Nigeria Must Bridge the Skills Gap, Says Bukar

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In this interview with Goddy Egene, the Chairman, Board of Trustees of People Expertise and Excellence Foundation(PEEF), Mr. Abdullah Bukar said unless the growing skills-gap in the country is urgently addressed, it could create complications in our quest for development

How bad would you say is the problem of the skills gap in Nigeria?

There is a great skill mismatch in Nigeria. The skills gap in Nigeria is highly noticeable. It is so bad that many Nigerian graduates are considered not to be employable. It is our belief at PEEF that this problem has to be addressed decisively.

Can you explain the dimensions of this issue as you understand it?

The situation is that there are disparities between the skills acquired by students in the universities and the actual skills needed in the labor market. This leads to gross inadequacies in the supply of requisite skills, as needed by the employers in the labor market thereby making Nigerian graduates unemployable. The problem is getting escalated as the universities turn out more ill- equipped graduates.

How did the problem get to this stage?

Nigerian higher institutions are yet to incorporate in their curricula the necessary skills that are in high demand by the labor market. Most courses are taught theoretically, ignoring the practicality and application of what is being taught. This makes the average graduate not fit for the realistic demands of the labour market, hence leading to poor labour performance. Also, the curricula in the citadels of learning appear to be atavistic and not fit for modern times. For example, some academics use notes developed some 10-15 years ago and many of the concepts in the subjects that they teach have not been modified for many years. Furthermore, many institutions do not have well stocked libraries and their laboratories do not have necessary apparatus. Also, most institutions are still testing students’ abilities to recollect information instead of their ability to analyse and think critically. The present education should also encourage the development of emotional stability and promote a collegiate culture. In addition, the dislocations caused by strike actions by Academia Unions meant many sessions and learning events were suboptimal. This lowered quality control and allowed marginal cases to pass on.

What role do you think our institutions of higher learning are playing to address this challenge? Are they even well equipped to address the issue?

In my opinion, the necessary human power and skills appear to be lacking in our learning institutes. However, to address this problem, a number of steps need to be taken. First, there should be a review of the curriculums used by the higher institutions, with greater emphasis on effective application of knowledge, taking into consideration the local contextual and modern-day realities. The National Universities Commission (NUC), National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and other regulatory bodies for tertiary institutions have a great role to play for improvement.

Secondly, the lecturers need to be exposed to current trends in teaching and evolving global dynamics of their various fields, this will ensure that Nigerian students are not left behind particularly in technological development. Thirdly, their teaching should be focused on developing the problem-solving skills of the students, rather than learning to memorise and pass exams. Also, hard skills should be connected to the required soft skills (such as leadership quotient, social influence, emotional intelligence, and ideation) that are lacking in the current Nigerian labour market. In addition, the services of retired professionals should be enticed to give back to young ones the benefit of their experience. This can be done very cheaply by encouraging interactions in semi formal fashion.

Given the programmes of the successive governments in Nigeria, do you think the Nigerian government appreciates the enormity of this problem?

Nigerian government has raised concerns about this issue and hence the reason for the development of certain skill acquisition centers, scholarships for certain professional and technical courses. However, a lot more needs to be done. We can start by looking at the budget for education, both at the national and state levels. A situation where the government budgets about 8 per cent for education as opposed to the 15-20 per cent recommended by UNESCO shows that we still have a long way to go. Also, the leadership institutions need to develop the competence of achieving their goals effectively and efficiently as well as how to channel scarce resources to relevant initiatives. The Industrial sector has also realised the need to make contributions to skills development. However, in a tight economy, training budgets are an early casualty.

What would you suggest as the practical solutions to this challenge?

As I earlier said, to eliminate this skills gap, the practical solution could be achieved by placing a greater emphasis on practical work and the real-life situation more than theory in the curriculums in Nigerian institutions. The government should also improve the funding and supervision of the institutions. Also, the government could partner with the private sector when developing educational curricula. Also, practitioners can be encouraged to interact more via secondment to universities and polytechnics to share experience, mentor students and discuss cutting-edge technology. Sabbaticals of academics to industry should also be encouraged. The private sector should also diligently contribute learning positions for trainees. The Nigerian Content Development Board should also ensure agreements in major infrastructure projects make sufficient and clear provisions for addressing skills shortages.

What informed the Inauguration of PEEF?

The urgent need to offer practical solutions in Nigeria and Africa at large on the issue of skills management to the players in the public and private sectors, policy makers and the academia.

Tell us more about PEEF

PEEF has a passion to see that our labour market is filled by competent and skilled Nigerians who can deliver the development we need for better quality of life, not only for Nigeria, but for Africa as well. The foundation was first established as Skills Discussion Group (SDG) by Dr. Musa Rabiu on October 9, 2016 as a WhatsApp platform focused on information sharing and professional networking. The initial SDG WhatsApp platform provided the professionals from multidisciplinary backgrounds the opportunity to discuss skills management issues and trends with a view to proffering practical solutions in Nigeria and Africa at large. PEEF will partner with key stakeholders to be the leading facilitator of the engine room for the critical skills required for industrial take-off in Nigeria and Africa at large. PEEF will be a collaborator with all of the professional bodies and all professionals are welcome to join PEEF.

What are the programmes you have introduced to enable you to achieve your goals for setting it up?

The report of the first PEEF workshop which held on March 28, 2017 in Abuja and of the forthcoming second PEEF workshop on October 18, 2018 at Rockview Hotel Abuja, will be published. The workshop findings would help Nigerian and African professionals brainstorm, share best practices and partner with policy makers to shape policy formulation and monitor implementation.

Tell us more about your upcoming conference in Abuja

This confab will address topical and practical themes that would offer participants an opportunity to network, develop actionable insights and make an impact in their organisations as well as in society. Specifically, during this conference, participants would glean insights on self-leadership as a veritable tool for developing an individual competitive edge; the strategies for lifelong success; how education could be a springboard towards achieving a purpose; how a systemic approach to generic and technical capabilities could be developed; how entrepreneurial spirit could be unleashed; how entrepreneurial talent could be developed and how ideas be commercialised for economic development. We welcome all who have similar ideas for seeing Nigeria excel in addressing our own needs internally to join our crusade, as we have the human resources available, but we must also supply the skills, leadership and direction for enduring results.