By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
The skill gap in the nation’s economy is evident in the fact that many Nigerians use expatriates from Asia and the neighbouring countries to undertake their technical works in the building, construction and industrial sectors. In this interview, the Director-General of the Industrial Training Fund, ITF, Prof. Longmas Sambo Wapmuk, says his organisation has mapped out the strategy to bridge the gap.
According to him, funding which has been its impediment over the years, has been addressed in the 2011 amendment of the ITF Act as it provides that one per cent of annual staff salaries must be paid by private companies and government organizations into the Fund. Excerpts:
Why was it necessary to amend the ITF Act?
On assumption of office as the Director General, I found out that there was a law establishing a Fund and, in this law, there was provision for collection of some money to sustain the activities of the Industrial Training Fund, ITF. And when I came in, the level of fund generation was very low. Apart from the fact that the budget of the ITF was between N3billion and N4 billion, the law stipulates that ITF should collect 1 per cent of firms and government agencies annual staff salary.
Again, there is the reimbursement clause in the law as 60 % of the money collected from the organised private sector will be refunded to them if in the circumstance they train their staff within the period in question. Let’s take for example: If we collect N100, we are supposed to return N60 and retain the remaining N40 which will then be used to run the Fund’s activities and train the stakeholders.
We found out that over the years, the money available for training has been very low and we thought that there was the need to improve the level of funding. When I came, I started by soliciting for money from government. I drew up a plan and followed it up by going to the supervising ministry, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and many other places and found out that I could not generate any revenue from my efforts.
So I decided to look inwards to see areas of generating revenue if we are to function properly as provided for in the law setting us up. I found out that in the so many countries I visited, they have similar laws but there is no reimbursement clause because they use all the money to train. But in our own case we reimburse sixty percent to the industry and forty percent is left for us to pay our salaries and to do the training.
Again, we found out that our country’s education system has somersaulted along the line because we forgot about the craft schools that existed in the past and concentrated on the grammar school type of education and we discovered that those who graduated from craft schools have reached retirement age and no new people to replace them, and, to make matters worse, most of our educational institutions do not have the equipment for students to carry out practical training and the ITF thought there was need to bridge this gap and we made proposals for the Act setting us up to be amended so that we will be able to generate more money to establish the much needed skill centers and make a difference. And this was why we went ahead to amend the ITF Act 2011.
How would you compare the level of training when you were not getting enough funds and now that funds have started coming?
When I came on board, ITF had two industrial skills training centers and were making efforts to establish new ones. But it was difficult to get money to establish the new centers. My predecessor tried to buy equipment for the training centers both in Kano and Ikeja, Lagos, but the funds available to him were not adequate. He nevertheless, started the process.
So every year little equipment is bought for these centers. But when I came in, I was fortunate to be part of a tour organised by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and this gave me an insight that my function really was tailored towards the technical areas and, since we came in, we tried to use the small money available to us for vocational training.
The management tried to make an effort to allow the government to see some visible achievement and we decided to establish model skills acquisition center in Abuja, just behind the corporate headquarters, for government to see and this achievement would spur the administration to do more for us by increasing our funds.
We also proposed something to government which we presented to stakeholders in May known as National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP) which is an aspect of the national industrial development plan for the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.
This plan envisages that we will have industrial skills training centers in the thirty-six states of the federation and Abuja. And in each of these centers we have provision for training people in twenty-four trade areas. We have also made provision in this plan for Centers for Advance Skills Training for Employment (CASTE) and these are bigger centers that have provision for about forty five trade areas and these will be located in the six geo-political zones of the country.
The essence is that those who graduate from other centers would be able to further increase their skills through these advance centers.
How much does it take to establish each of these centers?
The skill centers are very costly to establish because some equipment can cost up to N15m. We have estimated that the Industrial Skills Centers in the thirty-six states and Abuja will have provision for twenty-four trades and will cost about N3.5 billion, while the bigger ones, the advance skills centers in the six geo-political zones, will cost about N5.5 billion. So, if you cost it, you will realize it’s a lot of money. But we have envisaged that with our amended Act, we will be able to generate the required money over time to help us establish the centers.
Have you started collecting the money now?
Yes, we have started collecting the money but the money we have collected so far is not much. This is because we are just implementing the legislation and there are so many things in the amended Act. If you look at section six of that law and subsection i to iii, they stipulate that:
i) “Every employer having five or more employees in his establishment, or having less than five employees but with a turnover of 50 million Naira and above per annum, shall, in respect of each calendar year and or the prescribed date, contribute to the fund one percent of his total annual payroll”
ii) “Any supplier or contractor or consultant bidding or soliciting contract(s), business(es), goods and services form any federal government Ministry, Department and agency(MDAs) as well as commercial, industrial and private entities must fulfill statutory obligations of his employees with respect to payment of his Training Contribution”
iii) “Any liable organization, public or private including companies situate in the free trade zones requiring approval for expatriate quota and/or utilizing custom services in matters of export and import, must show proof of compliance with this Act in respect of payment of training contribution of his employees”.
Furthermore, all regulatory agencies of the federal government shall ensure compliance with the statutory provision of the ITF Act with regards to section 6(1) –(3) above. Now to collect the money is not easy because many institutions are yet to be convinced that they need to contribute because they have not seen anything that the ITF has done to warrant their contribution. So there is need for them to be educated about it.
Secondly those who are bidding for government contract and other suppliers or consultants from any Federal Government ministry or agencies are expected to fulfill their statutory obligation to the ITF. This also is not very easy to get people to pay. But we are gradually educating people and creating public awareness and placing advertisement in newspapers and magazines and other media institutions to reach the desired audience to get them to comply.
There is also this issue of people who are importing….?
Yes, people who are importing into Nigeria are supposed to show their receipts but we have not been able to reach the ports yet. At this stage, we are set to meet with the Comptroller General of Customs to discuss this issue with him. I know that after discussing with him, he will need a directive from the supervising Ministry or Minister which will prompt me to get to Finance Ministry to seek cooperation to enable us smoothen our path to the ports.
As we speak, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation has issued two circulars informing all government departments to cooperate but some have said they did not get the circulars. These are hurdles to surmount. It will take some time before we get there. Take example of the expatriate quota. We will have to get to the Ministry of Interior especially the Nigerian Immigration Service for their cooperation.