If Nigeria is to come to grips with its high youth unemployment rate, which reached 24% in mid-2016, the development of skills and core competencies in fields relevant to the country’s development is crucial. In recent years the government and private sector have increasingly cooperated on vocational training, but higher funding and a long-term policy are needed.
During the decade of rapid growth that began in the early 2000s on the back of higher oil prices, the country’s major energy and infrastructure projects were built by a largely expatriate workforce of welders, electricians, plumbers and machine operators. “When investors come to Nigeria, the first thing that hits them is the lack of employable workers,” Ekwunife Chukwuemeka, industry services officer for Lagos-based vocational school the Institute for Industrial Technology, told OBG. “Most Nigerians go to school, but they learn only theoretical skills and do not have the skills needed to work in a factory or to use machines. This huge gap is a major handicap for the development of the country. If investors need to bring in factory labour, they may be put off entering the market.”
President Muhammadu Buhari has emphasised the importance of developing the country’s workforce since taking office in May 2015. In November 2015 he called on the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as well as the Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to create a plan to expand and modernise Nigeria’s vocational training schools. President Buhari singled out the Building Craft Training School and the Skill Improvement Centre in Lagos for immediate upgrades to ensure enough skilled workers in the construction sector. In February 2016 the federal government announced it would train 370,000 artisans for work in the industry via the Construction Skills Training and Empowerment programme, which is run by construction consultancy J Hausen Nigeria. An additional 500,000 graduates are expected to find employment as sector skills teachers.
In May 2015 the government approved the establishment of Vocational Enterprise Institutions (VEIs) and Innovative Enterprise Institutions (IEIs), private schools which work with businesses to provide vocational and technical training. VEIs are secondary school-level programmes that conclude with the award of a National Vocational Certificate, while IEIs provide post-secondary, one-to-two and three-to-four year courses that lead to a National Innovation Diploma. The National Board of Technical Education listed a total of 77 approved VEIs and 140 IEIs in September 2017.
However, the management of private vocational schools must find creative funding mechanisms. “Students have to pay around 50% of the cost of training, which is a significant burden for them, while the other half of funding comes from industries that pay a fee for taking on graduates,” Chukwuemeka told OBG. “It is very hard for schools to turn a profit, and they fulfil a crucial social service and should benefit from a government subsidy. A 1% tax could be levied on industry to finance private sector training.”
At present the main government funding source for vocational training is the Industrial Training Fund, which was established in 1971 and provides resources to private firms with apprenticeship schemes, as well as subsidising some employment programmes.
Even if increased funding can be secured and industry participation in training incentivised, important cultural and administrative challenges remain. Despite the new government’s enthusiastic support for vocational training, long-term strategic planning is still needed. “On the government side, there is no blueprint for skills training and no research to determine what the market needs now and in the future to allow intelligent investment of government funds,” Chukwuemeka told OBG. Until that happens, the status quo is likely to remain. Blue-chip firms that need a Nigerian base will either develop skills in-house or hire from abroad, but others will be put off by the expense.
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