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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Report: How fading apprenticeship, technical skills worsen poverty, job loss to foreigners


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In an increasingly competitive global job market, having relevant skills has become a matter of personal advantage and national imperative, DANIEL AYANTOYE examines the rate at which Nigerians lose job opportunities, even locally, to foreigners with the right skills, aiding unemployment and underemployment rates and the impact of apprenticeship.

The clanking noise from the expansive mechanic workshop grew louder as our correspondent approached the entrance. Located on Ajess Hotel Street in the Alakia area of Ibadan, Oyo State, the nearby hum of traffic kept the environment alive. And on entering the premises, one is welcomed by vehicles of popular brands and sight of a few vehicle owners and artisans, most of whom buried themselves in their work.

Usually, such workshops are replete with apprentices, mostly young persons, assisting their bosses, while some would be seen running errands, like taking spanners, car batteries, jack and other tools from one place to the other. But in this workshop, such was almost absent.

For the lack of apprentices or trainees, most of the artisans on the premises, including panel beaters, painters, electrical installation technicians, popularly known as ‘rewire’ and mechanics, intermittently abandoned their work to find missing tools or do things apprentices would have done for them.

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As our correspondent looked round the premises, looking for who to first approach to provide insight into the scarcity of apprentices, the sight of Mr Michael Oni’s struggling to hold the bumper of a Toyota Camry in place as he welded a metal on the other side was unmistakable. His T-shirt drenched with sweat, our correspondent’s offer to help was a huge relief he was evidently grateful for.

Asked, with a mix of smiles and subtle curiosity, his apprentices’ whereabouts, he hissed amusingly, shaking his head as he said, “Apprentice, in today’s world? Where will you find one, when all the young boys that should learn this kind of job only embrace things that can give them quick money?” He mumbled a few words as he asked our correspondent to hold the bumper more tightly.

On finishing the work shortly after he found help, he heaved a sigh of relief, stretching his body back and forth as he staggered to find a seat under his shed.

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Across the workshop, the dearth of apprentices was obvious to even a newcomer, an issue – the dearth of apprentices – that has become a national problem. Many artisans, including tailors, mechanics, tillers, masons and many others have lamented the reluctance of the youths to learn trade, saying many young people no longer have patience to learn trade but would rather take to commercial motorcycling or even internet fraud.

Fielding questions from our correspondent, Oni said in his 28 years on the job, only one out of the three apprentices under him completed his training. “The kind of parental upbringing determines how serious people are to undergo apprenticeship,” he said in a tone of disappointment. “Some of them want to start making money during their apprenticeship, which is not possible. Yes, there is poverty but I believe when a person has determination he will surely come be successful.”

Like Oni, 45-year-old auto mechanic, Sunday Omoloye, with specialty in Toyota and Honda cars, equally lamented the dearth of apprentices.

He said he had lost count of the number of youths who applied as apprentices but never completed the training, adding that in his 20 years that he has been in the business, only two completed their apprenticeship.

“Many youths don’t want to learn handwork again. I can’t count how many people have come that they want to be an apprentice,” he said. “Some even came with their parents, but after a few days or months, they stopped coming.”

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Asked what could be fuelling the dwindling loss of interest in young people learning such skills, he stated, “Some children are not serious while some others lack patience. They want to start life from the end not the beginning where we started from. Some also lack concentration, and instead of concentrating on what they are here for, they are influenced by peer groups. Most of them are after money so it becomes difficult to concentrate on the job.”

More worrisome reports and statistics

In December 2022, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs revealed that Nigeria’s population had spiked to 216 million, and in its World Population Prospects 2022, DESA estimated global population to have hit eight billion people.

It projected that more than half of the projected increase in global population up to 2050 would be concentrated in eight countries, Nigeria inclusive.

Meanwhile, about the time this was released, the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index survey said about 133 million Nigerians, more than half of the population, were multidimensionally poor. It noted that Nigeria was experiencing rapid growth at a rate of 2.6 per cent annually, said to be high when compared to many others.

