By NBF News
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Nigeria's aspiration to join the league of twenty industrialized nations of the world has been encapsulated in what government has tagged a vision to accomplish by year 2020. Key to this dream is the development of skilled manpower that is able to contribute technically and technologically to the nation's economic drive.

Just as so many factors are to be contended with while the mission to attain the onerous task of economic independence which is a vision, the issue of manpower development through a vibrant skills acquisition mostly in the area of technology and other aspects of self-sufficiency is also unavoidable.

The Industrial Training Fund on its part is evolving new areas of approach to enhance the relevance and quality required of commerce and industry. New competencies are being developed in many areas including vocational and technical training, information and communication technology (ICT) and entrepreneurship development.

Only recently, the departments and agencies under the Ministry of Trade and Investment pledged to create over three million jobs within the next three years. That is why the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) approached the federal government and got approval to collaborate with the Institute of Technical Education, Education Services PTE Ltd, Singapore to set up a Model Skills Training Centre (MSTC) to pursue a holistic approach to technical skills development in the country.

The MSTC is part of the efforts of government's youth's capacity skills training programme for self-employment and poverty reduction. The Model Skills Training Centre are post-secondary school technical training institutes established to nurture and produce the much needed technical personnel with the skills and confidence to face the challenges of the changing world.

To prepare itself for the challenging task of developing a new crop of technically sound manpower, the ITF had in January, 2011, sent a Team of 29 (Instructors) Trainees to undergo Train-the-Trainer (TTT) and the technical skills up-grading course at the Singapore Institute of Technical Education. The Centre is expected to be commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan late September, 2011.

According to officials of the ITF, the Centre is shaped with the mission to create opportunities for school leaves and adult learners to acquire employable skills, knowledge and values for lifelong learning and self-help in a competitive global economy. Director General of the Fund, Prof. Longmas Sambo Wapmuk, has said, 'As the economy restructure itself and moved from labour-intensive to capital-intensive and now knowledge-intensive, the Abuja MSTC is designed by the ITF to ensure that our human capital acquire the relevant skills, knowledge and values responsive to the changing needs of schools leavers, industry and community for sustainability and national development.'

The Centre, which will award National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) of internally recognized skills standards, equivalent to Nigerian Ordinary National Diploma (OND), would also confer the ITF competency skills based certificate on trainees. The model skills training centre also aims to produce over 300 self-employed youths yearly as poverty reduction strategy. These youths are expected to form employment out-fits for other youths within their jurisdiction.

The ITF boss gave background to the project: 'ITF undertook a study visit to organizations with similar mandates of implementing skills acquisition programmes in three Asian countries in 2007 and discovered a holistic approach to technical skills development at the Institute of Technical Education, Singapore. In order to pursue this holistic approach on technical skills development, the ITF undertook a thorough study tour of the ITE facilities and detailed discussions for a similar outfit to be established in Abuja ensure.

A plan of action which was development culminated into a feasibility study visit to Abuja by officials of ITE, Singapore. The feasibility study report, which was produced, contained modalities for future collaboration on the following five identified trades: welding and fabrication; mechatronics' electrical/electronics; information and communication technology (ICT); culinary skills (hotel catering); refrigeration and air conditioning; and plumbing.

'The contractual agreement also covered setting up of training facilities, which would include site and workshop survey, renovation of workshop, supervision of alterations and amendment of proposed building, facilitation of equipment purchases, installation support and commissioning of training equipment, workshop audit and supervision and conduct of examination for students at the centre.'

On the benefits of the model skills training centre, Wapmuk stressed: 'The Centre is a post secondary school technical training institute established to nurture and produce the much needed technical personnel with the skills and confidence to face the challenges of the changing world of work. The mission of the Centre is to create opportunities for school leaves and adult learners to acquire employable skills, knowledge and values for lifelong learning and self-help in a competitive global economy.

As the economy restructured itself and moved from labor-intensive to capital-intensive and now knowledge-intensive, the Abuja MSTC is designed by the ITF to ensure that our human capital acquire the relevant skills, knowledge and values responsive to the changing needs of school leavers, industry and community for sustainability and national development.'

Noting that a team of instructors from ITF had gone to the Singapore Institute of Technical Education in preparation for the take-off of the Centre, he stressed that an approach of 70% practical and 30% theory would be adopted. This, he noted, would allow trainees to acquire new skills and knowledge through explanatory teaching and learning methodologies. He stated that ITF has secured an accommodation sufficient to house the 200 trainees who would soon kick-start the training this year.

