Preparing Graduates for Relevance in the Building Sector

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Worried about the skills gap among graduates and artisans, the Universal Learn Direct Academia Limited is facilitating skills training in vocations like carpentry, plumbing, electrical, brickwork, plastering, tiling and site engineering, using internationally experienced professionals to mentor trainees to be empowered and relevant for the building and construction industry. Funmi Ogundare reports

The importance of a skilled workforce cannot be overemphasised as it would help an economy to maintain a competitive edge in an ever changing world and also ensure sustainable development.
However, deficiency and shortage of skills at the operational level of construction project execution is a major challenge in the country today. The industry is said to be growing without a commensurate growth in the capacity of competent skilled construction workers.

To address this challenge, the Learn Direct Academia (ULDA) Limited, a consortium of professionals that facilitates skills training in vocations such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical, brickwork, plastering, tiling, site engineering, among others, is training secondary school leavers, polytechnic and university graduates, as well as unemployed youths for the building and construction industry.

When THISDAY visited the institution in Ikeja, the trainees were being taught health and safety practices, as well as the core programmes in the curriculum ahead of their practical on project site.

The Dean of the institution, Mr. Babatunde Faleye said the effort is the only way to ensure quality in the industry, adding that the training is a tuition-free academic programme.
“We are looking at programmes like electrical installation, construction, carpentry, block-laying, concreting and finishing, we believe we can do it and train the trainees. The idea is to use modern tools to train them.”
He expressed concern that artisans sometimes see themselves as lesser than the average professional, noting that every tradesman is a professional.

“We want the trainees to pass through the classroom so that we can expose them to what obtains internationally through audio-visuals. We want them to be taught the theoretical aspect in the classroom, and after which it is our practical workshop training.”
Faleye said the school will be taking on trainees for a duration of six months, adding that the first three months will be on the rigorous ratio 114 plan, while the other three months will be spent on the field proper.

“The 114 plan is the practical class such that if you have 10 hours of classes, you will have another 10 hours of workshop training and also get 40 hours of on-site practical training which is what we are trying to teach. We have made it our pledge that no individual trainee will leave ULDA without completing a minimum of three bedroom bungalow set up.”
Asked if the students would get a certification after their six month training, the dean said, “they will progress from our school, get certified by us and in turn get employed into the system as interns. They will be on the internship after their six month programme for another two years and be assessed on project site.”

As a civil engineer, he said he didn’t learn to work as a site engineer until he got to the field, adding, “I learnt by making mistakes which is the wrong way to train individuals. Construction is a very technical and sensitive thing, it involves lives. In the course of construction, we had lots of safety issues in the past that if you are not trained, you can make mistakes that will make you maimed for life or killed.

“A building structure must be built on training. There is on the job training, but it will start on a level, which is where we want our trainees to be and that is why our training is very important. In this training, we are sure we will not produce people baked, we hear that most of our university graduates are either half-baked or are not even baked at all.”
He expressed concern over the level of corruption in the society and the country’s get-rich-quick syndrome that makes people to produce shoddy jobs on project site.

“The only way to ensure discipline is to assess them on the job. By virtue of our training, we have international representation and we have come to realise that they should be assessed on the job as they grow. You are sure of the quality that they will bring back into the industry. For those in the electrical, plumbing or bricklaying arm, you will get to do the respective aspects from the foundation up to the finished product. That is the model we want to follow. We want them to leave ULDA and go out to start up on a project like bungalow structure, which is what we are trying to do.”

Faleye said ULDA is meeting with government and private investors that intend to partner the institution on land and finance, to build mass housing throughout the country.
The President, Chief Olawumi Gasper expressed dismay over the skills gap among polytechnics and university graduates, adding that with the partnership with those in the industry, they can engage the trainees, which would in turn help in strengthening the curricular.

“The young graduates will be trained on all aspects of carpentry, block-laying, plumbing and electrical on site. We are taking off with hands-on skills. That is why engineering is a key programme to us and we are ready to ensure that Nigerian graduates hone their skills early enough so that job opportunity will be available for them.”

