Former Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan and Chairman, NUC Skills Development Advisory Committee, Professor Olufemi Bamiro has called for the establishment of National Skills Development Agency (SDAC) to address the Skills gaps bedeviling the nation in critical sectors of the economy.

He made the clarion call during a workshop titled: Stakeholders’ Workshop On Skills Development organized by the National Universities Commission (NUC), Abuja last Thursday. In his presentation, Professor Bamiro highlighted the findings and recommendations of the NUC Skills Development Advisory Committee, affirming that “it is the firm belief of the leadership of NUC that our universities can address the problem of graduate employability and skills development in Nigeria that informed the setting up of this committee in February, 2018

The Chairman explained that the crux of the problem of graduate employability in Nigeria today, was characterised by poor funding of tertiary institutions, undue interference by various external entities, outdated curricula, poor and bloated staffing, overcrowding as well as incompetence in the management of tertiary institutions. These factors, he noted, has ultimately create a challenge for employers in filling their graduate vacancies, even with the high level of youth unemployment in the country.

The speaker said “employability is a set of skills, understandings, and personal attributes that makes graduates and individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community as well as the economy”. He added that skills can be broadly categorised into “hard skills” and “soft skills,” noting that hard skills were basically the discipline-relevant professional skills, with knowledge and competences required to perform creditably in the profession.

While soft skills on the other hand, he said refers to attributes such as flexibility, independence and critical thinking, communication skills, reflective learning, teamwork as well as ethics.

The former Vice Chancellor noted that most education and training programmes in the Nigerian education sector relegate the development of such soft skills to the background advising that the problem of skill mismatch must also be addressed. This he said was the gap between the skills required on the job and those possessed by individuals adding that the process of matching diversely skilled job seekers with available vacancies was not automatic. Imbalances between the supply and demand for people with different skills exist in all economies.

He said “to effectively reduce skill mismatch in our economy, requires the creation of a comprehensive long-term strategy, one involving public-private partnership among governments, employers and educational institutions to continuously develop and improve the use of skills”.

While giving an overview of the Nigerian Educational and Training Institutes, the SDAC chairman pointed that as at 2017, Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) institutions in Nigeria comprised Technical Colleges 132, Innovation Enterprise Institutions (IEIs) 137, Vocational Enterprise Institutions 72,Monotechnics 97 and Polytechnics 108.

He went further to add that several studies of the TVET system had shown that their education and training programmes seemed not to be demand-driven and had generally few linkages with employers. He stressed that though, there had been some interventions in the TVET system by the governments and International Agencies, however, the TVET system when linked to the University system through the need for the Nigerian Universities to provide well-articulated education and training programmes for the production of technical teachers for TVET and provide NSQ level 5 as well as  competencies on the six-level NSQ.

Prof. Bamiro added that in the past, at the University level, the manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) was represented in the Board of Faculties of Technology; the faculty established an Industrial Advisory Council with broader representation of industry and businesses. This he said provided opportunity for informed feedback on programme quality in meeting the needs of industry.

The former vice chancellor went back memory lane to give an insight into how the once thriving system changed within the Nigerian Universities System, beginning with the recognition of university of Ibadan curriculum, as one of the best, by the parent body for registered engineers, thereby prescribing it for adoption by all faculties of engineering in the Country. The industrial component he said was “christened” Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES).

The speaker argued that SIWES of varying duration was later adopted by many other programmes in the universities system. This he said led to a significant increase in the number of students requiring placements in industry while most of the ICUs set up in the universities to handle placements had limited capacity and experience. In most cases he added, students were left to scan for industrial placement themselves.

He noted that the scheme had not been adequately funded with the limited support by the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the general reluctance of students, particularly those in the public universities, to invest in themselves, adding that the gradual collapse of the industrial sectors of the Nigerian economy contributed to the shrinking of available places for meaningful industrial experience.

In addition to the failure of the SIWES scheme, Professor Bamiro stated that further constraint to sustainable employment and job creation in Nigeria was the “competitive deficit” in the industrial and non-oil export sectors arising from the structural defects of the economy and policy inconsistencies, including a significant lack of production capabilities, including relevant knowledge and skills.

While referring to the 2009 Africa Competitiveness Report (AFR), the SDAC chairman,  noted that 23 African Countries out of 31 that were surveyed remain at the most basic stage of the competitiveness index of a factor-driven economy (meaning economy whose ability to compete was based on unskilled labour and natural resources).

According to the report, only five Countries – Algeria, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, as well as Tunisia had reached the second stage of competitiveness which called the efficiency-driven stage (meaning the economy was driven by efficient goods, sophisticated labour and financial markets, a large market size as well as the ability to utilize technology effectively).

The speaker lamented that economic growth and unemployment in the Nigerian economy since 2000 has been characterised by high growth rates, but accompanied by persistent high unemployment rates and raising inequality. The existence of a high growth rate and high unemployment rate he said presents a paradox of “jobless growth”. He went further to add that the pattern of growth and its attendant employment outcomes were neither desirable nor sustainable. He observed that the study, showed “tertiarisation” of the economy that implies that growth has been built on the dominant services sector which favours high-skilled workers, despite the fact that the majority of the unemployed population remained low skilled”.

