Sir Joseph N. Ari is the new man on the block as Director General, Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and recently, he unveiled fresh strategies entitled: ‘ITF Reviewed Vision: Strategies For Mandate Actualisation.’ Anchored on a programme committed to delivering on mass skills acquisition programmes, this vision also seeks to broaden platforms of opportunities for both the Fund and human capital development. MUSA SIMON REEF summarises highpoints of a vision that is poised to refocus the Fund for effective mandate delivery within a four-year period.

His appointment as Director General of the Industrial Training Fund by President Muhammadu Buhari did not come as a surprise, considering his vast knowledge of the organisation’s inner workings and service delivery mandate. Most staff of the Jos based-institution are ever ready to reel out facts about the man. Sir Ari, before now has headed the Administration and Human Resources Management; Corporate Planning; Business Training and Development Departments, as well as Chairing the Fund’s Training and Research Committee. Going through his rich résumé, Ari is presented either as the initiator or instrumental to the implementation of important policy documents, such as the 4-year roadmap and the 10-year Strategic Plan. He is also said to have played a key role in the successful amendment of the ITF Act and the Fund’s restructuring from the 10-Department unit structure to 14, among other numerous initiatives and policies. Stakeholders agree that less than three months into his appointment, the new ITF boss has hit the ground running and showing bright prospects of turning around the dwindling fortunes of the agency that had so nose-dived in the recent past. Ari’s deep insider knowledge of the Fund and his bold steps in unveiling what ITF intends to achieve in the next four years reveals the personality of a man who is irrevocably committed to leaving behind positive footprints on the sands of time. Taking a cue from empirical evidence thrown up by several skills gap surveys, the ITF vision to address and redress existing and emerging challenges through aligning the Fund’s functions with the Federal Government’s policy thrust of economic diversification and industrialization. Working in line with its mandate, the new plan hinges on provision of adequate skilled manpower to drive the nation’s economy. To effectively tackle these challenges, the ITF has devised a holistic approach to the provision of employable skills for job and wealth creation in areas where Nigeria currently enjoys comparative advantage. These include: Agro-Allied, Construction, ICT and Digital jobs, Metal and Solid minerals, Oil and Gas, Services and Light Manufacturing. Apart from unveiling a road-map that is radically different from previous attempts at re-engineering and repositioning the Fund to achieve set objectives, current efforts as espoused by Sir Ari-led management, represent the Fund’s most ambitious and comprehensive plan since its establishment. Realising the need to resolve issues of development in the country, the reviewed vision outlines a number of quick wins, medium and long-term goals of the Fund, with strategies and solid timelines for achievements.

Quick Wins Goals

Not ready to compromise its irrevocable commitment to engendering a quick change, the Fund has categorised some of its visions into quick wins aim at resolving key challenges and turning the tides in favour of development and providing skills acquisition expertise. The quick wins goals also provide a “platform for the proactive participation of employers of labour in Skills Development; ensure full optimization of employers’ training facilities for improved opportunities,” as enunciated by the ITF-NECA Technical Skills Development Programme (TSDP). In the Job Matching System categorised under quick wins, the Fund seeks to achieve the objectives of creating a “platform that will contain work skills proficiencies, levels of work experience, and professional reference of employable youths; provide a platform for employers to search and find candidates that meet specific skills/experience profiles they require; reduce search costs for qualified candidates and significantly enhance the ability of Nigerians to put their skills to work and unlock the market for work.” Besides ensuring effective collaboration with relevant agencies and organisations for the sole purpose of ensuring synergy and strengthening ITF’s capacity to deliver on her mandate, the new leadership also envisions increased synergy “and deepen relationships with stakeholders; sensitizing the public on activities and programmes of the Fund and working towards cross fertilisation of ideas among stakeholders.