The Visioner and Coordinator, Mr. Oba Gbola affirmed that there are opportunities for the quality of life of the people to be improved, adding that the institution plans to translate their skills to basic infrastructure to address the deficit in the sector.

“Skilled artisans need to have market ready skills that will make them relevant to the society, even if they are going abroad. Apart from opportunities here, there are also enormous in the international market. There have been requests for skilled artisans from places like Dubai and Qatar. For students who schooled abroad to be relevant in the society, they need to learn market ready skills because the certificates you are bringing may not be useful to you. They must also be exposed to be best of tools.”

He said the trainees, who are on scholarships are expected to have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the school will also provide at a cost the reflective jacket for them to wear on project site.

“We have decided to leave our fee untampered with, the reason is that if you can pay, we will take the money from you and train you. But if you cannot pay, once you can convince us that you are passionate enough and you have the wherewithal, we will take you on, train you and after training you, we will employ you and in the process, 15 to 20 per cent of your industry remuneration will be deducted for our fee.”

He described the initiative as an innovative methodology that will reward those that are passionate, adding that “the key criteria is not about the certificate or degrees you have acquired, it is about somebody who can think about and replicate the major projects we have on paper, as a civil engineering graduate for instance.

“With the support system that we have and the commercial eco system, we will be able to make a trainee a field passionate engineer. Technically tuition is free for those who are not be able to afford our fees. The tuition fee was agreed upon between the beneficiary and the partnership.”
Gbola added that the greatest developmental aspect of any society is its skilled manpower, while expressing concern that when graduates leave school, they are disillusioned either because there is no secured employment or because the entrepreneurial environment is not favourable.

“Nigeria is almost a failed nation. The reason why the likes of Dubai are better is because fundamentally, they have a pool of skilled manpower. The reason why we have this unique partnership is because of the society in which we function, and there are opportunities not only to make money but to also improve the quality of lives. We are going to be training a crop of skilled workforce who will be exposed to modern engineering tools and in the next one to two years, they can deliver houses anywhere.

We are also going to have insurance for our trainees.”
The Head of the Carpentry Unit, Mr. Hafez Salisu said since the commencement of the programme, the trainees who hitherto did not have any formal training in construction, were exposed to new and varying training, as well as how they will be able to cope on site.

On plans by the institution to ensure that they are employed, he said, “after the six months training, we have designed a programme that will ensure that the trainees are attached to construction companies where they will be paid.

Asked about the future of the programme in the next five years, Salisu said, “when we look at the workforce in the construction company, there will be an increase of 60 to 70 per cent. They are going to contribute towards the economic development of the country.
Some of the trainees in different programmes who spoke to THISDAY, said they were there to improve their knowledge and ensure that the right standard is maintained by the time they get to project site.

An Architecture graduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Mrs. Temi Oladele, who is studying Site Engineering, said the classes have been educative, tailored towards ensuring that things are done the right way and standards are maintained, adding that she would impart the same knowledge on others coming behind.

Mr. Yusuf Hakeem, an OND graduate of Computer Science from Kwara State Polytechnic, who is currently studying Building, Tiling and Plastering said with his knowledge in Computer Science and his ambition in construction, it would enable him to develop a software that will be used to plan effectively.

“It will be an advantage for anybody that wants to go into the construction industry.”
An artisan in welding, Abdul-Wasiu Alejo, who is studying Plumbing said he learnt things that were new to him. “I have gained a lot about safety and guide, I have also seen many equipment that can save lives on site. The lectures are taught in a way that one can easily understand. I believe I will see myself among professionals competing with expatriates.”

A school certificate holder, Mr. Sunni Rasheed said studying Electrical Engineering is an additional skill for him, adding that safety should be a priority when one gets to project site.
“I see myself being successful in this field, it is something I have passion for and I believe that I will be able to do something tangible with it.”