For these issues to be addressed, Professor Bamiro expressed the need to redesign the current Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) with inputs from industry and professional bodies towards identifying and achieving the expected skills outcomes for every programme been run in the diverse discipline; establishment of appropriate mechanism for University-Industry collaboration; establishment of appropriate mechanism for continuous capacity building of staff in content and pedagogy, particularly in handling the expected re-designed curricula to enhance graduate employability; comprehensive review by NUC of its programme accreditation scheme with particular reference to the development of accreditation instruments that encourage skills development as well as the development of sustainable funding model to enable universities recover costs of operation to achieve the optimal performance of their key functions and responsibilities as agents of national development.

To move beyond rudimentary stage of development that the economy was trapped in.  The speaker submitted that Nigeria must nurture pools of well-educated and highly skilled labour force that perform complex tasks and adapt rapidly to the changing environment and evolving need of the economy. In this context he said, public policy should provide a framework combining public and private initiatives, energetic entrepreneurship and the efficient functioning of institutions and market with well-defined plans and target for skills development.

Earlier in his address, the convener and Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed mni, MFR, FNAL welcomed the participants to the all important workshop on Skills development in Nigeria.

He said “Skill is the possession of necessary tools and/or talents needed to solve problems. I believe that it goes beyond mere possession of talent and acquisition of qualifications, but has more to do with being able to productively put the talent and qualifications to positive use in order to earn a living.”

Prof. Rasheed believed that any nation that can boast of abundant and quality skills and positively put them to use is definitely on the path of development, stating that this country lacked the critical skills needed for development despite the huge population and numerous Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as well as Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Centres.

He posited that “A close look at the formal and informal sector in Nigeria shows that many low, medium and high level skilled manpower are imported. In the construction industry, foreigners are brought in to execute jobs that could have been done by Nigerians – including Skills required in road construction, undersea and surface wielding, automobile maintenance, etc.”

The NUC scribe lamented that even simple skills as block moulding, masonry, tiling etc had to be imported from neighboring west African countries by middle level industries and individuals which he described as unacceptable.

To match graduate output with national manpower needs, NUC recognized the need to focus on improving access and deepening the labour market responsiveness of skills development in Nigerian Universities.

Prof. Rasheed called for development of a balanced skills development system that combined specialized and high level skills needs at the university level as well as technical and vocational skills with foundations learning, to address skills shortages in Nigeria at all qualification levels in a comprehensive and integrated manner including adult literacy.

To consolidate the process, NUC, in February, 2018, set up Skills Development Advisory Committee (SDAC) to advise on the development of a balanced skills development system with aim of evolving new strategies/programmes to assist all universities and other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to respond to the ever-changing skills needs of the economy.

The Executive Secretary that the “SDAC worked tirelessly, and looked critically at numerous factors including graduate employability; overview of the Nigerian education and training systems; overview of relevant skills to drive our economy; economic growth and employment in the Nigerian economy; effort of the National education and training systems at addressing the identified skill gaps; and lessons on skills development from other countries.”

He added that the Committee made a number of proposals and identified responsibilities of some key stakeholders in skills development, saying that the workshop would be discussing and proffering solutions to the skills development issues in Nigeria including recommendations of the SDAC.

Prof. Rasheed concluded by expressing hope that participants would be frank and make useful contributions in preparation for the establishment of a balanced and functional skills development system in Nigeria.

In his remarks, the Honorable Minister of Budget and National Planning (HMBNP), Senator Odoma Udo Udoma represented by Mrs F. N. Abdulraheem expressed his happiness to be of the event that combined specialized and high level skills at the university level and technical and vocational skills with fundamental learning towards addressing skills shortages in the Nigerian Economy.

He said MBNP has budgetary provisions for the improvement of the existing vocational training centres to fill skills gaps and provide employment opportunities for the labour force.

The Minister stated that the present administration has increased school enrollment through National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), thereby reducing the number of out of school children.

Senator Udoma added that the N-Power Programme has provided basic and quality at the very remote parts of the country at the institutions. He commended the visionary leadership of current Honorable Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu in driving the education sector at all levels.

He recognized also appreciated efforts of the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed mni, MFR, FNAL and his management team for initiating this August meeting.

The HMBNP reiterated his commitment and availability to provide technical support on whatever steps he would be required.

While delivering his address, the Executive Secretary, National Board for Technical Education (NBTE),  Dr Mas’udu A Kazaure emphasized the need to tackle the skills gap in this country, expressing his delight that the Universities through the NUC decided to be part of the efforts NBTE had been anchoring.

As part of his effort, NBTE has been collaborating with International Labour Organization (ILO) as well as other stakeholders and came up with several framework of action. He said some trades were identified as part of the skill gaps in Nigeria which NBTE set out to address, explaining that many measure were already on ground and a lot achieved.

Dr Kazaure mentioned that in the course of implementation, some challenges were encountered. These challenges included funding, well trained and qualified manpower and sustainability.

He expressed his happiness that NUC has embraced the challenges of unemployability and mismatch in the training needs of this country. To address those needs, Technicians, craftsmen, Artisans etc and Engineers must be available, stating that Universities have the capacity to produce good and employable engineers that could drive this long awaited revolution.

With this initiative of NUC and synergy, Dr Kazaure said Nigeria has begun a clearer journey towards innovation-driven economy. He assured NUC and stakeholders that NBTE would continue to fully support this initiative that could guarantee national development.