The liberalisation of the telecoms sector more than a decade ago has opened investment windows for local and foreign investors, contributing about 8.83 per cent to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP). An excess of $38 billion has also come into the economy as foreign direct investment (FDI). But on indigenous manpower development, many of the telcos prefer to poach existing professionals, LUCAS AJANAKU writes on public and private initiatives to address the problem.
More than any time in the history of Nigeria, the information communications technology (ICT) sector has become an attraction, no thanks to the crash in the prices of crude oil, the nation’s mainstay.
The ICT sector is one of the pivots of President Muhammdau Buhari’s economic diversification agenda. The importance of the sector cannot be over-emphasised and Communications Technology Minister Adebayo Shittu aptly captured this when he said: “Technology, particularly ICT, is the critical driver of the knowledge-based economy of this our post-modern world. As many notable pundits predicted in the course of the 20th Century, emphasis and global relevance in today’s 21st Century world has shifted from nations with huge natural resources to nations with developed human resources that can technologically explore, exploit and manage natural resources for the benefit of mankind.
“The government will leverage more on the ICT sector to solve the problem of unemployment in the country because the revenue from the oil and gas sector has been on a steady decline since early 2015”
For the government to maximise the potential of the industry, the development of indigenous manpower is critical. It is often said that the success and failure of any nation is a function of its human resources. Local manpower development is, therefore, a key factor to the countyr’s socio-economic and political development.
“ICT offers Nigeria the best hope of employment generation for the youth. It offers the best hope of increasing the productivity of our national workforce through training and re-training. It also offers the best hope of activating positive revolution in promising sectors such as agriculture, solid minerals, entertainment, textiles,” Shittu added.
According to a research by Ericsson titled Next Generation Working Life, cultural changes and rapid technological progress are transforming the rules of working life as they were known, paving the way to uncharted organisational territory.
“There are several drivers to this development. Constant connectivity, digitalisation of products and services, automation of manual work, increased globalisation, higher education levels and changed personal values and attitudes towards work are just some of the factors fundamentally changing the way we work,” Ericsson said.
In Nigeria, there are increasing concerns about skills gap across sectors, and experts and stakeholders are of the view that beyond the classroom, there is the need to expose students to the practical aspects in their courses of study.
It is said that available skills are not speaking to the labour market. In some industries where there are jobs and opportunities, there is insufficient local manpower to take the jobs as Nigerians have not been properly groomed to perform some of the required roles in this sector and deliver the responsibilities that are expected of them.
The Federal Government and some organisations in the private sector are beginning to tackle this issue by strategising and deliberating on how human capital can be developed locally to ensure that jobs that were hitherto taken by expatriates can now be in the hand of indigenes, especially in areas where high level of skills are required and where the expertise lies in the hands of foreigners.
Digital Bridge Institute
The Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) was launched in May 2004 in response to the phenomenal growth of the ICT sector in Nigeria. The success was led by the successful auction of Digital Mobile Licensing by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) – the government regulator, and the subsequent roll out of mobile services, increased number of operators, and significant increased private capital investment, the sector as a whole has been challenged by a dearth of qualified human capital.
At inception, DBI had campus only in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Two other campuses have since been inaugurated in Lagos, Lagos State and Kano, Kano State. The Federal Government said DBI would be converted to a full-fledged university.
“Africa is looking up to Nigeria to take advantage of her vast human and material resources and become the catalyst for economic emancipation of other continents. “The country does not have a dedicated institution for ICT awarding degrees. It is the policy of this government to convert the DBI in Lagos and other cities into a multi-campus ICT University, perhaps the first of its kind in Africa,” Shittu said.
Another industry intervention is the Etisalat Telecommunications Engineering Postgraduate Programme (ETEPP) at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State.
To ensure sustainable provision of skilled telecommunications engineers to cater to the fast growing telecoms industry in Nigeria, Etisalat created the ETEPP.