Medium Term Goals

Under the medium term vision, the Sir Ari-led team intends to “provide relevant knowledge, skills and attitude for productivity improvement; offer opportunity for the employed to enhance their performance on the job and give opportunity for the under-employed to upscale their skills for better job placement. Under its apprenticeship scheme, ITF has resolved to develop technical skills for job creation. The new plan also envisions standardised curriculum for effective training delivery and generation of a pool of competent craftsmen and artisans. Objectives of the Apprenticeship programme aimed at assessing company facilities, personnel and training content; standardise training facilities, instructional materials and learning modules; monitor training implementation and compliance; grant approval; collaborate with relevant agencies for competency certification and generating a database of the Apprenticeship Scheme. Moreover, with the assistance of the German DVT (German Chamber of Crafts and Commerce), the management hopes to ensure the ITF MSTC Abuja and ISTC Ikeja become operational. By December 2018 ending, no fewer than 400 apprentices are expected to be fully equipped with various skills of human endeavours. The Fund is to mainstream the strategies of setting “training standards in all sectors of the economy; certifying vocational skills acquired by apprentices, craftsmen and technicians in collaboration with relevant organizations; conducting Audit exercise of ITF Centres, using TVET-UK; conducting Centre Audits for industries; conducting Safety and Environmental Audits for Industries, conducting Quality Management System Audit; developing internal capacity to conduct the above audits; providing training for certification and developing internal capacity of assessors and verifiers in training centres for testing apprentices, craftsmen and technicians” The Sir Ari’s leadership is also set to introduce knowledge management for ITF staffers through sensitising workers on knowledge management and establishing knowledge management unit within the organisation. Another medium term goal set by the ITF management is creating modalities for identifying, capturing, storing and sharing knowledge in the Fund. Aside reducing undue paper works through the engagement of ICT consultants to train its staff, the management is set to “facilitate quick access to information on ITF clients; fast track registration and payment processes; reduce unnecessary journeys and facilitate cost efficiency.

Long Term Goals

Among the long-term vision is the establishment of Industrial Skills Training Centres (ISTCs) in South-east, South-south and North-east geo-political zones of the country. These would be sited in Aba, Abakaliki, Port Harcourt and Jalingo. This strategy shall be achieved through acquisition of land to build workshops and offices; installation of relevant equipment and machinery; development of indigenous capacity to man the Centres; designing and implementing appropriate training programmes for participants. Also identified as a long-term goal is the establishment of three automotive parts production and training centres in line with the Automotive Policy of the Federal Government. The proposed centres are to be located in Badagry, Nnewi and Kaduna. The objectives are to facilitate automotive parts import substitution; develop requisite skills in automotive spare parts production and encourage local production of automotive spare parts. And the strategy for attaining the vision of automotive policy is developing indigenous capacity to man the Centres; acquire and install relevant equipment and machinery and designing and implementing appropriate training programmes. Similarly, the Fund has outlined the establishment of Industrial Skills Training Centres in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, before the end of 2022. Strategies to achieve this feat would be promoted through effective partnership with State Governments for acquisition of land, equipment and buildings; build Industrial Skills Training Centres (ISTCs) in 36 states of the Federation; develop adequate manpower to manage the Centres; acquire and install relevant equipment and machinery; design and implement appropriate training modules. Here, the key objective is to extend ITF’s technical/vocational training to all the states of the Federation for job creation, poverty alleviation and inclusive growth. Also, to consolidate on skills acquisition, the Fund plans to establish Centres of Advanced Skills Training for Employment (CASTE) in the six geo-political zones. Additionally, there are plans to set up three specialised centres in Oil and Gas. The strategies to be adopted in realising this programme among others include: developing indigenous capacity to man the Centres; acquiring and installing relevant equipment and machinery; and designing and implementing appropriate training programme to cater for all participants. According to the vision document, the main objective is to extend ITF’s technical/vocational training to the oil and gas sector of the economy.

Developing the Nigerian Economy

To pull the nation out of its present dire economic situation, the reviewed vision of ITF dwells on developing the economy and empowering Nigerians with requisite skills to remain productive and earn sustenance through active participation in economic production. Against the backdrop of dearth of skills among Nigerians, the management has assured that the Fund’s commitment to revitalising its programmes towards skill acquisition programmes occupies a central point on its reviewed vision. Vision For Strategic Development In line with the President’s emphasis on agriculture, the ITF’s new vision is anchored on developing the sector to create job opportunities and provide the nation’s farmers with skills required to move the sector to another level growth for the overall economic benefits of the country. Agriculture is a major component in the government’s drive for economic diversification agenda and to assist realise this goal, the Fund intends to develop the capacity of Nigerian farmers along the agricultural value chain, thereby actualising the untapped potentials of the sector by broadening opportunities and providing jobs for poverty elimination in the polity. As envisioned by the new leadership, special areas targeted include: fish farming, poultry production, crop production, Agric-mechanization, Agric-business and post-harvest management, manure production, Technology and farm management, and water resource management, among others. Also identifying skills acquisition as basic in developing the agricultural sector, the Fund is to commence training for about 17,000 farmers, using its Industrial Skills Training Centre (ISTC) in Kano and the Centre for Excellence in Jos and under-developed lands owned by the ITF in states to establish demonstration farms from January 2017. This gigantic idea is not only capable of availing farmers with requisite knowledge, but will also lead to improved productivity in the sector. The policy document further states that to broaden the sphere of opportunities for farmers, there are on-going efforts to acquire land for the same purpose in Anambra, Benue, Kano, Plateau, Gombe, Oyo, Ogun and Niger states. Also realising the importance of collaboration, the Agency has expressed its resolve to collaborate with States, Ministries of Agriculture, existing local farmers, farmers’ associations, like Fadama for farm equipment, seedlings and capacity building and also explore the possibility of financial grants from International and Local Agencies including Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bank of Industry (BOI) amongst others. The emphasis of the plan on agriculture is premised on the conviction that to achieve food security and conserve the huge foreign reserves being spent on the importation of food items; the requisite capacity of Nigerian farmers must be developed and enhanced.

