The dominance of foreign artisans in Nigeria over indigenous hands has been a cause for concern for a long time. ISAAC SHOBAYO writes on the latest effort by Industrial Training Fund (ITF) to address this, as well as ensuring that Nigerians are equipped for global opportunities.

In the penultimate week, the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) commenced screening for artisans and intending artisans in all the senatorial districts of the country. These are artisans that have been designated for a programme tagged “Skill Up Artisans” (SUPA) as part of the initiatives by the Federal Government to fight unemployment and ensure certified skill acquisition in the country.

The country is bedeviled with quite a lot of social vices arising from unemployment and a lack of requisite technical skilled manpower to drive certain aspects of the economy. Majority of those with skills, like artisans, are not properly licensed to apply their skills beyond the shores of Nigeria.

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Also, successive governments in the country since independence did not place much premium on skill-based education. They focused more on a knowledge-based education.

Hence many Nigerians have rushed to learn antiquated courses that they will never use, and this explains why there are a lot of unemployed graduates roaming the streets.

From all indications, a good degree today does not guarantee a job upon completion of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). However, when combined with technical skill acquisition, higher education makes the graduate useful to themselves and society, some observers say.

Based on this reality, observers opine that for Nigerian youths to have a financially secure future, they cannot play by the old rule that says that acquiring formal education only is a gateway to success.

It has been observed that nationals from China and the Philippines are prominent at various construction sites across the country taking up jobs that Nigerians ought to have been doing to make a living.

It is equally noted that artisans from West African countries such as Benin Republic and Togo produce tillers, plumbers, and electricians, among others, that are in demand all over the country today, while the indigenous ones idle away due to one reason or the other.

With the increasing demand for blue-collar workers in Europe, North America, and Asia, the Federal Government, through the Industrial Training Fund (TF), is now working to improve the skills of artisans in Nigeria, which, in turn, could boost the nation’s economy through skilled manpower and labour exports.

It is in recognition of this that the Federal Government through ITF initiated and facilitated the SUPA programme driven by the ITF under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment.

Explaining the concept of SUPA at the recent 2023 Annual Merit Award Ceremony of the Fund in Jos, Plateau State, the Director-General of ITF, Dr Afiz Oluwatoyin Ogun, explained that SUPA is a transformative initiative committed to upskilling, licensing, and empowering five million Nigerian artisans in a year, saying that this will be done by collating data of Nigerian artisans that may undergo training where required, certification, and licensing for better job opportunities both locally and internationally.

To build the business into global standards, Dr Ogun mentioned that the training will be in five categories for three sets of people: artisans, intending artisans and training centres.

He added that the categories will in basic training, advanced training, apprenticeship period, certification process and ongoing learning.

He stated that SUPA reflected the Nigerian government’s commitment to promoting economic development and improving the standard of living for citizens across the country, adding that the programme is intended to drive national development, ensure the availability of skilled artisanal workers for domestic industries, and create a sustainable pipeline for labour export.

According to him, it is also intended to boost the pool of local artisans to become highly competitive, take full advantage of job openings locally and internationally, and address outdated and skill deficiencies in artisanal practice in Nigeria.

On the purpose of SUPA, Dr. Ogun declared that “It provides comprehensive Industry 4.0-compliant and certified training programmes, including health and safety programmes for various trades such as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical work, and many more. It will enable artisans to access essential tools, equipment, and funds to expand their trades. It will also ensure Nigerian artisans are certified, licensed, and operate using standardised methods and practices. Finally, it will enhance employment opportunities for artisans in local and international markets.”

He further stated that the programme will sharpen the skills of artisans and provide economic empowerment for artisans. “This will be achieved by equipping them with employable skills that enhance their earning potential, contribute to poverty reduction, and improve the overall quality of services provided by indigenous artisans, thereby reducing dependency on foreign artisans and increasing foreign exchange through the National Talent Export Programme,” Ogun stated.

In this era of “japa,” mostly among the young ones in the country, the Director-General encouraged Nigerians travelling abroad to acquire relevant skills before leaving the country instead of settling for degrading menial jobs.

He added that certification and licensing are crucial in this regard for ensuring quality service delivery, and that by certifying and licensing artisans, SUPA promotes industry-standard excellence and aids in the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises.

“In some countries, artists earn more than professors and those in other white-collar jobs; and that is why we often encourage those who want to ‘japa’ to acquire the requisite skills before they jet out of the country,” he advised.

The ITF has now commenced training the trainers for the programme and preparing designated centres across the country for the exercise.

Speaking while receiving the report of the Committee on Centre Assessment and Verification for SUPA at the Fund’s Headquarters, the director-general pointed out that artisans and intending artisans that are currently undergoing screening at various centres across all senatorial districts of the country will soon be deployed to centres that have been earmarked for SUPA training.

He said that deployment would commence after the train-the-trainer programme for officers of the Fund that would be involved in the training of artisans for SUPA. The ITF boss commended the committee for their individual and collective efforts to ensure the success of the assessment exercise.

Dr Ogun assured that the centres in the country that were not visited by the committee may be outside the construction, fashion design, agriculture and agro-allied, and automobile works sectors that are the focus of this phase of the programme.

On the ongoing screening of artisans across the country, the DG stated that those not invited for screening under this phase will be considered in subsequent phases, stressing that SUPA has come to stay.

Presenting the report, the chairperson of the Committee on Centre Assessment and Verification for SUPA, Mrs Chioma Ogbonna, said that over 1000 centres were visited during the exercise.

She added that of this number, 781 centres were found to have met the requirements and suitable for training under SUPA.

Giving a breakdown of the centres found suitable, Mrs Ogbonna said 241 centres in the North Central, 102 in the North-East, 150 in the North-West, 74 in the South-East, 100 in the South-West, and 114 in the South-South met the requirements.

Meanwhile, the director-general earlier declared that SUPA was in line with global employment trends, which have shifted as a result of the way technology has changed the face of many industries. He noted that the preference for white-collar jobs has resulted in a scarcity of qualified Nigerian artisans.

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