‘Equipping the Youths Will Secure the Future of Nigeria’, Says Amao

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Dr. Ibilola Amao is the Principal Consultant, Lonadek Global Services. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, she explained why the country must equip the youths and ensure that the right human capital asset are employed in the energy, oil and gas industry so that they can create the needed value to secure the future of Nigeria

Over the years, you have been able to empower thousands of youths in the area of Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), how has Lonadek being able to use this feat to close the energy gap across the continent?

In 2005, we were engaged by a company to recruit some engineers and we realised that the skills and the type of capabilities they needed ,were not available locally. So we realised that there is a need to have human capital development initiative to bridge the gap between our universities and what the industry required. Apart from training and upskiling graduates, we also needed to look at the curriculum and mode of training, learning and development in our universities and secondary schools to make sure that the kind of graduates being shunned out from our institutions of higher learning, were competitive enough and could compere with graduates from other developed nations . We had two problems, one was to get graduates who could think critically, abstract and logically outside the box and the other was to be able to overcome biases in the energy, oil and gas industry. We realised that that was lacking because people were learning in universities , both the students and lecturers have never gone to the field to actually see how the refineries work. They had not been offshore , they didn’t even know what the technology in the energy sector was all about . They had learnt the theory, but they had never seen or touched the field to know what the industry required. For any country to move forward, there must be a deliberate effort to ensure that the best brains are in the teaching, learning, research and development area. Iron sharpens iron, if you put your best into your education, you will get the best out of the next generation. In order to address the immediate needs at that time, we started by developing and engaging the best talent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths because the energy industry is STEM- driven to deliver oil and gas in deep water. You need the best brains using the best software and state of the arts technological equipment. We realised that we had to create an awareness so we decided to go on a 15-year advocacy initiative; Vision 2020 Youth Empowerment and Restoration initiative which we started in May 2006. The reason why those engineers did not perform well when they were being interviewed by expatriates from Port Harcourt, Milan and Paris, was because they lacked analytical, logical and out-of the box thinking skills . They can repeat what is in the textbook accurately and tell you what they have been told, but they could not think out of the box and and answer you accurately because they had not been taught the fundamentals. So we felt if we get secondary school students to know that the industry where there is a lot of work in Nigeria requires a lot of technology, the best brains , intellectual capacity and continuous learning ability to critically think out of the box, then we can get them excited early enough so that the most intelligent and brilliant ones come into the oil and gas industry. In so doing , we were securing the future of Nigeria and sustaining the oil and gas industry. If 95 per cent of the budget of Nigeria comes from the oil and gas industry, then it is an energy security risk if we cannot have Nigerians sustain the industry. For instance, now that there is Covid and the expatriates have returned to their countries, if we didn’t have Nigerians to run the oil and gas industry, we may be in trouble. So every country must plan for its future and must look at the frontiers sectors and make sure that they have the right human capital asset to work the sectors and create maximum value there. We finshed the project by December 2020.

As a proponent of vision 2020, youth empowerment and restoration initiative, would you say that vision was achieved considering the challenges that came with year 2020?

We achieved everything we wanted to achieve. We exceeded our 100,000 target. We created awareness in the schools, universities and we were able to work on the passage of the Nigeria oil and gas industry content development and monitoring board, which began to run human capacity development initiatives. So a lot of initiatives fell out from it like bridging the gap between industry and academia, bridging the gap between industry, talent and Diaspora, as well curriculum development. We realised that the curriculum that we had was the old one , and upgrade came into the whole equation. Entrepreneurship was introduced into 400 and 500 level engineering courses and a lot of initiatves came out of the programme and people came in and saw about 1,500 students in the room listening to various presentations and asking very intelligent questions. When we started in 2006, most people didn’t understand what we were doing as nobody was thinking about the next generation being upskilled for the future.You would agree with me that capacity building and human capital development programmes are now everywhere.

In the process of building their capacity through training, how were you able to create value that impacted their lives?

Not only did we expose the students to opportunities by giving them career hand books, we also provided them with career counselling. So when they got into university, they let us know that they were in the university. At every level of their education, they informed us and even when they needed internship , they came back to us and we placed them in the offices of our colleagues and friends, so we were able to help them stimulate their minds and encouraged them by keeping them excited about careers in the oil and gas industry . We were able to impact over 100,000 students. We maintained 70 per cent public schools and 30 per cent private schools. We worked with the education secretaries/tutor general of the six education districts and the state education board in Abuja. Also when we visited Port Harcourt, we worked with various bodies and we never went back there because we were almost attacked.

The importance of mentorship on the lives of youths, cannot be overemphasised, in the process of building their capacity, was there any form of mentorship that took place and how effectively do you think youths can optimise this area?

The fact that I am a member of Women in Business (WIMBIZ), I am a mentor. We have an arrangement whereby WIMBIZ mentees will be mentored to see how a female business owner runs her business. I also mentored outside Lonadek. Apart from that, every female in Lonadek is a mentee of mine . I and two other ladies co-founded Women in Energy Network (WIEN). With the Association of Professional Women Engineers in Nigeria (APWEN) and WIEN, we support women and girls and I mentor them as and when required. Professional associations and institutions as well as societies, are established for that critical purpose, so when I ask people if they are members of an association or society and they tell me know no, I automatically believe that they are not serious about development. If you are serious about development you will be a member, whether you are a graduate member or not, so that when they are having meetings, conferences or webinars, you will show up there. It is when you see people on the stage speaking and asking questions, that you can approach them for their cards and you get to know such people. You ask them to be your mentor and you can create value both ways. But when people don’t come out of their comfort zones to attend conferences, exhibitions, webinars, AGMs , among others, I wonder where they are going to find suitable mentors. Also you can have a superior in your organisation and approach the person to be your mentor. It is not a bad idea, but it is also very useful to look for people you admire in your area of core competence and approach them in a value creating manner. You build a community with each other and ensure there is transfer of knowledge. There has to be a mutually respectful relationship.

With the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, organisations seems to be moving towards digital transformation, for youths who intends to go into entrepreneurship, how would this impact their businesses ?

The world as we see it today has gone digital, it is more virtual. It is now remote than it was before. So everybody has to be upskilled digitally. This is the reason why I reached out to a friend in Microsoft who I met in Brussels in 2016 to find out how we can collaborate to empower Africans on digital literacy. That is why we partnered with Microsoft, LinkedIn and Github to empower people with jobs of the future. For instance, a lot of people tell me they don’t need it. But if you look at digital marketing module, everybody needs it. As an entrepreneur, you need to market your products and services. Gone are the days when you can be going around to knock on somebody’s door or putting your advert in a newspaper and expecting people to find you there. Things don’t work like that anymore, even newspapers are digital, advertising is on social media. Every entrepreneur needs to go through a digital upskilling programme and focus on customer service, digital marketing, online sales, among others, otherwise you are going to be struggling .

With the partnership to empower Nigerians and African youths, what Impact is this expected to have on the economy?

The next level for anybody who completes those programmes, is to look out and seek for virtual and remote opportunities. Nobody can stop anybody from getting a job from Australia, India, America, Canada, Europe or wherever, as long as you can deliver products and services online. That will be the result. So this is to upskill you to be able to provide products and services online and you can build teams and businesses and collaborate online. But the most important thing is to understand what your strengths are and what value you are bringing to the table. So what we are doing now is working with people in teams to see how we can empower them to access international markets. We are opening international doors for Nigerians and Africans.