By Emmanuella Anokam
Abuja, Oct. 20, 2020 The Industrial Training Fund (ITF) has underscored the need to address skills mismatches in supply and demand of labour in Nigerian economy by using Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES).
Sir Joseph Ari, ITF Director-General, made this assertion on Tuesday in Abuja at its physical and virtual 14th National Biennial SIWES Conference on “Implementation of SIWES in the New World Order; Roles and Responsibilities of Stakeholders”.
Ari also sought for a review in the implementation of the scheme in light of COVID-19 and to address the mismatch between supply and demand of labour.
SIWES was initiated in 1974 among other objectives to expose and provide students of Engineering, Technical and allied disciplines with practical experience of real work situations they are likely to find on graduation.
SIWES, which has over the years proven to be a critical vehicle for developing Nation’s manpower, emerged in response to growing concerns among employers of labour that graduates of tertiary institutions lacked adequate practical knowledge.
Ari noted that one major impediment that confronted the government was absence of Nigerians with requisite skills, even when openings were created as revealed by a National Skills Gap Assessment in Six Priority Sectors of the Nigerian economy.
He said the assessment, which was conducted by ITF in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), in 2018 revealed that in spite of spiralling unemployment, 925 trades were either difficult or hard to fill in the country’s labour market.
According to him, the survey conducted by several organisations attributed the paradox to a mismatch between labour supply and the labour requirement of the job market.
“That we are currently battling unemployment in the face of existing vacancies on account of such mismatches is indicative of a lacuna in the educational system,” he added.
Ari, while decrying the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on all facets of the economy, said SIWES had not been exempted from its ripple effects, especially as the scheme required close person-to-person interaction in some of its processes.
“What this demands of us, is to adapt the implementation of the scheme to what many consider ‘the new normal’
“Another fallout of the pandemic is soaring unemployment. Since the pandemic, numerous companies have either rationalised their workforce or completely closed shop leading to a spike in the number of unemployed Nigerians.
“It must, however, be noted that until the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the country was successful in its drive at reducing unemployment through the numerous initiatives of the Federal Government,” he said.
He urged the forum to brainstorm on the implementation of the scheme in light of COVID-19 and proffer recommendations on how SIWES can be applied to address the mismatch between supply and demand of labour.
As the Agency responsible for the administration of the scheme, he said it had already reviewed its processes for seamless and more effective management in light of prevailing challenges and to fully actualise its objectives.
He said it had equally commenced necessary action on some while others that required the consent of stakeholders for implementation were pending.
“For instance, to ease interactions between relevant stakeholders, thereby minimising person to person contact, a website dedicated to SIWES has been developed,” he said.
Ari decried the fact that some disciplines in the institutions of higher learning that were part of the internship programme did not entirely qualify under the categorisation of Engineering, Technical and related targeted disciplines for the scheme.
On this note, he called for a critical review of the accredited disciplines to sustain the scheme given current challenges and other considerations.
Prof. Seddi Maimako, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jos and also the Chairman of the occasion emphasised the need to bridge the huge gap between theory and practical in the country.
The vice-chancellor expressed dissatisfaction on low perception of Nigerians on skills acquisition and apparent lack of interest by students in subscribing and enrolling in courses to enhance skills acquisition.
Maimako, while highlighting specific roles of the stakeholders, urged the Federal Government, ITF, supervisory agencies and National Universities Commission among others to remain focused in sustaining skills acquisition for economic development.