Lessons from Lagos state’s war against youth unemployment

Lessons from Lagos state’s war against youth unemployment

A place where opportunities and youths abound, yet unemployment reigns, is a place devoid of strategic management of resources and doomed for crime and restiveness. Such a place is not hard for any Nigerian to imagine, because it actually exists and we live in it.

Daily Times findings has however shown that an interesting 17-year old scheme in Lagos exists which provides ample opportunities for youths seeking gainful employment, the question is how successful has it been?

Perhaps you live in Lagos and you ply the Ogba-Agege axis, then you may by now be familiar with seeing mature youths clad in black and white uniforms and probably concluded that they are students of a learning institute of some sorts and of course continue minding your business, which is what everyone is expected to do in Lagos.

Taking a bus ride with one of the students Tolulope one fateful day, provided just the ample opportunity for interaction and to one’s greatest shock, behold Tolu was a university graduate! Then what was she still doing with a school uniform five years after graduation? From there the story began to unravel.

This was no ordinary school, it was a vocational school instituted by the Lagos state government for women development but has since been restructured as a strategic institute for battling youth unemployment.

After failing to secure a job Tolu set up a little shop but proceeds from her sales quickly vaporised left with no job and no capital for business she ended up seeking vocational skill acquisition and today, she is training to become a certified hairdresser, which she believes will guarantee her a steady source of income. As she said, “my skills will always be a part of me, unlike my capital which got exhausted, my training will be my new capital and it will always be intact.”

Vocational skills acquisition is the future of job creation experts have also agreed.

A unique kind of school

Women Development Centre was established as an agency under the Lagos State ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

17 in number they are spread across almost all the Local government areas of the state you will find them in Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu, Surulere, Egbeda, Mushin  Igando, Ojo etc,

Each centre is unique in its own way and offers specific programmes at the Agege centre, which is actually the pilot centre, eight courses are on offer such as catering and hotel management, Sewing and Fashion design, textile design, Art, bead and soap making are together, hairdressing, photography, adult literacy, barbing and computer training.

Daily Times discovered that the training durations also vary and this affects the intake period – for programmes that run for one year admission is usually in January while the six months programmes accept students in July and the nine months programme starts in September.

Computer training, photography, barbing and textile fall under six months while the other ones are 12 months or 9 months. Sewing and fashion is 12 months including a 3-month industrial attachment.

Instructors keep regular tabs on students during industrial attachments, while the students themselves fill out a log book on their activities.

The progenitors

The initiative was set up in 1998 by the then military Governor, Col Buba Marwa for fees of N5,000 – N10,000. However during the second term of former governor of Lagos State Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu, it became free including forms.

A token fee of N250 for obtaining the form was however reintroduced by Mrs. Victoria Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the then commissioner for women affairs and later deputy governor under the regime of former governor Babatunde Fashola, to stop people from collecting more forms than they needed.

Apart from the form fee, admitted students are also expected to buy their own materials for practicals, and this has proven to be an area of challenge for most students who basically have no one to cater for them.

Good Samaritans

Daily Times gathered that some Non-governmental organizations, (NGOs) do come around the centres in search of indigent students who cannot afford practical materials, obtain their information and not only help them acquire these materials, but go as far as setting up shops for them on graduation and this entails paying rent and buying them sewing machines, hair dryers or whatever machines required to ply their respective trades. Truly a great country with good people one must say.

Funding for graduates

Besides the good work of these NGOs, graduates that have issues of raising funds are recommended by the centre to the Lagos state Micro Finance institutes. Lagos state has a micro finance bank that can empower them, they are encouraged to form cooperatives – a group of five to ten, so they establish their businesses from the loan. Through these interventions, some of them are now salon and fashion house owners.

The students

Kayode chose to study catering because he enjoys cooking and wanted to commercialise his passion, despite the fact that he already knows how to cook, he confesses that coming to the centre made him realise that he didn’t know much, “I’ve been here for about a month and I have come to realise that there are a lot of things I didn’t know, really everybody is a learner, I have also come to learn different methods of doing some other things I knew, so I have to just compile everything together. I have a wonderful instructor Mrs Olaoluwa, she is patient to listen to our questions and teaches us to gain understanding.”

Kayode before coming to the centre had gone elsewhere to acquire professional catering knowledge, but unfortunately he couldn’t afford to pay the over N100,000 required by the private catering institute. He was lucky however to have been directed to the WDC by a friend whose friend had graduated from the centre’s hairdressing department.

“I was told when the form would be out so I waited until then and eventually I got the form, after the interview, some of us were selected, some others were disqualified, so here am I getting quality knowledge free of charge,” he beamed.

Kayode informed Daily Times that from early childhood he has had to struggle by himself to make ends meet, “I am the one sponsoring myself from childhood, so for me this is a very great opportunity, anytime I think of it, it just leaves me speechless, I really thank the Lagos state government for this initiative.”

