Need To Revive Technical Education

Need To Revive Technical Education

As Nigeria navigates the murky waters of unemployment, insecurity and skyrocketing inflation, there’s no better time to embrace a holistic approach to ameliorating the disturbing situation. The country has been dogged by high unemployment for decades due to a rapid population rise and mass production of school leavers. This scenario, which ought to have been a positive index in the nation’s development stride, is now viewed as a negative performance because it has outstripped other indices interplaying in the nation’s economic growth trajectory.

A report by the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan 2021-24 of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development confirmed that unemployment rates in the country are increasing. According to the report, as of 2020 (Q2), youth unemployment (15-34 years old) stood at 35 percent. A further 28 percent of young people in the labour force were considered underemployed (working 20-39 hours a week), and 37 percent were working full-time (40 or more hours per week).

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that the labour force participation rate among the working-age population declined to 79.5 per cent in Q3 2023, compared to 80.4 per cent in Q2 2023. The employment-to-population ratio was 75.6 per cent in Q3 2023 with a decrease of 1.5 per cent compared to a ratio of Q2 2023. The combined unemployment rate and time-related underemployment as a share of the labour force population (LU2) increased to 17.3 per cent in Q3 2023 from 15.5% in Q2 2023. About 87.3 per cent of workers were self-employed in Q3 2023. Overall, the percentage of youth not in employment, education, or training was 13.7 per cent in Q3 2023.

This figure is necessary to put the situation in perspective. It is worrisome and translates to a bulging, youthful, energetic, unemployed population that is not contributing to the country’s economic growth.

While this is on, each academic year, universities and polytechnics admit close to two million students and produce about 600,000 graduates, who are enlisted by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for their mandatory one-year service to the country. Unfortunately, most employers of labour, especially in multinational firms, have reported inadequate preparation of these students in schools, making most of them unemployable.

In this newspaper’s considered opinion, the highly saturated Nigerian labour market is a consequence of the neglect of technical and vocational education. We are concerned that governments do not realise that basic skills such as block-laying and concreting, tiling, woodwork, auto mechanical maintenance, carpentry, electrical and electronic repairs, driving, plumbing, painting, etc, are going extinct in the country.

The Federal Ministry of Education defines technical education as the aspect of education that leads to acquiring practical and applied skills and basic scientific knowledge. It provides opportunities for the mastery of skills and knowledge in selected occupations and for the development of personality for useful living.

A United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) publication noted that technical and vocational education helps increase citizens’ potential to innovate and transform the economy and society through dynamic skills provision.

However, in Nigeria, technical and vocational jobs are largely unskilled and practitioners learn the job through apprenticeship without any form of certification. Consequently, most practitioners are uneducated or semi-educated, and the fields where they operate are not captured within the formal sector, so the contribution of vocational and technical skills to the economy is, at best, minimal.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) record shows that 93 percent of Nigeria’s employment is informal, whereas most vocations are informal. In a report, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation noted that Nigeria needs to fill the skill gap, especially to create employment and meet its human resource demands.

In China, vocational education and training are offered from the junior secondary level up to the tertiary level. The system is designed to link higher education directly to vocational training. So, graduating from a junior secondary vocational school qualifies the student to continue vocational learning at the senior secondary level and up to the tertiary level. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) attributed the growth of China’s economy to increased productivity, an increase in the number of workers, new factories, and manufacturing machinery, among others.

We recall that in April 2023, the Builders’ Association called on the authorities to revive technical colleges and craft schools. They noted that the call was to bridge the skilled workers’ gap in the construction industry and to curtail incessant building collapse.

The association lamented that the industry now relies on technicians from neighbouring countries such as Benin Republic, Togo, and Ghana to maintain basic facilities.

However, it is pertinent to stress that a review of vocational and technical education in Nigeria could become a funnel for filling the skills gap and ensuring that a significant number of that 93 per cent become part of the formal sector in the near future. The country has 111 technical and vocational schools and three privately owned ones, but their functionality is debatable.

This newspaper believes that a revival of vocational and technical education would be a great step forward in Nigeria’s lamentable situation of unemployment, consequent poverty, and growing criminality.

A serious recourse to technical education and purpose-driven vocational training will broaden students’ skillsets for the many available prospects in the country outside the almost non-existent blue- and white-collar jobs. This will eventually lead the graduates not to be mere job seekers but job creators.

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