Inaugurated in 2013, ETEPP is a Master’s programme in Telecommunications Engineering, the first-of-its-kind in West Africa. The programme is located in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, and facilitated in partnership with the Etisalat Academy United Arab Emirates (UAE), Plymouth University United Kingdom (UK) and Huawei Technologies to deliver a world class technology-based academic programme. The curriculum was created with the guidance of Plymouth University and the Etisalat Academy; and the technical laboratory was equipped with cutting edge tools provided by Huawei.
A critical element of the ETEPP is the internship with Etisalat Nigeria, which offers the students practical knowledge on the theories they have learnt in the classrooms and laboratory. During the internship, the students’ practical understanding of telecommunications engineering is broadened as they gain full access to insights that have made Etisalat the most reliable network in Nigeria.
About a fortnight ago, Etisalat Nigeria, hosted a set of students of the ETEPP at ABU, Zaria, to a one month skill enhancement internship programme. The internship afforded the student the opportunity to gain a one-month practical knowledge in various departments of the technical division of Etisalat Nigeria, to support their course work in school.
A beneficiary of the programme, Wasiu Ajadi, said one thing uppermost in his heart was to be a sought-after industry professional after leaving the university. Ajadi was excited about the opportunity the programme has given him. At least, he has been able to match the theories taught in the classromm with practical.
Ajadi said his participation in the internship programme at Etisalat Nigeria was an opportunity that would have been too costly to miss. Sharing his experience at the closing ceremony of the 2015 batch of ETEPP internship in Abuja, he expressed the confidence that the practical knowledge he gained during the internship would make him a rounded professional upon graduation.
“The rich, varied and thought-provoking curriculum that we followed as part of our Master’s programme was very intense; and I believe that it will make me very competitive in the telecoms industry. We had several sessions where theoretical experience and real-world experiences were blended to put us on the cutting edge,” he said, adding that ETEPP being innovative in content and scope will meet the challenge of skills gap that currently exists in the local telecoms industry.
Another student, Kelechi Okogwu, said ETEPP internship was a wonderful opportunity for anyone willing to develop a career in telecoms engineering. “The course content is well tailored, and the course is well-thought by the faculty and Etisalat to equip real engineers with the capacity they require to be able to solve any challenge on the field,” he said while his counterpart, Christopher Alabi, said the internship has increased his understanding of things learnt in the classroom. “It’s no longer just theory; we now know how the theory actually relates to practice. For me that is the most important thing,” he said.
Speaking about the ETEPP internship, Vice President, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, Etisalat Nigeria, Ibrahim Dikko, said the programme was a response to the absence of any dedicated course for the telecoms sector in any Nigerian university, which Etisalat identified as a critical missing link when it launched into the market in 2008. Consequently, ETEPP was launched to develop local capacity that would take the Nigerian telecoms industry to the next level between the next 10 and 15 years.
He said: “In the 21st century, there is no way we can go forward and build capacity if we did not try and address the educational gap in the industry. So we started a partnership with ABU, Zaria Plymouth University UK and the Etisalat Academy, UAE to develop the Etisalat Telecommunications Engineering Postgraduate Programme. We are also training some lecturers at PhD level at Plymouth University UK so there can be capacity for knowledge sharing.”
Head, Department of Computer Engineering, ABU, Zaria, Dr. Yusuf Jibril, commended the telco for the innovative programme. He said through ETEPP initiative, Etisalat has invested significantly in capacity building for both lecturers and students of the university. “Through this initiative, Etisalat has donated state-of-the-art equipment to the department, exposed our students to the most recent practices in the telecommunications industry and also sponsors some of our lecturers for their PhD in Plymouth University UK. We really appreciate this good gesture,” he said.
Through the initiative, Etisalat has trained 55 students and sponsored nine outstanding students for further training at the Etisalat Academy in UAE. Lecturers of Ahmadu Bello University have also been sponsored for their PhD in Plymouth University, UK, while three best students of ETEPP also go to Etisalat Academy in the UAE for further training.
Globalisation has reduced the world into a single market and the movement of labour from one part of the world to another is common. In emerging markets such as Nigeria where managerial and technical capacity are generally assumed to be low, more industry-specific knowledge and skills enhancement programmes such as ETEPP is required to enhance local managerial and technical capacity that would lead eventually to adequate local technical and managerial competencies.