Director General, Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Sir Joseph N. Ari recently engaged journalists on the Abuja Model Skills Training Center (MSTC) and some disquieting issues that have trailed the Fund’s operations. In his best element, the ITF Boss unveiled operations of the MSTC; engagement of Singaporeans in running the centres; and why the Fund is 100 percent compliant with President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s vision of diversifying the Nigerian economy through provision of skills acquisition, agriculture and other related sectors re-engineering as revenue earners for Nigeria. Here, Forefront highlights issues from the highly illuminating interactive session
What is Abuja Model Skills Training Center (MSTC) all about and when should we expect its full take off?
The idea was conceived in 2010, but it effectively took off in 2011. It went through many due processes, together with the Institute of Technical Education Services of Singapore. So, the Model Skills Training Center (MSTC) is a Singaporean Experience. We needed their expertise to evolve a system that could assist our country to develop our potentials as a nation. The center was created to run five trades areas namely, Mechatronics, Computer Networking; Electrical Electronics, ICT; and Culinary. They all have international certification. Now, what happens is that in the course of the training, which is modular in nature, the Singaporeans would be here to set the exams, mark them and release the results. This is meant for a period of two years training. Within these two years, it expected that trainees would be equipped with all forms of skills to develop the human potentials of trainees.
So, why has the Centre not been able to graduate its trainees since 2011?
Over the years, certain aspects of the training needed to be done. But they had to do with offshore equipments which were not procured at that time. You know, you cannot procure such equipment within a short time. It needs time and patience, and funding is critical. Several factors have been responsible for the inability of the Fund to graduate its trainees. The inability of past management to resolve some of these issues regarding the procurement of offshore equipment was responsible for the delay in graduating the trainees. So, it caused the lingering of the graduation of two of the sets in Mechatronics and Facility Technology up to the time that it became a problem for the immediate past management. To be honest, the handling was a bit poor and there were some challenges. The processes of engagement can simmer, douse or escalate such challenges. You remember that there was one between the trainees and the management of the center which prompted the need for this media chat. You should recall that some students in the skills centre even were on radio to air their grievances. It was at that point we came in around September 2016. So, it is just about five or six months since the new management came on board.
Considering that the students need to continue their training at the Skills centre, what has been done to address this issue since your assumption of office?
Well, I took it on myself to write to the radio station where the students aired their grievances. Before that, we engaged the students and got to know what the problem was. Two key courses caused the delay. These are Mechatronics and Facility Technology. The reason being that the offshore equipments required for the course were unavailable; and some payments due to the Singaporeans were not made. With the information at hand, we wrote to the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment because money to procure the equipment was beyond the Fund Tender Board’s threshold. It was within the threshold of the Ministerial Tender’s Board.
How much was involved in the offshore equipment procurement?
The amount for the equipment is N1.2 billion. You know that there are thresholds for approvals and if the amount is beyond a particular threshold, you move to the next. If it is beyond the ministerial, then it falls within the purview of Federal Executive Council (FEC). So, our matter fell within the threshold of the Ministerial Tender’s board. So we wrote to the minister, explaining how serious the matter was and he quickly convened the Ministerial Tender’s Board (MTB) meeting. We made our presentation to the board which reasoned with us and approved it.
With the approval, the award has been given to the contractors. The offshore equipment contractors have up till March 2017 ending to supply all our requirements. Some are already here. These are equipment that you have to source from overseas for the Mechatronics and Facility Technology. But most of the other equipments are already on ground. We have also stipulated August/September 2017 as the graduation period. The reason being that as the supply is completed; we will invite the Singaporeans for inspection, auditing, installation and commencement of classes. We have condensed and compressed classes for those who have stayed too long in the programme to graduate. We have done this in just four months.
Some people have expressed worries that certificates issued by the training centers are recognised. What is your management doing to secure accreditation?
It is a fact that the certificates were not equivalent to that of National Diploma. For now, we are focusing on certification. I am happy to inform you that we have already secured certification approval. This is the approval (shows document) from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). When we wrote to them, they came and inspected our facilities. The certificate says it allows us to operate as an innovation Enterprise institution with effect from December 27, 2016. Our programmes fall within the ambit of what has been approved in other institutions. These are building construction technology; Computer hardware engineering, welding and fabrication. So, graduates of these programmes will be awarded certificates that are now recognised. In addition, we followed up to the Federal Ministry of Education where we now have approval for the Centre to operate as a National Diploma awarding institute with the students able to now go for their HND afterwards.
Considering the paucity of funds, have you now paid the Singaporeans?
Yes. We have paid all the money we owe them. But unfortunately, when debts linger, the vagaries of currency exchange sets in and we have had to pay more. But I can assure you that we have paid and we do not owe on the offshore equipment. What is left now is the next installment of payment which I have approved. The process is on now to pay them.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think there was need to bring in the Singaporeans in the first place?
Yes. Today, Singapore is developed on account of its ability to develop the skills of its citizens. With the level of technical education for its citizenry, it is able to become the anchor of development. The choice of Singapore was deliberate as it is one of the few countries that have deployed technical education to engender development. It has more experience on job training than theory. What we need to emphasize in this country is practical aspect, rather than theory. There is no way a nation can develop without working round the clock to develop various skills of its citizenry. The ITF is poised to develop the potentials of the people and harness them for our development. To this end, we are also in partnership with SENAI of Brazil and Galilee International of Israel. The skills acquisition processes are the bedrock of most economies. I can tell you that technical education and acquisition of skills for development is also the bedrock of Singapore’s economy, a sustainable process set up by one of its founding fathers, Lee Kwan Yu. When we visited Singapore, we discovered their model was good for us. So, they came and constructed everything for us and is the same standard you have in Singapore. It is expected that after the installation of the offshore equipment, the Singaporeans will remain for some time, and thereafter leave the scene after Nigerians would have taken charge. Already, there are Nigerians who have been trained in Singapore to handle these facilities. But we need the Singaporeans to commence training and thereafter leave the scene for Nigerians to fully take charge.
What is the ITF doing to aid successful diversification of the Nigerian economy?
In taking Nigeria to the next level, we are committed to ensuring that the skills of our people are fully developed, especially in the non-oil sector so that Nigerians can be less dependent on oil. In line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision for sustainable economic growth and development of the country, we are not only pursuing various programmes that will deliver skills to thousands of Nigerians but also opening up various centres in the country for many Nigerians to be equipped with technical knowledge in different productive sectors. We are in partnership with various countries like Singapore, Israel and Brazil among others, in a bid to fully develop our skills in various fields of human endeavours. No nation can develop when it only depends on just a single product. Nigerians are endowed with vast human capacity and potentials. Our vision is to fully develop those potentials and unleash them on the national economy for development. Our ability to develop Nigeria lies in our ability to develop ourselves and quip our population with requisite technical skills. The ITF is poised to fully develop the skills of our teeming population as championed by this administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
We are in total compliance with the government’s vision and I can assure you that, Nigeria is set to experience a new dawn in skill acquisition for real time development.