• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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‘Skill-Up initiative aims to address skill deficiency in technical space’

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 For the man on the street, Skill-Up is just another initiative that may end up at the middle of nowhere. Could there be more to it that you would like to share? 

Skill-Up for the man on the street simply means ‘up the skill, or up the game’. But in reality, it is an initiative that is aimed to address skill deficiency in the technical space. Because its target market are the youth, we had to make the name trendy and catchy. It is a revolution because skill cuts across every sector and, unfortunately, attention has been on soft skill at the expense of technical skill.

If, however, you look at Nigeria as a country, industrialization is the key to growth. Looking at both the financial and telecom sectors, you find that they have grown but their growth is not the kind of growth needed to cater for 160 million people in the country.

The area that guarantees that needed growth is the industrial sector which includes oil and gas.

Over the past 50 years that oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria, one thinks that we should have gained enough expertise to be able to do things in that sector by ourselves. And this is one of the key issues that Skill Up is out to address.

If you look back in history, the engineers and technicians we have today are where they are because of the technical skill they have. When we were moving away from the colonial masters, the bridges and dams that were built, and the drainages that were constructed, were the practical work experiences that these engineers had.

Unfortunately, from the 80s till now, skill development has been taking a nose-dive. The degeneration in our technical education started in 1984 when the indigenization policy came into force. These are also some of the issues that Skill Up has come up to address.Skill Up is industry-backed which means it has come to restore the disconnect between the industry and the schools.

We have unemployment problem but the real problem is in the lack of technical skills. Our educational system is faulty because the teachers who are in the schools today are also products of the system that has failed to produce skilled manpower and so they can’t give what they don’t have.

When therefore, we say that Skill Up is industry-backed, we mean that it is out to correct those usefulness of the industry that has not been addressed by listening to the operators; those in the grinding mill who don’t want just a plumber but one who can do the job. The industry operator wants that technician who really understands the job.

Coca Cola tells us that before they deploy their graduate-employees, they have to train them for two whole years. Now, they want to partner with us because they are looking for ways of reducing that retraining period to six months.

After passing through our training school, what they will be learning in the industry is specialization because no two plants are the same.

MCS is a training business. Looking back to when you started, what has been your experience; in other words, what is your success story?

Training is a major aspect of our business as an organization. Training for me emanates from that natural in-born talent and we have done this in many years. We generally train for process and for people on the role they are expected to play.

We are planning to make this training a commercial product and for this reason, I have had to sit back with my team and the question was: What do we want to be known for? What do we want to train? This is because training is one of the easiest businesses people can enter into. It is, of course, an all comers affair.

People who go for training often complain they don’t get any better after the training. When I sat down and thought over this, I realized that there was a missing link in all this.

What was really missing was the core component or what could be called the third quadrant in a competence cycle. In this cycle you find knowledge, skill and the third is attitude which was really missing.

Training should not be a stand alone; it should be tied to the vision, mission and strategy of an organization. Training is an intervention to correct, align or direct/redirect. Why a lot of organizations complain they don’t get value for the training they undergo is because there is a fault in the administration and training process.

We decided that this is where we would position ourselves. So, we have positioned ourselves as a training company that focuses on attitude and skill acquisition. We have trained a lot of people on leadership skill, presentation skill, etiquette, lighting skills, attitude measurement skills, problem solving skills etc.

We have taken many companies through attitude training and this has been quite rewarding because we have not lost a client, rather they keep coming back.

Critically looking at the scenario you have painted, would blame the students or the youth generally for their poor attitude to skill training given the environment in which they find themselves? 

Really, you can’t blame the youth because they are mere victims of the environment which, unfortunately, is what our policy makers have made of it. We are however, happy that recently the Federal Government set up a committee and called an industrialist, Aliko Dangote, to head the committee. That, for us, is a good step in the right direction. The blame actually is on the policy makers and the environment. The problem begins from when people begin to think that technical skill is for school drop-outs.

This is a perception that Skill Up is also out to correct. For me, I feel that technical skill is for the brainy because it involves a lot of creative thinking and ingenuity. It is for this perception that nobody wants to go to technical schools or the polytechnic but the conventional university.

I believe that the direction to our future is to take a recourse to our past and ask ourselves what we did to get it right or did not do that made us fail.

In Skill Up, we are saying, let’s stop the importation of skilled manpower because we have enough people who could be trained for theses jobs. Interestingly, the greater percentage of our population is the youth who are below 40 years of age.

We are just waiting for the government to get the issue of power right because the growth we are going to see in the economy will be over 1,000 percent more than what we have seen in the telecom sector.

We are in a country where we extract our raw products, export them and then import the finished products at higher costs. What we should do is to build the skill into what we have so that we can do it ourselves and create jobs for our people.

With all our resources, what we should be doing at the state level is to align our skills to our natural competences. The states should be looking at their comparative advantages. In a state like Lagos, there is water in abundance and so the state should be thinking of marine businesses like ship building, fisheries, under water welding etc. The state does not need the federal government to control its technical and vocational education training (TVET).

In this kind of initiative, you really need both public and private sector partnership for policy framework and funding respectively. Who are your partners and what level of interest and confidence do you enjoy from the private and public sectors?

Our first major partnership is with Lagos State government. The state has been able to put the right technical education board in place which is a right step in the right direction.

We went to them and said, you have what we need. You have the technical colleges in which there are complaints about poor equipment and untrained teachers. And as private sector operators, we have the know-how. So, let’s partner. We identified construction engineering as an area that is suffering.

We have decided on Government Technical College (GTC), Ikorodu as the school for engineering construction. We went to the college to upgrade the infrastructure so that it could be approved for training and we have been able to achieve that. What is next for us is to begin the training.

What we have also done is to approach industry owners for partnership because as I said earlier, the initiative is industry-backed. In this case, Nigerite Limited is our industry partner. They have set up a building for this initiative at GTC, Ikorodu which they have named Centre for Building Solutions.

The company’s goal is to create a hub where we will, in the next one to two years, be training artisans because they realize that as a manufacturing company, the success of their product depends on the proper installation of those products. Many customers attribute bad installation to bad products which is not the case.

So, it is in their own interest to train their own installers who will do it well. They can make it a policy that all their contractors have to go to the training college and get certified if they had not done that before. We are also hoping that other manufacturers will latch unto this initiative to train their installers. We expect companies like Wichtech to come and train their plumbers and also Niger Dock for their ship builders.

Given all the sectors of the economy, which of them is your main focus?

We have realized that there is much more demand and even challenge in the engineering technician area than any other sector of the economy. The engineering technician area cuts across every sector of the economy. Let’s look at Nigerite, for instance. If you want to group this company, you will group it under construction but because they are a manufacturing firm, the people that work for them more are engineering technicians. The machines and equipment that produce their products are manned by these technicians. Even in Dangote’s cement, the key people who manufacture the product are engineering technicians.

So, the real problems that these industries have are skilled technicians and it is not surprising therefore, that in our online registration, over 80 percent of those who are registering for training are those seeking training as engineering technicians. Only very few people are registering for construction.

Skill Up, in essence, is sector-blind because it cuts across all sectors and its main focus is for people to up their skill. Wherever anybody comes from—automobile, engineering, oil and gas etc, we give him the kind of training that he needs.

 

CHUKA UROKO