Developing Construction Industry

Combating the threat of unemployment among youths, the Fund has also keyed into President Buhari’s vision of tackling the potential threat and monster of idleness among youths through re-engineering the nation’s construction industry. Considering the negative impacts of economic downturn in the country, the present recession has pushed many Nigerians down the slopes of hopelessness and despair. But the new-look ITF under Sir Ari is set to ensure Nigerians are equipped with requisite skills to develop the construction and the services industry for productive activities. These sectors are targeted in view of the obvious skills gaps and their potentials for employment generation in the country. Equally, with its targeted vision of training over 18,500 Nigerians in the construction sector in 2017 alone, the Fund has resolved to equip Nigerians with skills in welding and fabrication, reinforcing metal works, domestic electrical installation, carpentry and joinery, tiling, masonry, block and brick making, plumbing and pipe fitting and Plaster Of Paris (POP) making. By the reviewed vision arrangement, ITF will deploy its Industrial Skills Training Centres and selected satellite centres to achieve set goals of creating a new army of value added and productive Nigerian workers. To ensure this laudable vision is fully realised, ITF will partner agencies and organisations like Cement Technology Institute of Nigeria (CTIN), Nigerian Institute of Builders (NIOB), Julius Berger Plc and SETRACO, amongst others for technical and financial assistance.

Revitalising Service Industry

For the Services industry, the document states that ITF will build the capacity of Nigerians in 17 trade and craft areas including; GSM repairs, generator repairs, computer hardware repairs, software installation, marketing, catering services, event management, automobile and tri-cycle maintenance and repairs, auto-tronics, tailoring, air condition and refrigerator maintenance and repairs, ICT web design, satellite dish installation and maintenance, facility maintenance and repairs and interior decoration. In all, about 9,250 Nigerians will be equipped with these skills between January and December 2017. In addition, against the realization that adequate skills training infrastructure are required if more Nigerians must be equipped with skills, efforts have been stepped up, under the plan for formal commissioning of the Lokoja ISTC, even as efforts are underway to establish 36 ISTCs in the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT. Similarly, three Automotive Parts Production and Training Centres will be established in Badagary, Nnewi and Kaduna while six Centres of Advanced Skills Training for Employment (CASTE) that will be sited in the six geo-political zones of the country. Three specialized Centres in Oil and Gas will also be established. All these projects are expected to be completed between 2018 and 2020. Galvanising All for Renewed Vision There is no doubt that the reviewed vision as unveiled by the new Chief Executive of ITF has the prospects of transforming the fortunes of not only the Fund but also Nigerians who are in need of skills to remain relevant in modern day economy. As one of the oldest directors, with vast experience and knowledge on the Funds and its activities, Sir Ari said the reviewed vision will not only boost the Agency’s output, but put it on a firm footing to realise its mandates even as he assured staff members that his leadership is committed to shared efforts in achieving ITF’s mandate in line with the Federal Government’s Agenda. Calling on every staff member to speedily come on board the moving train, the ITF boss promised to ensure constant engagement with workers to ensure that everyone is carried along in a family-like atmosphere. He also urged workers to put every unsavoury experience behind and work towards making a positive difference, pledging to create conducive atmosphere for all workers, devoid of any form of unjust treatment. Considering the joy that greeted his appointment as the ITF’s new helmsman, there is no denying the fact that Sir Ari has rejuvenated the confidence of the staff and is set to take the Fund to the next level of glorious heights.

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