'The Centre has already been hooked to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)'s 24 hours dedicated power line to ensure uninterrupted power supply during training', he added. On how prepared the Centre was for take-off, he added: 'The Industrial Training Fund budgeted a total of N1.2 billion for the project and this was approved by the ministerial tenders' board. The ITF has already awarded contracts worth N1, 172, 851, 148 and supplies are being received ready for installation.

'The development of the Centre has reached an advanced stage. Construction of the civil structures has been completed. Instructors and supporting staff have been recruited.' On why the Fund chose Singapore, he stressed that the country has been able to reverse its national training to make skill acquisition very key. 'In Singapore, the university system is the smallest training you can find in Singapore. The polytechnic follows suit. The largest institute you can find in Singapore is the vocational training institute.

Most of the skyscraper buildings in the country were constructed by the grandaunts of the technical training institute. For an individual to be employed in that country, he has to pass through the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). The ITE certificate is the key to national employment in Singapore. Most university and polytechnic graduates now go down to ITE to learn the practical skills to enable them get employment in the industry. The ITE in Singapore is also working with the German Institute for Youth Employment in other to help develop their student into the German institute and the German are also learning the kind of skill put in place in Singapore.

'The world is now refocused towards Singapore to learn the secrets of successful vocational training which has been put in place. So, Nigeria through the Industrial Training Fund is learning to put that kind of institution in place for the benefit of the youths. Every youth in Singapore has been encouraged to go into ITE training institute. Some countries like Canada and Britain have also gone there to study the system so as to apply it in their country. They have been in Nigeria since 2008. They conducted a comparative survey to compare what kind of vocational trainings we have in the country to their own so as to enable them develop a curriculum to suit the need of our country. The survey was conducted to realign their curriculum to suit our own.'

A team of inspectors from Singapore at the Centre recently to check the extent of work during which they certified the MSTC as ready for the task of transforming the nation's manpower development. During the visit, Mr. Chua Kheng Hern, who is the Manager in charge of ITE Education Services in Singapore spoke on how the culture of skills acquisition has worked on his country. His words: 'In Singapore, the government believes that the only way they can sustain the economic growth of the country is to develop people.

So every year the government budgets a lot of money into the development of the people and the education sector with particular emphasis on the technical education. Singapore is a knowledge based industry, so the government spends a lot on human development. The government places high emphasis on human development. Recently, $2billion was put in the budget to upgrade the institutions.'

In fact, our government has subsidy for the technical education sector, so there is enough funding for the technical education. I must point out that the technical education institutions do not rely solely on government funding, what we do is that we constantly seek out partners within industries so that when we establish partnership with industries, they are willing to sponsor equipment to us.

'Some of the workshops in Singapore are being sponsored by the industries, like the Siemens workshop, the ADB training center. So we have established partnership with the industry so as to make a quick way for the institutions and the industry. We invent technology for the industry, while the industries have training centers for their staffs and workers. We try on our end to establish partnership with the industry to get the funding coming to us in terms of procurement of equipment, making sure that our training is up-to-date with the industry.

Our educational system is such that when students finish with the vocational training with us they can easily progress to polytechnics, after which they proceed to the university, if they so desire. Technical education is not necessarily the end, in the sense that those who aspire to take the academic line can still progress to the university while those who want to work can actually do so with our certificates. In fact about 25% of our students have progressed to higher institutions of learning.'

Course Manager at ITE Singapore Mr. Loh Kum Fei, stressed that the country has dropped seriously because people find it less difficult to be gainfully employed after getting vocation training. On sustaining the project and spreading it across the country, Wapmuk noted: 'We are hoping that our bill before the National Assembly will be passed .If they do approve the bill and the president signs it, it would become mandatory for regulatory bodies to assist us collect our training fund. We can then have money to sustain not only this one, but will build 36 more skills centers in the country.

He went further: 'What has been constraining us is the lack of fund. We decided to put this place up in Abuja to demonstrate to government that with the resources available to us we can do things without waiting for them to give us money. Our objective is that after setting up this place and commissioning it, more funds would be released for us to establish such centers in other states. That notwithstanding, we had earlier on made proposals to the government for the establishment of 15 skill centers in the geopolitical zones of the country. We had targeted that 2 would be set up in each zone while zones that are weak technically like the South-South and the North-East will have three centers each. We have been marketing this to the government.'

On job opportunities for the trainees, he said: 'Graduates are employed by a wide range of private and public organizations in all industries, ranging from telecommunications, manufacturing, banking, retail, government, education and health care and insurance. Some of the job titles held by graduates include info-communications and computer technician. There are excellent opportunities for career advancement to supervisory position and beyond. The challenge is for students to prepare themselves by upgrading their technical skills and knowledge by taking up higher level courses. By this arrangement, the Abuja MSTC will produce 375 graduates yearly.'