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Ogundiran Babatunde Ogundiran is the Programme Coordinator at UNDP Vocational Education and Training Centre Oshodi/Isolo Local Government, Lagos. In this interview with BENJAMIN ALADE, he shared insights on how unemployment can be tackled in the country and also the need for government to invest in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for socioeconomic development. Can you give us an insight into how UNDP Vocational Education and Training Centre was created? The Centre was established by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the year 2003 as an intervention project for the purpose of assisting and employing youths and women. Oshodi, because of its central and strategic location in the nation’s commercial nerve centre (Lagos) was amongst the Local Governments in Lagos State selected for this project. At the moment the centre is completely and 100 per cent owned and managed by the Oshodi/Isolo Local Government. At this point, kudos must be given to the Executive Chairman, Bolaji Muse-Ariyoh, who has done everything possible to revamp, upgrade and revive the centre on assumption of office. Because of his drive and passion for youths in the community, he has made vocational education, youth empowerment and employability skills one of his cardinal points. In a bid to reposition and transform the centre, I was head hunted and appointed by the Executive Chairman himself. As a matter of fact, because of smooth and seamless operational activities devoid of bureaucracy, I report directly to the Mayor. What are the aims and objectives of the Centre in Nigeria, particular in the LGA? The Oshodi/Isolo Vocational Education and Training Institute is an initiative of the government towards achieving one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goals 1 and 2; which is No poverty and Zero hunger respectively. The Institute has been creating prosperity by empowering people with 21st Century survival skills. The vision of the centre is to reduce unemployment and poverty in Oshodi and its environs through development of skills, building institutional capacity and investing in technical/vocational training infrastructure. This, we achieved by redefining and revolutionising vocational education by offering updated, modern and excellent training by allowing our students the opportunity to a solid, hands-on learning experience in and out of the classroom. To a great extent, the centre has been living up to expectations. From inception till date, the centre has trained over 12, 000 students in various vocations ranging from tailoring, hairdressing, cosmetology, bead-making, computer/catering and hotel management, shoe and bag design to mention a few. Recently, we have also introduced auto mobile diagnostics. We are also kicking off our school of music by the last quarter of the year. How has the scheme helped in up-scaling skills among the youth and helped in reducing unemployment levels? According to the World Bank, Africa has the youngest and fastest growing youth population in the world. The number of people aged between 15 and 24 is expected to double to 400 million by 2045. By 2050, the continent would have a larger working age population than India or China. Youths, under the age of 25 represent 62 per cent of sub – Saharan Africa’s unemployed population, and nearly three-quarters live on less than $2 a day. There is no doubt that the scheme got a massive boost under the leadership of the current Administration of Bolaji Muse-Ariyoh due to his penchant for reducing unemployment to the barest minimum. The Centre has been able to upscale the scheme in many ways including collaboration with education and training providers to help our youths develop relevant 21st century survival skills, which they really need in our ever changing, fast pacing and dynamic world of work, and promote lifelong learning. Secondly, the move is to foster entrepreneurship by supporting graduating students in start-ups and smaller enterprises. The Executive Chairman has been providing youths with start-up kits as well as financial assistance to students that have demonstrated strong zeal in starting up their own businesses. Lastly, in a bid to bridge the vocational and technical skill gap, and ensuring students are up-to-date with current trends, the Local Government recently procured some state-of-the-art equipment for all the various units to enhance quality learning. Following the high rate of unemployment in the country, what can be done to tackle the menace? We cannot shy away from the honest truth that the problem of chronic youth unemployment is very evident in Nigeria. If this problem is not tackled head on, we might be facing another problem that is greater than “insecurity”. Every year, thousands of graduates are churned out from our citadels of learning whom there are no jobs. However, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) remains Nigeria’s sure bet exit route. Investment in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) will enable our youths to become self-reliant instead of job seekers through skills development and training. Since TVET is a veritable tool to reduce unemployment, it is therefore imperative that governments should come up with blue print and policies to address and TVET. However, TVET is expensive; it will take a multi-stakeholder approach for its execution. To this end, I would advocate government should encourage private sector participation, NGOs, CBOs to collaborate with institutions and invest in ways to improve the standard of TVET. These include incentives and scholarships for trainees. Incentives in form of scholarships and grants should be encouraged for aspiring students and trainees. There should also be localisation and determination of TVET centres. Asides all what have been mentioned earlier, new TVET centres or institutions should be set up at federal, state and local Levels with strict adherence and compliance with their mandates. Just like what is happening in Oshodi/Isolo Local Government by Ariyoh. It is also