‘Nigerian unemployed graduates do not have skillset necessary for this 21st century’
Ademola Akitoye is the CEO and Director of AI Multimedia Academy. In this interview with Businessday, he shares insights on how his love for the multimedia industry led him to set up his company which has trained over 1000 young Nigerians. The CEO also sheds light on the importance of skill acquisition at a time when soft skills are key requirements for employment. Excerpts:
Can you tell us all about A1 Multimedia Academy? My name is Ademola Akitoye. I am the CEO and Director of AI Multimedia Academy. We are into multimedia academy capacity development, skills acquisition, and for the past eight years, we have engaged in training a lot of youth.
We have different courses that we offer in multimedia: graphic design, animation, cinematography, editing, visual events, and interactive design. We design visual events, marketing interactive designs, and web designs.
How have you been able to tackle unemployment through your organisation?
We recognise that the major challenge in our environment is unemployment simply because we have a lot of graduates who are not skilled. They have gone to school and graduated probably with B.sc and National Diploma but the Nigerian curriculum is not designed in such a way to make them employable when they are out of university.
These unemployed graduates find it difficult to be gainfully employed because of insufficient jobs mainly resulting from lack of capacity. They don’t have that skill set that is necessary for this 21st century. So what we have been able to do over the years is that we have been training many of them and many of them are currently doing very well.
They have gotten employment, some of them are working on their own-they are self-employed and we also have some of them that are now into graphics design full-time, feeding their family and have gotten married.
We also have some of our students who have passed through our academy and are now doing well; they are now working in big organisations- multinational organisations, entertainment industry, publishing, and television production.
You said your multimedia is about training youths. What brought about the idea to target and train the youths?
When I graduated some years ago, I fell in love with training and a large part of me also fell in love with technology. Meanwhile, I graduated in1998; served the following year and then worked briefly with a Canadian. It was along the line that I realised there was a skill gap in the multimedia industry.
I have always loved multimedia. I love camera and graphics, so I went for additional training outside the country, where I also did a lot of work and so realised there was a gap in the industry.
I decided then that I was going to share my skills with a lot of youths. That was what brought about setting up A1 Multimedia Academy in 2011, primarily for the love I have for training, and secondly, I wanted to impact all my skills to the upcoming youths who motivated me with their interest in the industry.
Another thing that motivated me to set up the firm was the skill gap in the industry. I wanted to provide many people with the necessary skills needed to take up the available jobs in the industry.
How did you source for funds to start?
Funding for SME is the major problem, and especially for someone who is just coming up with only a dream. The fund is a big challenge, no doubt about it, but because I was determined and needed to get it started, I had to sell my car.
I needed to buy a very powerful laptop, and one or two gadgets. I couldn’t raise the money anywhere so what I did was to take the bold step of selling my car, my only car I had that time and that was how I started as one man.
I started it all alone and I was just the only one working in the organisation but eventually, I had another person and from two we grew to three, four, five and we now have a staff strength of over 10 people.
What are the challenges so far?
The challenges are enormous. In this part of the world, power is the number one crucial thing needed for the survival of every business. We spend a lot on the power supply and it is really sad up till now no one has been able to solve the problem of power- that is the number challenge.
The second problem is fund accessibility; banks don’t readily give money to SMES and even if they give they give at an astronomical interest rate which is too high for SMES. Another challenge is getting good people to work with you; the problem of getting trustworthy manpower that believes in your vision and what you want to achieve- I guess many youths also face that problem at the initial state.
I think those are the challenges and we have been able to overcome them to a great extent through adjustment. In the area of funding, we have disciplined ourselves; most of the money we make is being put back into the business to grow.
What are the challenges you face when trying to access credit from banks?
There are stringent conditions if SMES are trying to access funds from any commercial bank. The banks are out there to make money, there is no doubt about that and you can’t blame them.
Looking at our environment, data are not readily available. Banks can give you money and you run away, who is going to be responsible for that?