Ordinarily, Nigeria’s population has an economic advantage, looking at how countries like China and India have converted taken advantage of their population for economic growth and global relevance. Nigeria has a huge youth population, with a median age of 18.1 years. In fact, roughly 70 per cent of the population falls below 30 years of age, while 42 per cent are younger than 15.

But sadly, the 2021 Human Development Index of the United Nation revealed that Nigeria held the 163rd position among 193 nations. Furthermore, a 2022 report from the Bank indicates that approximately 40 per cent of Nigeria’s population live below the national poverty threshold of $1.90 per day, with around 95.2 million individuals experiencing poverty.

Clearly, the dearth of marketable skills has contributed to the unemployment rate in the country, and by extension the country’s economy. Given the embargo on recruitment by the government, the unemployment rate remains high, while the poverty rate has continued to increase.

Former President Muhammadu Buhari had said in 2021, “Let them speak to the youths that the Federal Government says there is no more vacancy, virtually every department is filled.”

Meanwhile, according to the World Bank, Nigerians living below the national poverty line will rise by 13 million between 2019 and 2025.

Nigerians losing jobs to foreigners

Sadly, the lack of the right skills that are in demand has led to a shortage of skilled labour, contributing to the unemployment problem in the country, and in some cases, such jobs are taken by foreigners who have the needed skills.

This is evident in several sectors, like construction.

For instance, the Dangote Refinery employed 11,000 skilled workers from India neglecting youths from Nigeria and other African countries.

While explaining the rationale behind the decision in July, The Sub-Saharan African Skills and Apprenticeship Stakeholders Network said youths from Nigeria lacked the adequate skills needed to be engaged for the job.

SASASNET, in a communiqué, signed by its Secretary-General, Ousman Sillah, said, “The need for SASASNET to engage in vigorous public awareness and engagement to change the negative perception of the public on the value of skills and apprenticeship; the Dangote Refinery in Nigeria under construction has engaged over 11,000 workforce from India, while our youths lack the required skills to be engaged.”

In expressing concern about how foreigners have taken major skilled jobs from Nigerians in the construction Industry, the Public Relations Officer, Nigerian Institute of Building, Godfrey Godfrey, said most skilled labour jobs were being handled by foreigners from Togo, Benin Republic and Ghana due to the non-availability of Nigerians to the jobs.

He however noted that the fall in the value of the naira had made some of them go back to their country, thereby creating scarcity of skilled labourers in the sector.

He said, “It is an unfortunate situation. Jobs like bricklaying, carpentry, tiling and POP fixing are now being handled by foreigners. We realised that most of the Nigerian youths don’t show interest in learning those skills which are very important in this sector. The gap they have created has been filled by those foreign artisans.

“These artisans from other countries are always interested to learn skills so much that they engage in it from a very young age. Since the naira depreciation, many of them have also gone back to their countries. Before, when they make money, they change it and have more but their currency is stronger than the naira now, so there is no need to work here again.

“As it is now, many of them are not available, and those available charge exorbitant prices which make the cost of building construction to increase, raising Labour costs up to 40 per cent of the cost of construction. It’s not funny anymore, there is a shortage of skilled manpower in the construction industry as we speak, and we are making efforts individually to see how we get people to show interest because the experience over time is that some of them, after some time, don’t show interest or come to work.”

Speaking further, he said the problem had to do with the society as a whole, adding, “The young ones have the get-rich-quick syndrome because of the lifestyles of fraudsters and politicians. These things keep discouraging those who would ordinarily want to learn skills.”

Also, the President, Association of Skilled Vocational Artisans of Nigeria, Everest Obijuru, stated that some consider apprenticeship as undergoing training for jobs that don’t have a future.

He stated that people must be encouraged to learn skills for the nation to move forward.

Obijuru noted, “As of today, I think it has dawned on us that we cannot do without it no matter the level of education we acquire. For us to move forward as a nation, we need to encourage skill acquisition. There is no white-collar job anywhere, so for us as a nation to move forward, we must encourage the youths to engage themselves as electricians, mechanics, furniture makers, tilers, bricklayers, etc.”