important that other governments borrow a leaf by revamping and overhauling dilapidated structures of existing centres in their jurisdictions. There should also be upgrading and revamping of existing TVET centres. Existing centres, workshops, laboratories should be upgraded and equipped with state of the art machineries, tools and equipment. Modern and 21st century gadgets like robust ICT and Internet facilities should be provided with standby power. There should also be adequate funding of TVET centres. This is crucial for successful implementation. Subventions should be available at all levels and across sectors. In view of the importance of TVET, government should establish a fund to cater for it huge financial requirement. TVET centres and workshops should be open to servicing the institutional, constructional and maintenance need to increase revenue inflow and provide more opportunity for skill acquisition for the learners and trainees. There should be access to loans and capital. Governments should provide access to credit facilities including other support logistics to young investors. There is need to replicate the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSTETF) initiative across the country. It has worked in Lagos; it will work with great execution and proper monitoring in other states. It is also important that we develop human capital development/re-skilling. Regular Recruitment and Capacity Development of TVET Personnel; TVET instructors should be availed with regular seminars, workshops and training to keep them well-informed with the recent developments in the field of vocational education and training, which they will further impart on their students. There should be sound policy formulation and implementation. Policy formulation and implementation on vocational education and training in Nigeria must be constantly reviewed and implemented to meet the ever changing, fast paced and dynamic demands of the 21st century. There is also need to have steady power and infrastructure. Government should provide power and other infrastructural facilities and an enabling environment so as to encourage the growth and development of small and medium scale enterprises who more often than not are the employers (economic drivers) of graduates of TVET institutions thereby creating jobs and reducing the rate of unemployment and youth restiveness. Since inception, how many skilled youths have been churned out and how many have reproduced trainers or become business owner? We have been able to make tremendous impact in our community based on the value added vocational courses we have offered. Like I stated earlier, the centre has been able to graduate over 12,000 trainees. Amongst them are business owners, gainfully employed and some have also travelled outside the shores of the country. For instance, in 2018, we were able to empower not less than 2,000 youths on various vocational courses. In the same vein, we empowered 300 youths in 2018 on Digital Marketing, Mobile Application and Website Development. This initiative was in conjunction with Tek4Naija our technical partner with expertise in ICT. Some got scholarships, while others are already proffering solutions to everyday businesses by developing relevant software applications. What follow up mechanism has been put in place to ensure that those trained keep in touch? There is a mentorship programme in place where our students and graduates are actively engaging experienced professionals from all walks of life. They further get education, training and employment opportunities from our mentorship network. We offer one to one mentor support on social, emotional and soft skills learning. Over time, our one to one mentor support has increased and promoted self-independence, self-confidence, and also help our students deal with a wide array of social issues impacting on their day to day career and lives. Is the training a one-off project or continuous? I just mentioned that we have a mentoring program in place. This is a mechanism that ensures we constantly engage and have meaningful interactions with Alumni of the centre. We have also introduced sessions where alumni of the centre shares experiences with current students. Some of the experiences are also taken for uptake and are being replicated by colleges. The world is going digital, has ICT training been included? As technological changes occur at unprecedented speeds, it becomes increasingly important to develop mechanisms that can foster skills highly demanded in emerging careers. There is no gainsaying the fact that Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) is what Nigerians need to keep pace with employment demand in a technologically-driven economy, ICT is an integral component our program at the centre. For instance, we have developed a curriculum on Basic Digital Education Program (BDEP) in conjunction with our Technical partner Tek4Naija. Tek4Naija is a digital solutions company with a passion for social enterprise. The programme is a Human Capital Development Initiative with the aim of helping young Nigerians in secondary and tertiary institutions acquire foundational digital skills, in order to equip them with the necessary skills for the knowledge-based economy. Like I stated earlier, we know the extent of “Disruptive technology innovation” it simply means how technology in 21st century significantly alters the way businesses or entire industries operate. It often forces companies to change the way they approach their business for fear of losing market share or becoming irrelevant. Recent examples of disruptive technologies include e-commerce (Jumia, Konga etc and ride-sharing (Taxi/Bolt, Uber, O-pay, Go-kada etc). It’s in this frequency, that we have identified the huge opportunities that technology offers that we empowered 300 youths in Oshodi/Isolo Local Government in 2018 on Digital Marketing, Mobile Application and Website Development. The best students got scholarships and most of them are now making impact by developing relevant software applications for various clients in their own little way.