By Ikechukwu Bismarch Oji
On Saturday, November 25, 2017, the Learn & Work European Vocational Institute was launched in Enugu by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
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, 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.
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.
*Oji is Executive Director, Centre for the Advancement of Literacy& Leadership (CALL) and a former National Chairman, Ohaneze Youth Wing.