For you to access a loan in the bank, you need collateral. There is no doubt about it whether you are small or big, but tell me, how many SMES have such collateral? However, the government is now coming out to help through the central bank by directing them to give loans to small businesses. Even with that, it is not easy to access the loans; you still have to pass through a lot of stringent conditions to access such credits.
Can you tell us about your mission?
Our mission is to make learning easier for youths, to train as much as possible in the area of multimedia so that they can contribute their quota to the growth and development of the nation and also have the ability to expand beyond the scope of Nigeria.
Right now we only have one branch in Lagos so we are hoping to expand to other parts of Lagos, and Abuja. We have people calling us from Abuja, from Port-harcourt, and some from Kaduna. Almost all states in the country want to see us, they need the skills. Some of them are begging us to come but due to lack of funds, we couldn’t expand as such.
So our greatest mission is to expand beyond the present place we are and penetrate to other areas in the country, if we can do that then we will achieve a lot or one of our dreams.
How has your vocational training been able to enhance the growth of the economy?
In terms of employment, I think I have said it before: in terms of employment we have been able to equip young Nigerians through our vocational training to become employable.
Some of them are now working as self-employed using the skills they studied in class. Some of the cinematographers, animators, and graphic designers are contributing their quota to the country.
In addition to our contribution to reducing the unemployment rate in the country, we are also providing employment. As I said earlier on, initially when I started in 2011, it was just me alone but in 2019 we have over 10 working staff and we still want to expand. The more we expand, the more we are going to engage more people.
How many students have been able to get employment after the training in your academy?
Many have already gotten employment, I don’t have all the statistics but we have trained up to 1000 students since we started and I can tell you that a large percentage of them, let’s say 70percent of them, are positively engaged.
Out of those that are gainfully employed, they are either working with organisations, or as freelancers, or as self-employed, so we have been able to achieve that.
After training, how can one start even though he does not have the resources?
Depending on the type of programme the person went through, the cost of starting might not be even more than the laptop they already own. So it might not be a big problem. For example, somebody who is into graphic designing does not need more than his laptop and from there he can begin to make some money and even if at all you don’t have money for other resources you can also be engaged by an organisation that will be paying you.
It means every month such a person will be paid and as such can save up to buy whatever he/she needs to buy. If you want to be on your own it is not a problem. Either way, you start with whatever you have saved and begin to buy your equipment. So, whichever way you take, will get to where you are headed.
For those who don’t have jobs after graduating what is your advice to them?
Those who are jobless, who have not gone to any training, this is the 21st century. There is a big revolution going on all over the world and the revolution is skill. If you don’t have skills regardless of whether you went to Harvard and did MBA, whatever certificate you have, it is important to also acquire a skill. With that, people will engage you more.
As much as the certificate is important and youths should acquire it, they should also remember that they need to back it up adequately with the necessary and modern skills.
I will encourage anyone who is lying out idle anywhere to step forward, acquire a skill. One thing I can assure you of is that you will get the job. There is no doubt, you don’t even have to work for anybody, you can work for yourself and you can also team up with other people and have your company. We have students we have trained that have opened their own companies. So the opportunity is wide and there is a potential that the multimedia business is still growing and there is enough room for you to make it in multimedia business.
What are the roles you want the government to play to help SME?
The government has a lot of roles to play. One of the problems that need to be addressed immediately is the area of power supply.
Another area that the government should come in is funding. They can provide more loans to organisations. I will make example of Lagos State employment agency that is giving cheap loans to SME. You know, the Federal Government can also come up with that kind of programme by getting a loan with enough moratorium and spread the loan repayment over the period of two, three, four or five years with 5 percent or 4 percent interest rate.
I think that will help a lot of SMEs and engage more hands.
What can you say on the rate of unemployment in the country and how can the government tackle it?
The rate of unemployment is alarming in the sense that the engine of any development in any society is SMEs. For example, if you go to China today you will see a lot of phones, toys, and all that being manufactured. The Chinese government needed to encourage SMEs by putting in place the necessary infrastructure that SMEs can grow and society can change.
I think a SME has a lot of roles to play in solving the unemployment problem growth rate in Nigeria.