In an effort to ensure that secondary school students are equipped with the necessary skills to better prepare them for the world of work after graduation, The British Council and the MacArthur Foundation developed an intervention, ‘The Fast Forward Project’, so that students could practice the work-based skills learnt in the classroom and give them the opportunity to work with prospective employers. Funmi Ogundare reports

For many people today, a career for life is no longer an option as employers are often looking for skills that go beyond qualifications and experience. While one’s education and experience may make one eligible to apply for a job, to be successful in the role, one will need to exhibit a mix of skills; employability skills.

As a way of achieving this, the MacArthur Foundation and the British Council put together an action research pilot initiative tagged ‘The Fast Forward Project’ that tested a work-based learning model for teaching employability skills in public secondary schools in Nigeria.

The project is designed to enhance classroom engagement, preparing students for both post-secondary education and the workplace, as well as encourage collaboration between schools, students and employers thereby exposing key stakeholders to the link between educational innovation and improved employability.

The pilot project, with the support of LEAP Africa (the implementing partner), kicked off in Lagos, Rivers and Cross River States in July 2016 and ran until December 2017.

Speaking at the final dissemination programme, held recently in Lagos, the Project Manager, Skills, Ms. Maria Williams said skills learnt in the classroom implementing the project, over 300 teachers, school administrators and counsellors were trained on the use of the work-based learning approach to teaching in their classrooms, to enable them infuse employability skills into their individual subject areas with the current senior secondary school curriculum.

She said the teachers were also trained on how to better support students to maximize the benefits of the work-based learning experience.

“Over 1,000 senior secondary school (SSS) students benefitted from the innovative teaching practice and over 300 students spent time in employer organisation for workplace internship. The aims of the internship were for students to practice the employability skills learnt in the classroom and also have the opportunity to experience the work environment with prospective future employers.”

She highlighted the employability skills focused on during the project to include team work, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, values, vision and goal setting.

The Marketing Manager of the council, Mr. Nnamdi Odiwe said in order to test the effectiveness of the project, it engaged the services of external consultant to carry out an evaluation exercise, adding that the purpose was to effectively determine the project’s progress, achievements and lessons learned that would provide a basis for scale up or review of approach in subsequent interventions.

“Findings from the evaluation suggest that the project is judged positively by key stakeholders with definite expectations for the sustainability and scale of the project’s impact. Also employers appreciate the platform provided by the Fast Forward Project to contribute towards improving the quality of education for secondary school students by offering them internship placements.

“Finding also showed that 60 per cent of the employers sampled are of the opinion that work-based learning model is an effective way of delivering work readiness, while 30 per cent are cautiously optimistic about the fast forward work-based learning model,” Odiwe said.

In a chat with journalists, the Executive Secretary, Calabar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Mr. Kenneth Asim Ittah expressed satisfaction with the project and working with the British Council on the fast forward project, saying, “when they first approached us, we had this reservation on why secondary school students must go through the project, but when the engagement went on, it became quite obvious that if the skills are not infused early enough, it will be difficult for them to practice and grow with them.

“It is a wonderful project and from what we have seen, the outcomes or results of the project have been enormous. Even for most of the employers back in Cross River State, they feel happy about it and look forward to being able to continue with this kind of engagement and being able to impart this knowledge that they have by giving soft skills to the children to grow.

“The earlier they get it, the earlier they will be able to grow with it, it becomes a part of them and they are able to put them into practice as they go ahead in life.”

Ittah said the state is looking forward to scale the project up to more schools and organisations.

“If it is possible, let us make this national and make it a part of our educational system so that we will know that the students we are churning out are going to be employable and they are going to have what is needed to be good employees and even better entrepreneurs.”

Asked if his state will want to incorporate it into schools’ curriculum, he said: “Already the Calabar Chamber of Commerce has started conversations with the government towards scaling this up. We look forward to the report and working with the state government under a public private partnership model to be able to see how we can implement it across all the schools in state. We believe that the methodology of delivering learning to students using this fast forward intervention model will have great benefit for everybody.”

The Rivers State Commissioner for Education, Mr. Tamunosisi Gogo Jaja described the project as worthwhile and timely, considering the fact that the country’s education sector has performed below expectation and assessment.

He expressed hope that with the intervention of the British Council, the teachers and students should be able to define and rediscover themselves and their skills.

He commended the council for the initiative and appealed that the project be extended to other parts of the country.

“They have taken their pilot states; I believe that for them to make an impact in the system, they should go beyond the pilot states that they have chosen. A lot of things are happening in Rivers State in terms of quality and infrastructure and commitment. We have some of our teachers here and members of our senior and junior secondary school boards and therefore what is being taught here are issues we have been tackling in Rivers State.

“Some of them have been there and they are organising training for our teachers; we believe that the major issue we are going to address is what the governor has insisted on; training the trainers, which is very important to us because in our system, most people who are teachers today are really not trained teachers.

“A lot of teachers in the country today are graduates of various disciplines, they are not professional teachers. If you are a graduate of mathematics, that does not make you a mathematics teacher. Teachers are those who should be able to create impact not because there is no job,” Jaja said.

A teacher at Amusan Senior High School, Lagos, Mrs. Folashade Adeoye said the initiative has made an impact on students, while stressing that when graduates are not employable, it becomes a big problem.

She commended the organisers for the project, saying, “we need collaboration and teamwork. After their internship, I made my students to realise that they need to use their initiative and think. The labour market does not need people to just come out and tell stories; they must be able to proffer solutions to problems.

“From all the 10 core skills that we were taught, I was able to use major part of it in teaching the students and it has made teaching easier for me. It became a kind of practical class. The internship programme changed their way of thinking and how they dress.”

The Senior Human Resources Manager, Bel Oil and Gas Limited, Mrs. Jessica Eneh described the internship programme as very interesting. “We were able to get the students into the system. We were prepared and clear on what the objectives were.”

She stressed the need for employers that have interns in their offices to give them opportunity to develop and add value to them, rather than seeing it as an avenue to waste their time which is what a lot of organisations do.

Eneh advised teachers and school leaders to look for programmes that would help the learning process and incorporate soft skills required by the students after school.

“It is not just about talking at the students, but they need to be very deliberate about their efforts in the learning process.”

For some of the students that participated in the internship, it was a motivating experience. A student of Eva Adelaja Senior Secondary School, Lagos, Miss Oyindamola Bello, who did her internship at Unilever Nigeria PLC said she learnt how to observe safety rules and regulations, adding that it was an eye opener for her.

“We were taught so many things; the internship was educating, fascinating and improved me as an individual in all aspects.”

Another student of the same school, Miss Foluke Jemilugba, who had her internship at Guaranty Trust Bank Head Office, said she learnt how to attend to customers and to be time conscious. She described the experience as worthwhile and urged other students to grab the opportunity when it presents itself.

Master Yusuf Fetuga of Eko Boys High School, Lagos, who was drafted to DHL, Oshodi, said he worked at the customer service department of the organisation, adding that he learnt team work, dressing properly and effective communication. “I learnt that when you work in a team, you can achieve more.”