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Sector Skills Council: The quick fix for Nigeria’s economic recovery

Nigeria is positioned by God’s endowment to be the prime mover for developing the African continent. A cursory look at the human, material and natural resources bestowed on this nation clearly indicates that this country will be a continental and global success when properly tapped, harnessed and deployed.

Skill acquisition training
Skill acquisition training

This piece is not intended to mourn the lost opportunities in the past but to ginger and promote new strategies for actualising our nation’s rapid development.

Nigeria needs to focus on its human resources to revamp the economy. Nigerians’ capacity to acquire competencies at whatever level worldwide is not in doubt. The irony, however, is that the country is rich with potential in every sector but has a high youth population who are largely unskilled, underemployed, or unemployed.

With skills fully deployed, our country’s economic fortunes can be turned around so that many who are currently exiting the country will remain rather than run to the embrace of the unfriendly climate and people in some of these extremely cold countries. Skills are the quick fix to the challenge of youth unemployment.

The country needs to focus on skills development, acquisition, and deployment in both formal and informal education systems. Our institutions’ graduates are not industry-ready and, as such, not attractive to labour employers. Those trained through the apprenticeship system in the informal sector are neither trained to a specified standard nor organised to provide quality service.

Therefore, the country needs to rethink its strategy for capacity building and skills acquisition. This calls for introducing Sector Skills Councils as a robust solution for unbundling the huge untapped capacity of Nigerian youth.

Sector skills councils are platforms for systematic cooperation between the stakeholders in a particular sector of the economy, such as government bodies and training institutions, private sector organisations, trade unions, professional bodies, industry, regulatory bodies etc., to promote lifelong learning by connecting education to the labour market needs to promote employment and innovation by the development of relevant skills.

Training For the Labour Market

People need skills to find jobs and enterprises seek new staff members able to meet their skills requirements. A properly skilled workforce is a crucial factor in the business environment as it directly affects the economy and the labour market (European Commission, 2012). This premise underpins the need for dialogue between representatives of various economic sectors, the public authorities and those institutions responsible for training, including vocational education and training (VET). Such an approach demands a proactive attitude from all of the parties involved, coupled with the will to cooperate (ETF, 2012b).

One key goal of any education and training system is to train employable graduates. This means training people in the skills and competencies needed in the labour market, not just training people to look for any random available job. Ensuring the labour market relevance of skills is a key challenge for VET systems in most countries, in the industrialised, transition and developing economies alike.

However, many individuals are unable to access quality education and training. To address this, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) is championing VET reforms aiming for greater efficiency, economic growth and competitiveness. The justification for these reforms lies in socio-economic developments, such as the increasing number of young people looking for work opportunities in precarious labour markets. As such, the ensuing VET reforms must be designed to fit specific socioeconomic and cultural contexts, considering national or regional specificities and the varying needs of a range of economic sectors.

Why Take a Sector Approach?

Many industrial and developing countries use sector approaches to promote skills development in the knowledge that great benefits can be gained from internal organisation within individual sectors. The fact is that labour markets are not homogeneous, and skills needs will vary from one economic sector to another depending on their activities and the nature of associated technologies. The sectoral perspectives will also depend on the markets open to them and the availability of a skilled workforce.

The classic breakdown of the economy considers the three sectors: primary (production such as agriculture), secondary (manufacturing and construction) and tertiary (services). However, as it operates at a very general level, it does not allow for any understanding of the skills needed in different economic activities. The United Nations approved a more detailed breakdown of 21 different economic activities, each with three sub-levels, while the Eurostat website (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon) offers a fuller International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities that is currently mostly used for statistical purposes.

What is a Sector Skills Council?

Sector Skills Councils promote skills development in a given economic sector. They are permanent working structures to identify or analyse skill needs or to otherwise contribute to education and training that will prepare the workforce for the specific economic sector. Different sector structures are widely used worldwide, and the Councils may be established through initiatives by the social partners or government. The Councils are usually recognised in legislation, which legitimises their work and affirms their mandate. Legal recognition grants them the right to express their opinions to the public.

The Sector Skills Councils are platforms for cooperation in which key stakeholders collaborate to develop the sector. These stakeholders may include public authorities, private sector, training organisations, regulatory bodies, trade unions, social partners (the representative organisations of employers and employees) and education, vocational training and research institutes etc.

The international experience shows that the Sector Skills Councils can cover items such as labour market analysis affecting quantitative or qualitative skills needs; forecasting skills needs; matching training provision to labour market needs; preparation of occupational or qualification standards; and policy advice on lifelong learning or VET (Vocational Education & Training). Others include fostering cooperation between educational providers and employers, provision of training for the workforce, and funding of training.

Currently, Nigeria has 14 Sector Skills Councils. Some of these are Power, Engineering, Building, Hospitality and Tourism, Automotive Industry, Education and Care, Occupational Health and Safety, Articulated Vehicles, ICT, Security, etc.

Some of their responsibilities include skills development in the sector, training delivery to meet industry standards, reducing skills gap within the sector, improving productivity due to quality training and certification, increasing opportunities due to higher competence, setting up labour market information system (LMIS), developing skills plan & maintain inventory of skills, and developing skills competency standards & qualifications known as national occupational standards (NOS).

Other responsibilities include helping to standardise accreditation and standardisation, planning and executing trainers’ (TOTs) training, promoting excellence in training and service delivery, and establishing, processing, and coordinating emerging trends in the industry.

The Sector Skills Councils combine diverse stakeholders into one body, providing a one-stop-shop solution to skills gaps and mismatches and quickly addressing shortages. Due to their all-encompassing membership, these Councils provide a strong platform for the advocacy and development of skills in the sector, and an all-inclusive source of feedback to the government on skills policies as they cover the entire spectrum of the sector.

The absence of Sector Skills Councils has resulted in skills development issues being handled in silos and, in some cases overlapping and waste of resources by various skills development organisations in both the public and private sectors. In fact, many private sector organisations are forced to establish skill training centers to retool their manpower for effective use since public institutions do not produce graduates that meet their immediate requirements. Sector Skills Councils will ensure that skills mismatch, which occurs when there are gaps between training organisations and industry, are avoided or reduced to a minimum.

By Bldr. Samson Ameh Opaluwah, President, Sector Skills Council for Building in Nigeria

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