of government to create new jobs. The minister said that the ‘YES’ project of BoI was a major component of the Federal Government’s youth employment scheme, promising that about 36,000 jobs would be created annually through the scheme.
He therefore urged prospective beneficiaries to repay the loans to ensure the success of the scheme and its sustainability. Similarly, the Special Assistant to the Vice President on Youths and Job Creation, Afolabi Imokhuede, commended the bank’s initiative, adding that job creation was at the centre of the current administration’s drive to ensure socio-economic empowerment of the youths for national leadership roles. According to him, the government is committed to creating jobs for the unemployed in the country through carefully packaged programmes, including the ‘YES’ programme. Like the minister, the Vice President’s aide admonished beneficiaries of the loans to take the ‘YES’ seriously given its online platform and opportunities since online courses are now becoming the most resourceful channels for employment worldwide. The Governor ok Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, assured of his the state’s support for the BoI’s YES programme in view of its far-reaching benefits for the economy. Other analysts and human capital capacity building experts, who spoke at the forum, described the BoI’s initiative as desirable for building a strong foundation for the country’s industrialization and broad-based development since innovative skills, which remain part of its focus, are crucial to current drives by governments for global economic competitiveness.