Low technical school enrolment as enablers

Beyond the informal apprenticeship system, Nigeria has technical colleges, where marketable skills can be learnt. While some are not in good shape, the enrollment in the colleges is said to be low, a reflection of the premium placed on technical skills by the populace.

Speaking on the need for the youth to embrace technical and vocational education, Buhari had said such skills were necessary to tackle unemployment and fast-track the development of the country. He also described as worrisome the wrong attitude of the youth toward vocational education in Nigeria.

He stated, “It is imperative to note that although vocational education is important for preparing the necessary manpower for a developing economy, such as ours, the youths are apathetic towards it. Enrolment into technical educational institutions at tertiary level is still at an appalling percentage. Records of enrolment into our universities in recent years show a progressive increase, while those of technical institutions have only been marginal.

“The dearth of skilled manpower at the middle level should provide a huge opportunity for our youths who attend technical based institutions or are willing to develop themselves in any of them. Nations all over the world have come to realise the importance of technical and vocational education training in strengthening economies and building formidable industries.”

Meanwhile, many artisans have continued to lament the absence of apprentices, both because of the inability to pass their knowledge across and the impact of the resultant unemployment.

A generator repairer, Gbenga Olaoye, expressed concern that the shortage of persons interested in learning the skill could have an adverse effect over time, if not addressed. He noted that the unavailability of apprentices did not only affect the number of jobs he could deliver per day, it also meant there would be scarcity of trained technicians to meet people’s needs.

He said, “I learnt from my brother and he allowed me to go and establish mine in 1995 when he was confident that I had learnt enough to be independent. Since then, I have had only one apprentice. Although it affects my speed, because I have to do many things myself, I’m used to it because I don’t even have a choice.

“If I had an apprentice, I would have told him what to do on some of the faulty generators brought to me and he would have done it while also learning. Sometimes, an apprentice loosening a nut saves time.”

He said he feared what would happen in the coming years if nothing was done, adding, “it means we may not have people to do this job in the future when we are no more. Many of the youths are not patient for two to three years to learn a skill. They want to make money as quickly as possible, so they can ride big cars. I learnt from my elder brother and I know what I went through but thank God today, I’m reaping the reward of that resilience and dedication to duty.”

Asked some of the reasons his former apprentices gave for leaving, he said his last apprentice ran away after he was scolded for stealing petrol from a customer’s generator.

He noted, “I once had an apprentice who ran away after I scolded him for stealing a customer’s fuel. The customer brought a generator for repair and the tank was full. By the time I returned from where I went to attend to a customer, I completed my work on the generator, only for the customer to come back to complain that the fuel he left in the tank had disappeared.

“I asked my apprentice but he denied. After much pressure, he confessed to doing it. I was furious because it was so embarrassing. He stopped coming to work from that day.”

The Managing Director, Omoniyi Furniture and Carpentry Works, Mr Adeleke Omoniyi, is also worried by the reluctance of many young people to learn skills. “They (youths) are currently in a hurry to make money, and they are not ready to understand that success is gradual and some things take time.”

He lamented that many of those who should be learning ‘marketable skills’ had taken to commercial motorcycling, popularly known as Okada, while many young women now prefer to be salesgirls where they could earn salaries.

He added, “Some others have gone into cybercrime because they see others doing it and making big money and driving flashy cars. You can’t expect a person who has been influenced and exposed to such life to be ready to be an apprentice. Given the influence everywhere, it takes good upbringing and monitoring to embrace apprenticeship in this modern age.”

Like others, Mrs Margret Gabriel, a fashion designer, said only five out of the 15 apprentices that approached her completed their training while others left to take menial jobs to support their parents and themselves.

She stressed that the rate of poverty in the country, in which case more than half of the population were said to be multidimensionally poor, had made it difficult for parents to sponsor their children in acquiring skills through apprenticeship after their secondary school education.

She added, “Things are tough for people, which is why many of these parents find it difficult to sponsor their children to learn certain skills. Now, you see some of them working as Point of Sale operators or sales girls and most of them end up using their salaries to support their parents.”

Parents react

A mother of four, Mrs Omotayo Aro-Ajibowu, who is also a seamstress, told Saturday PUNCH that children also have time to learn skills even as they focus on their studies.

