On Saturday, 25th November, 2017, the Learn & Work European Vocational Institute was launched in Enugu by the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, CFR, Ph.D.
The institute, which the Senator is promoting in Nigeria is designed to train young people in different skills including web design, plumbing, tailoring/dress making and home nursing among others. As the name implies, Learn & Work European Vocational Institute emphasizes functionality. As such, contrary to the current trend in Nigeria where people go to school just to obtain certificates, products of this novel institute are trained to be employers of labour, not to roam the streets as applicants searching for non-existent white collar jobs.
Today, the Nigerian educational system is experiencing serious crisis owing to undue emphasis on certification rather than functionality. There is a wide gap between theory and practice. This is more glaring and critical in the aspect of engineering and technology. The economic prosperity of every nation is directly proportional to its technological capacity and productivity. As such, no nation can be self reliant unless it has a productive real sector. Engineering and technology is the language of the real (industrial) sector, all other professions, including medicine, law, accountancy, etc. deal with services. This led to former US President Barack Obama’s quote, “How I wish all Americans were engineers”. Yet, the US is light years ahead of Nigeria technologically.
However, engineering and technology cannot be practised without the technicians and artisans who shoulder the responsibility of effective implementation of engineering designs as well as maintenance of enginerring systems. According to the engineering family tree, you have the engineer at the apex, then the technologists, followed by the technicians and lastly the artisans. Most often, the technicians and artisans are overlooked because of their position on the lower rungs of the industry. However, they are as important as the engineers, in practical terms.
It is this vital but forgotten component of the Nigerian economy that the Learn & Work European Institute has come to salvage. Today, our technical colleges, polytechnics and universities churn out unskilled engineers, technologists, technicians, and artisans at an alarming rate. Today, the youths are not interested in trade apprenticeship because being a technician or an artisan is viewed with condescension, moreso since it does not bring “mega bucks”. Most youths want quick money popularly called “ego mbute”. As such, they no longer have the patience to be engaged in apprenticeship. This dearth of skilled craftsmen affects all subsectors of the technical industry; from the automobile industry to the tailoring industry, from the building construction industry to carpentry & joinery. Today, Togolese and other foreign nationals have taken over the tile laying trade in the building construction industry.
An important aspect of the institute should be to train the trainers since the master tradesmen who are to train the younger ones are also poorly skilled.
In his speech, Senator Ekweremadu noted that the four youth centres he attracted to Enugu West Senatorial District could not work because of the incompetence of the system since “those teaching others are not competent”
However, with the Learn & Work model, being a technician or an artisan can now be trendy. Also, with arrangements on ground to help graduands in securing soft loans, they can now become employers of labour and earn huge incomes. Most importantly, it gives the youths an opportunity to directly contribute to the economic wellbeing of the country.
This adresses the genuine concerns raised by Ekweremadu that only about 10% of youths and other Nigerians who participate in elections benefit directly once the Government is sworn in. Senator Ekweremadu has always had a passion for the upliftment of the youths and the womenfolk who constitute over 70% of the country’s population, but are often remembered only during elections as thugs, mobilisers, and entertainers. This, he has been doing for about two decades through the Ikeoha Foundation.
It is instructive to note that the expansive location of the institute was once Citipark hotel, Enugu. However, owing to his unflinching commitment to the betterment of the Nigerian youth, the Deputy Senate President converted it to the vocational school. According to him, “ This used to be Citipark, providing entertainment and accomodation, but now it will provide skills as European vocational school”
The institute is being managed by the CEPU Education Group, Italy, with its training packaged to last for six months or 320 hours after which graduates are presented with graduation certificates. This implies that rather than spend six years in the university (minus strikes and other interruptions) to obtain a certificate, one can acquire technical skills within six months and go on to employ the university graduates when they eventually graduate.
The President of the Institute,
Dr. Francheto Politori, rightly identified avocational education as a driving force that would assist nations in their bid for socio-economic development. While campaigning for votes in 2015 election, the All Progressives Congress, APC, promised Nigerians Jobs! Jobs!! Jobs!!! Sadly Nigeria, mainly the youth, have lost over 3 million jobs, according to official statistics.
However, the above initiative can actually go a long way in helping the ruling party to actually create jobs for the swarming army of unemployed youths.
In order to make the institute more effective, they should partner with relevant stakeholders such as the Nigerian Society of Engineers and research institutes such as the Projects Development Agency (PRODA) and the Science Equipment Development Institute (SEDI), both based in Enugu.
Furthermore, the Government should partner with the institute to ensure that our Government Technical Colleges (GTCs) are re-organised to meet the European and indeed global standards. In order to encourage interest in technical education, graduates of the technical colleges who pass the prerequisite technical competency examinations should be allowed to seamlessly proceed to select partner universities to study engineering. Oftentimes, our best hands in engineering and technology have problems overcoming the JAMB conundrum.
Indeed, the technicians and artisans are the “missing link” in Nigeria’s march towards industrialisation and economic advancement. Without giving them the proper training to occupy their rightful place in the nation’s industrial sector, any National Development/Economic Plan shall end up a mirage, just like Vision 2020 .
Therefore, the Federal Government needs to forego partisanship and partner with Senator Ekweremadu to ensure the replication of the Learn & Work European Institute across the 36 states of Nigeria so as to ensure that the issue of lack of skilled technical manpower is adressed comprehensively.
Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji, MNSE
Executive Director, Centre for the Advancement of Literacy& Leadership (CALL)
Former, National Chairman, Ohaneze Youth Wing