Recent efforts to equip the training centres of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) across the country are at different stages of completion, in this chat with CHARLES OKONJI, the Director General of the Fund, Dr Mrs Juliet Chukkas- Onaeko, explains why the centres must be 100 per cent equipped and the impact the Fund’s graduates are making in the nation’s industrial sector. Excerpts
What is ITF’s post training strategy for graduates of your centres across the country?
We have worked with them to get attached to certain industries within the environment, and some of them have gathered more practical knowledge in addition to what they have been learning at the centres. To my joy, when I interacted with some of them, they confirmed to me that the level of knowledge and competency they have acquired is actually very remarkable. Those who were sent out to the industries were very useful to the factories, and some have gone into self-employment, working on certain things.
All the graduates have practical skills and all we have to do is to ensure that they complete their remaining modules and we give them their certificates to enable them secure adequate and proper employment or to start up their own businesses. That is what we have been working on and we have made a lot of progress.
What is your take on the recent protest by some ITF trainees?
What happened is rather unfortunate, to a great extent, it was uncalled for, and for the side of the students, they have the right to express their displeasure if they are not satisfied with what is going on, but the approach used was rather unfortunate. Unfortunate in the sense that since I have been on the seat of the DG, about a couple of months ago, protest or no protest, that has been my priority issue.
Something that we had already made progress on, something that we had already addressed the students on. Even, late last year, when the issues were brought to me, we discovered that when the budget of 2014 was prepared, probably for one reason or the other, it did not capture that particular project and we had to explain to them to please be patient with us while we resolve the issues and one of the ways of resolving it was to try to seek intervention funding and to ensure that it is included in the budget of 2015 because we weren’t sure the intervention funding was working out. So, we had to seek funding from the internally generated funds in 2015.
Right form May 2014, when I came on board, that was the first issue I addressed, so that protest was uncalled for. Looking at the records, I found out that the students have been around beyond their time of graduation and we needed to do everything we could to graduate them. From May to June, I worked very hard with my management team and we were able to graduate 30 of them. The other batch couldn’t graduate because they still have some more modules to complete their programmes. Some have two, three while some others have four. To be able to do that, (completing these modules), some special equipment must be acquired. That is why I said, if it was actually included in the last year’s budget, it would have been easier to procure these items, but because they were not included, we suffered delay.
Just recently, the 2015 budget was approved by the National Assembly, so, we want to go right into procuring some of those equipment.
Why is it so important to hold back these trainees until the centres are fully equipped?
It is important that we keep our youths engaged so that no one would take advantage of them politically, to make them do things that will disrupt the peace of the society. The issue has been resolved to a great extent and if you visit our ITF training centre in Abuja, you will find out that the equipment in the centre is not found anywhere else. It is well equippedcentre, but because of the certification of these students, it is an international certificate that benchmark international best practices, we just cannot do without having 100 per cent of the tools they need to work with.
Some of the centres already have 90 per cent of the tools and some 50 per cent while some have 100 per cent tools, fully equipped, like the ones that graduated students previously, were those from the two workshops that are fully equipped. Those that are 80 and 90 per cent equipped with others that are nearing completion would soon be fully equipped.
What is ITF’s cash flow and cash generation like?
ITF is a self-funding agency. The issue is that we have leakages, we have companies that have not been complying with the regulations. We have recently engaged a consultant that is working with us on the payment structure that will be more detailed and comprehensive, that will be user friendly, so that the employers of labour who want to make their contributions can use do it in a stress-less way, they can do the payment from the comfort of their homes. We don’t want to have people chasing after you, and we are also working with other agencies to make sure those gaps are blocked, so that we don’t have people who can just walk away without making their contribution.
When everything fully come on board, we would be able to unveil what we have and we would be able to go on. We are going to achieve a higher per cent-age in term of revenue generation up to the level that we can break even in the area of training for our teaming youths.
How would you assess the level of collaboration between ITF and employers of labour in driving industrialisation?
One other way we think that we can greatly achieve is to be directly engaged to our clients (the employers of labour). The employers of labour need to understand that this is adding to their businesses.Majorities of employers of labour need to understand and see it that way. They have the mind-set that these agencies just come and take the money and they don’t do anything, we just have to work on them to change their mind set.
The truth is that ITF on the daily bases is adding value to the economy through skills development, through the survey works we do, through the research works that we do, through providing some support, through accessing and providing useful information to the industries to be able to get better. This is adding to their business because everything that we are doing is to the benefit of employers, they need to see it that way, because in this country, people just think that government agencies would just come and collect their money and go away.
You know that for technical education and vocational studies, huge funding is required and with the little we are earning, we have done a lot and we are going to more. We would be going into stakeholders’ interactive section, discussing with them, working with them, addressing the problems they are facing.
The collaboration we have going with NECA is a beautiful one and we are going to continue to utilise that platform to reach out to employers of labour so that we can continue to have their support.
The budget this year is expected to be higher because we planned opening some new training centres. So, that is why we are still working on some collaboration.