Amid COVID-19, ITF gears up to bridge unemployment gaps

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Edozie Udeojo , Abuja 

The COVID-19 pestilence attacked the world in a deadly ambush, disrupting global supply chains and shuttering businesses in Nigeria and across the globe. The tremor cascaded down to the lowest strata of the society, forcing the government and private sector establishments to swiftly re-strategize to address the looming unemployment and manpower human capacity challenges.

The Industrial Training Fund (ITF), on its part, has risen to the current situation, noting that keeping the nation’s manpower rejuvenation machinery working remains pivotal, regardless of the storm.

The management insists it would always place its mission and vision on the front burner to enable it respond more robustly to competition, effectively deliver on its mandate, achieve corporate targets and avoid entropy. 

Historically, the ITF has continually renewed itself through several home-grown plans which, perhaps, accounts for the prime position it occupies today. 

Severally, in its history, the Fund implemented various plans, which were geared towards placing it on a firm pedestal to effectively deliver on its mandate.  All these have varying impacts on the Fund and its effort to effectively discharge its services. 

Despite the organisation’s many achievements due to the faithful implementation of these plans, on the assumption of the incumbent management of the Fund in September 2016, there was the urgent need to reposition the agency to address the policy goals of the Federal Government. 

Against this realisation, the management under the leadership of Joseph Ari unveiled the ITF Reviewed Vision: Strategies for Mandate Actualisation, which was considered by many as its most ambitious plan since its establishment. 

The implementation of the plan led to the training of over 500,000 Nigerians, expansion of infrastructure and automation of business processes among other numerous achievements.

As a mark of its responsiveness and commitment to continuous improvement, the ITF last week unveiled the second phase of its reviewed vision. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it posed to countries and organisations and coupled with the dire unemployment projections that the number of unemployed Nigerians may rise by the end of 2020, the plan expectedly contained practical solutions that will re-energize its stakeholders as they grapple with the attendant effects of the unemployment.

Going by government’s official statistics, about 20.9 million Nigerians are without jobs as of the third quarter of 2018. Apart from this figure, about four million men and women enter the workforce with only a small fraction of them being able to find formal and gainful employment. This, according to findings, makes the problem of youth unemployment a phenomenal issue culminating into widespread poverty and hardship among the youth. 

The resultant effect is increased social instability, youth restiveness and worsening insecurity. Experts are of the view that the growing unemployment figure is a confirmation that growth in the economy is still weak and not inclusive.  

They argued that the chief driver of the economy, which is the oil sector, is not employment elastic, adding that there is the need to stimulate growth in sectors that have strong linkages to job creation such as manufacturing, construction, information and communication technology and agriculture. 

This, according to them, would entail massive investments in infrastructure and putting in place measures to ensure that these sectors are able to access credits at single digit interest rate. 

In view of the huge number of youths that enter into the labour market each year, analysts are of the view that the government should focus on creating the right environment, including investing in entrepreneurial education and skills acquisition in order to reduce the current high unemployment rate of about 23 per cent.

But Ari said within the last two years, over 500,000 Nigerians have been trained in various skills acquisition programmes by the Industrial Training Fund. 

Speaking on the new plan, he said although it focuses on nine key areas of the ITF services including direct training services, revenue generation and sustainable funding, special intervention programmes, students’ industrial work experience scheme, research and development as well as automation of business processes, special attention would be given to the agricultural sector, vocational skills training and the development of small businesses.

Under the plan and as part of deliberate efforts to drive the back-to-farm initiative of the Federal Government and to train Nigerians along the agri-business value chain for job/wealth creation and food security, Ari said the ITF would develop an integrated farming model and use arable lands owned by the Fund across the country to establish demonstration farms. He said this would be used for training Nigerians. 

To expand its skills acquisition programmes, Ari said arrangements have been concluded for procurement of three additional mobile training vans, while vocational wings will be established in its Awka, Maiduguri, Port-Harcourt, Akure, Gusau, and Minna area offices.

He said the vocational centres would be used to train Nigerians within the states in various trade areas. For instance, he said the ITF would develop curriculum to address identified training needs as well as conduct needs analysis to determine training needs in agriculture (food processing), hospitality and transport sectors.

He also said the Fund would develop curriculum that addresses the identified needs, adding that the curriculum for special intervention programmes would be dicey in line with identified trade areas and global best practices.

Ari said the ITF would also conduct survey to determine dominant/relevant trades and mode of intervention required, as well as design and develop curriculum for programmes implementation in the identified trade areas.

In the light of the impact of COVID-19 on the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector, Ari said the Fund will re-engineer the business development support services as well as the implementation of the ITF Start and Improve Your Business model to boost productivity and return on investment for the MSMEs sector.

He added that some of its programmes would also be implemented at no charge to its clients.

While these plans might appear difficult to achieve at face value, Ari said with the support of the Federal Government, the organised private sector, non-governmental and faith-based organisations and other well meaning Nigerians, the projections would be achieved.

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