Today he says he has turned into a kind of advocate on the street seeking unemployed boys to come and acquire a vocational skill that would help them make a living and give their lives a sense of purpose.

Daily Times also spoke to students in the fashion department, who disclosed that they are trained in the making of both male and female clothes.

Unlike what obtains in most fashion houses where young girls go for apprenticeship and are subjected to humiliating treatments by their mentors, a student at the centre disclosed that in the centre, learning is conducive because they are regarded as mature people and are treated with dignity.

A Business Studies HND holder from Lagos state polytechnic and an indigene of Ogun state, Kehinde said the learning is quite intense covering all aspects of fashion designing and sewing.

After I graduated, I knew exactly what I needed was to acquire a vocational skill that would help me set up my own business and that is why I am here today. We have masters and even PhD holders here and they are still learning.

Another HND in computer science graduate Bimbo, found herself in the fashion department because of her love for colour combination and interestingly she revealed that the centre was far advanced than the standard out there.

“Before I came here, I used to be amazed at how wonderful my tailors made my clothes, but coming here I suddenly started seeing the errors in most of those clothes my tailors made for me, before now I really couldn’t spot them,” she said.

According to her, the learning is so impactful that even before one graduates it is possible to have carved a niche out there with just the little practical knowledge being acquired.

Augustine, an indigene of Lagos State is also currently enrolled for training at the Centre in the Computer Science department. Said “I learnt about the school from a friend of mine who told me that I should obtain a form for admission and that the tuition is free, so I became interested and I did exactly as he told me, now I am a student of the school,” he admitted.

He has NECO and NCE certificates, and has been in the school for a period of six months, according to him, “I have acquired so much knowledge and I can be boastful that I passed through this school. From now if I have the opportunity of managing my own computer centre, I think I would perform excellently.”

These are just a few testimonies of the impact the initiative is having in the lives of youths and the multiplier effects are also there to be counted.

 Sourcing trainers

Some of the trainers are sourced from the ministry of education and are civil servants, however other instructors like the hairdressers for example are established professionals who are contracted to train students at the centre for agreed contract terms.

Impact

Daily Times gathered that between 800 and 1000 graduates are rolled out from the school every year ready to start earning incomes on their own.

Speaking on the important role of the initiative, a ministry official who does not want his name on print noted that “Unemployment is a big challenge in this country, youth unemployment is on the high side and that is the problem we are facing in this country. Also you can see that we are having a big problem of youth restiveness in the country and if all the states can start doing what we are doing in Lagos state, this problem would be solved.”

Speaking further our source said, “Unfortunately our country is a country where we believe so much in certificates but people are now seeing that the only way we can stop youth unemployment is by vocational skills acquisition and gradually we are getting there.”

Daily Times learnt that Lagos state accounts for about 50 per cent of students’ and states of origin and nationalities cuts across Abia state, Adamawa States,  Akwa Ibom , Anambra state, Delta state, Edo state, Imo state, Cross River state, Kano state, Lagos state, Ogun state, Kadunna state, Enugu state, Kwara state and even foreigners from Gambia and Guinea.

Winners

The biggest winners are the individuals who recognise the golden opportunity free vocational training represents. The second winner is the state government which is trying to build a secure and empowered society and thirdly the society that would benefit from the professional services of the graduates as opposed to quacks who parade themselves as technicians and skilled artisans.

According to the state official, the centre at Isheri trains refrigerator technicians, electricians, furniture makers, shoe makers and leather workers while in Badagry they have mat weaving, farming etc, “in addition to some of the courses we do there. Most of these traffic lights you see were done by the Isheri students and Lagos state government buys from them.”

Losers

It is common to hear idle people complain year in and year out that their problem is not having the money to pay someone to teach them a trade, whereas here is a place where vocational skills are taught free of charge. Second category of losers are those who without trying, have concluded that you must know someone up there or at least be an indigene to access opportunity. Unfortunately for them, foreigners who have summoned up more courage hand shown enough determination have been admitted and trained at the centre and are now doing well for themselves.

The third category of losers are states and local governments that are yet to fashion out ingenious initiatives to empower their youthful population and are consequently losing the fight against rising crime waves and insecurity in their localities.

For those still scheming and waiting for employment in the state ministries and local government councils, here is a good advice: it is better to get a vocational skill now and earlier the better. It is no longer news that governments now go a borrowing cap in hand to pay salaries.

Indeed, while you pass these mature youths wearing black and white uniforms and wonder why such a grown up guy/babe should still be wearing uniforms, what you don’t understand is that they are strutting their way out of poverty, unemployment and disillusionment in a very dignified manner for all to see.

Research by: Charles Okonji, Joy Ekeke, and Emmanuel Ogbonnaya

Source: Daily Times

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