She stated, “Some parents believe in education and they concentrate on it but they see apprenticeship as a distraction. Those learning such skills are children of underprivileged persons. However, when they enroll for it, their parents find it difficult to give them money for feeding. When a child leaves for their place of work and there is no food to eat there, it becomes difficult to learn, and inconsistency begins to set in. Later, you hear that the child has gone to look for a menial job.

“For me, there is no time, I have four kids. My firstborn wanted to learn photography, he started but couldn’t complete it. The first female wanted to learn fashion designing but she couldn’t complete it because there was no time. If you send your child to a private school, they close by 6pm, and on Saturday they would prefer to rest. They are not as strong as people in the old days. I want them to learn but where is the time?”

A mother of two, Mrs Comfort Alawode, said while some parents believed in their children securing white-collar jobs after their university education, others are affected by the country’s economic situation.

She noted further that the difficulty by many poor parents to procure tools and equipment to help their children settle down after they complete apprenticeship is a major discouragement to them.

She added, “I thank God my two children were able to learn skills while in secondary school. My son already learned photography and videography and my daughter had learned fashion designing while they were in secondary school and when he got to the higher institution, they were able to use it to support themselves in purchasing things like course materials and other personal needs.

“What discourages most people is how to get money to start on their own afterwards. Things are difficult in this country. The prices of things increase almost on a daily basis. So, you can’t tell someone who knows their parents do not have the capacity to help them set up after training to be happy to register.”

Experts react

In his reaction to the ugly trend, an economist, Prof Akpakpan Edet, blamed the situation on the failure of the leadership to plan for its manpower needs while placing higher priority on degrees over technical skills.

He said, “The youths are no longer encouraged to learn because they see others who went through the same process sitting at home doing nothing or sometimes working as Okada or taxi drivers. There were people who went to technical schools, did apprenticeship and graduated but couldn’t secure a job and there was nobody to support them. And you tell others to toe that same path?

“Also, the reward system is not encouraging. In this country, we reward degree certificates more than technical certificates. If you tell a person to go to technical school, they know that by the time they get their certificate, if they get a job, the highest they would get to is level 13, so they won’t take it. This is why you have so many people rushing to the university, which should not be.

“Pay them well and let them know that if they are employed with those skills they can get to the very top of their career. They should be very well paid. For example, why can’t an NCE holder or Grade Two teacher get to the peak of their career? The system is so bad that people with skills are pegged at a particular level as the highest point of their career. That is why you see everyone running away from apprenticeships, colleges of education and polytechnics and pursuing university degrees.”

Also, an economist, Dr Akin Akinleye, raised concern over the increasing rate of youths going into fraud and sport betting.

He stated that many were after white-collar jobs in order to secure a better future for themselves. He warned that as Nigeria’s population increases, there would be an upsurge in unemployment if nothing was done to curtail it.

He added, “Most of our youths are busy chasing white-collar jobs as opposed to trying to learn skills that can be more productive and this is the reason why many of them are not ready to take up any vocation. If you look at the vast number of youths, even those of secondary school age, there are reports that most of them are interested in the get-rich-quick syndrome, like venturing into yahoo and betting.

“The rate at which youths play betting now is alarming. Another thing is that it seems there is no serious encouragement, in terms of reward, even if you complete the education and acquire the skills. The economic implication lies in the future where we will have mass number of youths that will be unemployed if nothing is done in earnest.”

Assessing FG’s intervention

In a bid to encourage skill acquisition, the Federal Government in 2018 flagged off the Nigerian Skills Qualifications Framework under the National Board for Technical Education. Sadly, however, five years after, Nigeria did not have skilled individuals for the Dangote Refinery in Lagos, and had to be replaced by other nationals.

In his reaction, the Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong, stated that the Federal Government had put in place the enabling environment as well as necessary facilities for Nigerians to acquire the required skills.

He stated, “Government’s responsibility is to provide the enabling environment with the necessary facilities and personnel to train people, and the government has provided enough. After the government has laid out the skills framework, established skill acquisition centers, established polytechnics, government will not force people to learn because that will mean violating that person’s rights.”

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