The Managing Director, Edo State Skills Development Agency, Mrs. Ukinebo Dare, in this interview gives insights into how the agency has been able to drive human capital development in the past four years. Ugo Aliogo presents the excerpts:
What is your assessment of the Edo State Skills Development Agency in the area of development and job creation in the last three years?
The Edo State Skills Development Agency was set up by Governor Godwin Obaseki. He promised to create 200,000 jobs in four years. Our responsibility has been to coordinate between state, government agencies, the private sector and other partners to make this a possibility. We also coordinate and implement activities towards reducing irregular migration through job creation.
What was the state of Job creation and skills development in Edo Sate when you were appointed to take up the position?
Before the current administration and Edojobs, the state was rich in potential. But unfortunately the human capital development of citizens had not been a high priority for recent past administrations, therefore the potential was not being maximised. There was no way to find out the demography of talents in the state and it was discovered that there was a feeling of frustration among the youths, as a result the first thing that the administration did after setting up EdoJobs, was a state wide registration of job seekers, from skilled to unskilled. All age groups that were actively in search of employment were targeted and we have over 200,000 people registered on Edojobs with the numbers rising weekly. We also did market analysis to identify the overlaps between interest, comparative advantage and opportunity. After that, we focused on developing the skills and selection of talented people that would take advantage of those opportunities.
What milestones were you able to achieve in the past three years you assumed position of the managing director?
To answer your question in very broad strokes, we have been able to setup the following: The Edojobs job matching portal; EdoInnovates; and Edo Production Centre. With Edojobs job matching portal, we match candidates to jobs in the public and private sector. We also use the portal to connect Edojobbers (as we like to call them), to skills development and entrepreneurship opportunities. EdoInnovates is our innovation cluster housing three incubation hubs, an Artificial Intelligence and Data Science lab setup in partnership with Coven Labs, an ICT and digital design academy (Edobits), three co- working spaces and other services for business owners and people seeking jobs in the technology space. In partnership with American Towers Company, we have four satellite centres in rural communities also introducing young people to basic ICT skills. Edo Innovates is a movement on its own. The Edo Production Centre is a 23,000 square meter property where we host artisans and small scale manufacturers such as machine fabricators, waste recyclers, pencil , producers of pencils, toothpicks, furniture, hair extensions, among others. We have them being produced by Edo production centre. We provide constant power supply and thanks to the support of the First Lady of Edo State, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki. The Bank of Industry (BoI) partnered with us by opening their Edo Branch right in the centre. There is so much demand from artisans and small scale manufacturers that we are looking to opening four more of such centres within the next seven months. Edo Food and Agric Cluster works with farmers in rural communities and with aggregators to improve the livelihoods of people in the sector. Edo Creative Hub has implemented a lot of projects in partnership with reputable organisations such as Trace Naija, Tatafo HQ, Benin Film Academy and others, DFID MADE II and other. We create jobs in the creative sector through that arm of the agency. I strongly believe Nigeria can work, if we can transform the country in unimaginable ways, all we need are the right leaders and we are blessed in Edo state to have an amazing governor. Who would have thought that in just three years, one agency can do this even with limited resources. Two other major projects that we have successfully implemented across the state are: our vocational skills/entrepreneurship programme, where we are teaching people everything from solar panel design and installation to face mask and paint production in partnership with GIZ and PIND. The Edo Helpline that currently serves as the state’s covid-19 emergency call centre will change into a commercially through state-led call centre to create more jobs for Edo citizens.
How many jobs and skills development projects have the agency created and how many people have benefitted from it so far?
Before the Covid-19, we had already documented over 160,000 beneficiaries of our programme. The infographic gives you a breakdown by sector showing jobs, entrepreneurs and so on.
How do you track the names of the beneficiaries of these jobs and skills development?
We have the data of beneficiaries including their names, phone numbers, location and so on. It is very easy to find Edojobs beneficiaries, just walk into Edo Production Centre, and talk to any of the occupants, visit the Edo Innovation Hub. Moreover, there are some of them who have shared their testimonials online, and it can be found on the EdoJobs# Instagram or Facebook. We do not release their information without their consent, but there are 100 of testimonials posted by them online and on the EdoJobs TV Youtube page. I encourage everyone to take a look, especially those who work in this field of skills development and job creation, as we are always looking to share ideas.
Aside state support, what is the other source available to the agency?
Our programmes are mostly funded by the state government, but we have also gotten support from partners such as GIZ SKYE and SEDIN programmes, DFID MADE II, Oxfam, SOS Nigeria, MainOne, Office of the Vice President of Nigeria, and concerned citizens of Edo state who have heard about work and are inspired to contribute. The support from these partners has been in the area of funding, providing key resources, skills and business opportunity for EdoJobbers.
What is the level of corporate governance at the agency?
The agency was set up by law, which was signed by the Edo state House of Assembly; we also have a board that works closely with the Edo State Public Procurement agency, which was set up by the state government in partnership with the World Bank. We have regular audits of our beneficiaries to verify and validate what we have done in the agency; the last was done by Businessday Newspapers Research and Intelligence unit in November last year.
Has your agency made any significant impact on Edo state’s IGR?
Because we are supporting businesses to grow we are automatically growing the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state. If you look at the IGR chat of the state you would notice steady growth, which is as a result of so many initiatives we have come up with.
Tell us about the challenges you have encountered so far in trying to meet the governor’s vision to create 200,000 jobs in four years?
The fact that we have been running the agency with a high level of professionalism and not the government structured style of operation is a major challenge.
Do you think bringing young minds onboard in leadership positions just as Governor Obaseki has done with you is a step in the right direction?
The Governor is doing a great job with increasing the number of young professionals and the number of women involved in governance. It is deliberate action on his part that has led Edo to be at the fore front on these lanes of inclusiveness. I am 36 years old and we also have a 36 years old Commissioner for Agriculture appointed by His Excellency
How will you score yourself in terms of tackling unemployment in the state?
You know I cannot score myself, but the fact that there is no stadium in Nigeria large enough to contain all Edojobbers at a time that makes me happy. The only issue is that like I said in response to your first question, I find that presently, I am unable to feel satisfied or pat myself on the back, because I feel I have not yet scratched the surface of my assignment on earth. That therefore makes me to work hard. I pray God will help.
What are your projections for the future of skill development in Edo state?
Our vision is that in five years, Edo state will be the leading provider of talent in Nigeria in the areas of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) manufacturing, construction, agriculture and the creative industry. We have made so progress in the ICT and tech talent.
Do you think your agency has the capacity to drive economic development?
Our agency is not just capable, but is already driving economic development, we support the end to end process of many businesses in Nigeria from agriculture, transportation, production and others.
There has been major crisis in Edo state between the party and your principal, what is your take?
My take is simple, Edo jobbers are with Obaseki. Not because we told them to be, but because time after time they have said they had lost hope and they never imagined government could reach out to them in such a direct way and with real interest with no lobbying, no connections. We have never had it this good in the state and we are not confused by the things going on.
What has been your experience working under the leadership of Governor Obaseki?
He is a servant leader and visionary. He puts the people first. Honestly, it was a tough decision to leave my job and go to Edo after I had just been named Group Managing Director of Poise Communications. It took just one meeting with him to catch his passion and love for the state. I thank God for my husband who supported and encouraged my decision to join his team.