Mr. Bartholomew Ukaegbu is the Chairman, Nigerian Association of Technologists in Engineering, Lagos Branch. In this interview with Okechukwu Nnodim, he says technologists should start small-scale industries in areas of their professional competences
How relevant are technologists to Nigeria’s economic development?
Let me start by telling you that Nigeria is striving to be one of the 20 industrialised nations of the world by the year 2020. The relevance of technologists is not far fetched, in the sense that most of the functioning engineering outfit in the country are being manned by members of NATE. Is it in the building of roads, bridges, buildings, PHCN facilities and other infrastructural systems? Most of these facilities are manned by members of this noble association. And that is why we are saying that the issue of dichotomy, as it concerns B.Sc. and HND holders should be looked into by the government. The transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan has been taken seriously by technologists in the area of provision of manpower for the oil companies, construction firms, water engineering, agriculture, training, furniture industries, metal fabrication businesses, etc.
Can technologists help improve the unemployment situation in Nigeria?
Our vision is to be the fulcrum on which this great nation, Nigeria, will be technologically self-reliant. And our mission statement is to use technologists to create employment and phase out unemployment among graduates of technology and others. As we work towards achieving this, you can be sure that unemployment will be reduced in this country. For achievements, we can confidently say that HND holders have become better recognised. Our business is to see a day in which this country will see technologists as the pivot of development. Let me remind you that there is a gap NATE is trying to fill as far as engineering is concerned in this country. The engineers design, and most of what they design cannot be brought to reality, except a technologist come in and this is our business.
In what ways can a technologist function as an entrepreneur?
In this direction, NATE as a body has been encouraging her members in the area of entrepreneurial development. We do this by organising training, workshops, techno fares, etc, in order to encourage and facilitate members’ efforts in setting up their own businesses. For instance, we make them realise the essence and importance of establishing small scale industries in their respective areas of professional competences. About 70 per cent of small scale industries or businesses that are found in Nigeria today are owned by technologists. For example, businesses like furniture making, metal fabrication, mechanical/concrete industries, block making firms and some construction industries, etc, are run by technologists. It is therefore wise for technologists and engineers to be fully involved in entrepreneurship, as this has been proved to be one of the channels of growth of most emerging economies. It will also interest you to know that some technologists are in food processing business in this country. All these are to strengthen the nation’s economy and we encourage our members to take advantage of the opportunities at their disposal as entrepreneurs.
What are the basic skills needed by an average engineer or technologist in order to succeed as an entrepreneur?
Like I said before, NATE organises skills acquisition programmes in the form of training, talk sessions and exhibitions for technologists in their different professional areas. This is to enhance the skills of engineers and to make them seasoned entrepreneurs. This has been our mission and it is geared towards reducing unemployment and promoting entrepreneurship among members. Also recently, the association introduced auto cad (computer aided design) training and we have made it mandatory for all technologists.
We organised the Nigeria Association of Engineering Workshop and Exhibition in 2011 in Abuja for this purpose. And this year, it is part of our plan to have such exhibition to go along with our Annual General Meeting in Lagos. Permit me to state that it might amaze you to know that 70 per cent of small scale industries existing in the country today are owned by technologists, and this has helped the country in no small measure to reduce the unemployment rate which has become a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our economy. This has equally helped to propagate in good light the transformational agenda of the Federal Government and can help Nigeria in achieving its vision 2020.
What are the major challenges facing technologists and engineers in Nigeria?
The major challenges are the dichotomy placed between university graduates and those of polytechnics. While the university graduate’s career progression is limitless, her polytechnic counterpart is pegged to unimaginable limit. The university graduate in the public sector may grow to the level of Director-General, while her polytechnic counterpart is pegged to level 14. This challenge has made technologists not to put their best in the area of technological development of the country. The second major challenge is finance. Funds are not easily accessed in this country for entrepreneurial development despite wonderful visions that most technologists have for the technological development of the country. And this has hindered many technologists from contributing their quota in the development of this nation in the way of setting up businesses.
In what ways can the government enhance the entrepreneurial skills of technologists?
The government can help boost entrepreneurial skills of technologists by providing funds and by eliminating all forms of dichotomy among tertiary institutions which has dampened the courage of many polytechnic graduates. They should build incubation centres, i.e. by creating infrastructural facilities in partnership with foreign counterparts like India to help boost the productive capacity of technologists. Also, they should create market for the products of technologists by giving rebate based on their products and should reduce the cost of production by allowing duty-free on imports of equipment. Technologists can adequately help develop our economy as a nation. All that is needed is the enabling environment and support from the government to make this a reality. Though there have been changes, we hope to see more beneficial transformations that will not just impact the lives of technologists and engineers, but will improve Nigeria’s economy generally.
First Published in The Punch