Friday, 20 June 2014 15:36

The Skills Gap in Nigeria: Processing Talent More Effectively

by Richard Fuller MP & Samuel Kasumu

Availability of Skilled Workers

Critical to the growth in all economies, and at all stages of economic development, is the ability to produce sufficient quantities of needed skills. For Lagos State, there is bad news and better news. The bad news is that there are widespread critical shortages in technical and vocational skills. The better news is that Lagos has abundant skills in management talent and in entrepreneurial ambition. Processing, not availability, of talent is the issue.

This combination should augur well for the future, but as the population of the city rapidly increases there is a need to address the skills gaps quickly if economic momentum is to be sustained, and if the ambitions of the state's young population are to be met.

Anecdotal evidence of the gap in the supply of technical training is found in estimates that Nigeria spends N900 billion ($6 billion) on foreign construction workers every year, despite a quarter of the local working-age population – perhaps more – being unemployed. Another anecdote suggests that less than 1% of applicants for technical jobs have the competence required for the position offered.

Over one in three of the SMEs surveyed by SMEDAN in 2010 reported a lack of skilled workers, with the only exception being in the mining and quarrying sector. In the education, business services, finance and retail trades, more than 40% of respondent businesses cited a lack of skilled workers.

Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB)

The Lagos State Government has recognised the large gap between the supply and the demand for skilled workers, and has taken actions towards filling it. In 2010, they established the Lagos State and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB), a non-government organisation with the mandate: To up-skill and integrate young people into the labour market and self-employment by providing high quality technical skills.

In 2012, the Executive Secretary of LASTVEB, Engr. Olawunmi Gasper stated that one of their new activities would "take more youths out of the streets and cater for those who cannot access tertiary education."

The work being done by LASTVEB is still unable to satisfy demand, with a reported 514% increase in demand for technical colleges. Six thousand people graduated in 2012 from the five technical colleges in Lagos State but there is demand from hundreds of thousands of young people for training in Lagos.

The City & Guilds Group is a UK-based organisation, underpinned by a Royal Charter that has over 100 years of experience in providing workplace excellence in a range of skills.

The Group operates in over 81 countries, though actively in fewer. City & Guilds has developed a comprehensive range of UK qualifications and by working in multiple foreign countries, has helped develop curricula and qualifications suited to those countries' needs.

Ever mindful of the importance of reputation and reliability in the City & Guilds brands, the group's penetration of foreign markets has been cautious and it, like other UK-based providers, faces competition from other countries, particularly Germany, Australia, the US and Canada.

OFQUAL is the responsible body in the UK for providing accreditation for qualifications, examinations and assessments. The quality of its accreditation has the potential to be of key value in the UK's export of vocational training.

OFQUAL currently requires awarding organisations for qualifications overseas, such as City & Guilds, to demonstrate demand or support for that qualification in the UK in order for OFQUAL to accredit that qualification.

In overseas markets, such as Nigeria, the suitability of a qualification will be significantly hampered if it is offered by a provider whose home country does not accredit the qualification. The ability of UK providers to tailor courses to foreign market needs is being artificially curtailed by OFQUAL's self-imposed restrictions.

OFQUAL should modify its regulations to enable accreditation of qualifications offered overseas by UK-registered providers

In their 2012 report, the Association of Colleges noted the need for "greater clarity and consistency of aims across government" to enhance the impact of the UK's vocational and educational training (VET) providers. The report also called for the development of a single brand to support, contextualise and multiply the impact of the individual efforts of providers and suppliers.

The focus of the report was to attract more students to attend UK-based colleges for their vocational qualifications, seeking to mirror the comparative success of the UK's higher education sector. However, the report's recommendations can be equally applied to a strategy of localising UK VET providers and qualifications in developing countries, and that is the strategy we recommend is given priority in Lagos State particularly, and Nigeria more generally.

The unmet demand for vocational qualifications in Lagos State is one of mass, not elitist, education. In many cases, evaluation for qualifications requires a physical presence (for example, to check alignment of a brick wall, or to demonstrate how to cut hair). These characteristics suggest that a hybrid model using well-regarded UK-accredited qualifications, distance learning and local delivery centres would be an effective approach.

A commercially minded approach might also build on this with two related initiatives. First, DfID might extend its support from the provision of the "soft" needs of vocational colleges in Nigeria (e.g. curriculum), and fund the renovation of the college buildings themselves.

Second, it might establish a branded "business" selling the services of trades people that have passed the UK-accredited courses offered by UK further education colleges. In a market where trust in the quality of a tradesperson is low, such a branded business would have the opportunity to create a reputation for distinctive competences in its chosen trades.

Training Lecturers in Entrepreneurship

In 2012, Nigeria's National University Commission partnered with SMEDAN to enhance the training of university lecturers on entrepreneurship.

At a Commonwealth Education Council meeting recommendations were made for enterprise to become a compulsory part of all Commonwealth countries' education systems. Current assessments of poor teaching levels within the education system in certain Commonwealth countries may make this ambition hard to achieve. Enterprise education could be better delivered by private organisations, business schools and NGOs, at least in the short term, if it is to have a meaningful impact.

Richard Fuller is the Member of Parliament for Bedford. Samuel Kasumu is Managing Director of EN Campaigns.

This text is part of a wider report named "The Promise of Nigeria's Entrepreneurs: A Perspective from the UK" first published by Chatham House. Click here to read the entire report.

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