Experts define technical vocational education as any form of education which primary purpose is to prepare persons for employment in recognised occupations.
By most accounts therefore, vocational education is fundamental to the attainment of solid economic development of any country.
They also argue that the dearth of trained vocational and middle-level technical manpower represents a very serious gap in the development of third-world countries, including Nigeria.
This argument, perhaps, underscores President Muhammadu Buhari’s inquest to why foreign construction companies operating in Nigeria still source for artisans and other skilled workers from their home country.
The president sought the explanations during a recent meeting with the Board of Directors of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc.
The company told Buhari that most of the foreign construction companies operating in the country sourced their artisan manpower requirements from abroad because of a shortage of competent construction workers and artisans in Nigeria.
Acknowledging that the practice was detrimental to his administration’s commitment to boost employment opportunities for young Nigerians, Buhari insisted that his administration would address the shortage of skilled construction workers in the country.
In the light of this, Buhari directed the Federal Ministries of Works and Lands, Housing and Urban Development to urgently prepare and present for approval and implementation, a plan of action for the speedy revitalisation and expansion of the nation’s vocational training centres.
Shedding more light on the president’s concern, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said the president demanded a report on the current status of existing vocational training centres established by the Federal Government nationwide.
In a statement, he said Buhari had promised that his administration would take all necessary action to rapidly reposition vocational training centres as efficient producers of skilled workers for Nigeria’s building and construction industry.
Buhari said that his administration would act swiftly to ensure that the Building Craft Training School and Skill Improvement Centre in Lagos were fully revamped, staffed and equipped to produce more skilled electricians, brick and block layers, carpenters, painters, welders, fabricators, plumbers and other artisans.
Reaffirming his administration’s commitment to the proper education and training of Nigerian youth for the current demands of the labour market, he said that the Federal Government would remove all impediments to the fulfillment of its promise of more jobs for unemployed Nigerians.
He also assured the directors of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. led by Mr Mutiu Sunmonu that in spite of present funding challenges, the Federal Government would continue to settle genuine outstanding payments due to contractors.
To boost skills development, Mr Afolabi Imoukhuede, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Job Creation and Youth Employment, recently announced plans by the Federal Government to train 370,000 artisans.
At the inauguration of the Construction Skills Training and Empowerment Programme (C-STEmp), Imoukhuede said the plan would generate employments.
C-STEmp, an initiative of J. Hausen Ltd. and a construction management consultancy firm, is an accelerated skills development project to prepare eligible beneficiaries for employment as artisans in construction industry.
Represented by Mr Ife Adebayo, Special Assistant on Production and Innovative, Imoukhuede said the Federal Government also planned to employ 500, 000 graduates as teachers to improve the educational system.
“The Federal Government plans to train 370,000 artisans this year and to employ 500,000 graduates as teachers, because one of our key problems is on education,’’ he said.
He, however, called for collaboration with the relevant government agencies and public-private participation to train more Nigerians in skill development.
Commenting on the initiative, Rev. Ugochukwu Chime, C-STEmp Chairman of Trustee, noted that the project would break the paradox of high unemployment and poverty.
“This will be done through a fast track intensive skills acquisition programme, using a combination of classroom, indoor and outdoor practical and a programmed apprenticeship period.
“It will equip beneficiaries with sufficient skills, certification and reference to enable them to gain employment in the housing and construction industry,’’ he added.
He said that the struggle for economic inclusiveness by the grassroots over the years in Nigeria was worsened by lack of education and competence in chosen profession.
Supported by UK Aid, under the construction idea fund of the Growth and Employment in States (GEMs) project, Chime said that the programme would enable the under-employed persons to fend for themselves and rise above their limited circumstances.
Chime, who is also the President, Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria, noted that curriculum, manuals and other vocational teaching resources would be used for the training.
He listed the courses to include concreting block laying and plastering, general construction, carpentry, steel fabrication, plumbing installation and maintenance and electrical installation and maintenance.
Others are tiling and decorative stone work, painting and decoration and site orientation and practice for building and engineering graduates.
Irrespective of this, Prof. Aondover Tarhule, a university lecturer, stressed the need for the Federal Government to initiate steps that would elevate the standards of technical and vocational education in the country.
At a recent workshop in Kaduna on Technical and Vocational Education Training, he said that the government should establish many functional technical and vocational institutions across the country to boost access to skill acquisition.
“I think we have a situation in this country where we focus too much on the classic liberal education; everybody goes to the university and then they have no job on graduation.
“We need a skilled technical labour force; as such, we ought to put up in every state, almost as many technical colleges and institutions as the universities we have.
“You go to restaurants and hotels, and you don’t get good services because people don’t learn it.
“This is because we don’t have enough vocational institutions where people get certification and proper training,’’ he said.
Tarhule said that if there were as many technical and vocational institutions as there were universities in the country, not everybody would like to go to the university. “There is the need, therefore, to elevate the standard of technical and vocational education so that the people can tap from the gains that accrue from it.
“This way, we will be reducing congestion in the universities and strengthen the service aspect of our industry; thereby, elevating the quality of service and the quality of life for everybody.
“I hope that at some point, we will begin this very important task, because there is a lot that should be done and can be done on multiple fronts to strengthen technical and vocational education in the country,’’ he said.
Identifying vocational education as key to job creation and poverty alleviation, Mr Stanley Okegbenro, a teacher at a private vocational centre in Oyo State, listed inadequate equipment and poor funding as some of the challenges of the private initiative to make the youth self-reliant.
To support the Federal Government’s initiative, the Kano State Government says it has also upgraded two of its four vocational centres to the status of technical colleges to boost vocational and technical education in the state.
The Executive Secretary of the state’s Science and Technical Schools Board, Alhaji Ahmad Abdullahi, noted that the upgraded vocational centres were located at Kwakwaci and Gani towns in Fagge and Sumaila local government areas of the state, respectively.
“Currently, we have no fewer than 150 youths undergoing training in each of the two centres’’, he said.
He, however, appealed to the local government areas and wealthy individuals in the state to make the best use of the opportunity provided by the centres.
Nonetheless, stakeholders have stressed the need for government at all levels to accord special priority to vocational education in the country. They note that providing necessary vocational training will keep the youth busy, reduce youth restiveness and generate more employments.