Dearth of artisans – The Nation

  • This is the result of vocational education crisis that must be addressed

It is a welcome development that the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) – has opted to take the lead on the issue of dearth of local artisans as a result of which importation of foreign artisans is now the vogue. While inaugurating the Committee of Technical Colleges in Nigeria (COTEC), COREN president, Ali Rabiu, said the body was doing everything possible to address the anomaly.

This is how COREN registrar Prof. Joseph Odigure, frames the matter: as at June, Nigeria has 62,313 registered engineers; meanwhile the corresponding figures for technologists, technicians and craftsmen are 6,587; 937 and 2,778, respectively. In other words, instead of the largest number of craftsmen being at the bottom, narrowing up through the technicians and technologists cadres to a few engineers at the top, ours is a reverse with engineers being the largest in number – an anomalous situation indeed.

The result, according to Prof. Odigure is that: “Artisans are now imported from China, Taiwan, Benin Republic, Togo, etc. to fix technical problems in Nigeria. The situation is so bad that the technical colleges are on the brink of survival; intake of students has become a problem’’.

The situation is what the COREN president finds unacceptable. “As a nation, we can’t import artisans from the neighbouring countries to service us; that is the failure on our side… it is a failure on the professionals whether you are an engineer or a technologist, technician or craftsman. This is an issue that should concern all of us”, he had stated even as he disclosed that the council had signed a new revised Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) to be able to deepen the accreditation of training of technicians and technologies, to deepen the level of skills.

Warning of the dire situation ahead if allowed to continue, Odigure had stated: “There can be no sustainable development in the nation’s infrastructure if technical colleges are allowed to go extinct”.

We do understand the concerns of COREN.  After all, the dearth of local artisans, tradesmen and technologists directly impacts on their work. The concerns should however be that of every Nigerians given the implication on the economy – the huge costs of hiring the foreign artisans, the continuing underdevelopment of domestic capacity which in the end translates into a needless drain on the nation’s foreign reserves – with the ultimate result in compounding the unemployment situation.

Our concern really is whether COREN has the muscle, particularly at this time, to make a dent on the problem, or as some have reasoned, whether the problem is even theirs to take on. And this is not to deny that they have a big role in helping to remedy the situation. It is necessary to recall that the current educational curriculum – the 6-3-3-4 system was designed precisely to address that very problem. Unfortunately, while the tertiary sector continues to mushroom as if every Nigerian must necessarily acquire a university degree, that other critical sector, which the nation is expected to rely on for basic but highly necessary skills has been orphaned somewhat by both the federal and state governments. This is at the heart of the lamentable state alluded to by the COREN president. This is where the change should begin.

What is required is a redirection of the educational system in favour of vocational training; in other words, to get back to the drawing board. Today, we have millions of our youths out there with neither the basic training nor tools to survive in the fast changing world, not so much for the inherent defects in the current educational system but more to the failure to follow through on what it actually prescribes.

And the story is virtually the same across the states –with only few that could boast of vocational institutions, most of which are more often than not ill-equipped; little wonder most pupils end up dropping out after the Junior Secondary School education.

A rescue package has therefore become imperative – with the Federal Government, working with states and development partners, taking steps to salvage the situation.

In other words, an overhaul of the vocational system is overdue. This calls for bold measures – massive investment in new institutions, upgrading existing ones while creative ways are sought to integrate the time-tested apprenticeship system into the formal system. It is time to make vocational education not only attractive but well-motivated in the area of compensation. Bottom-line is – every Nigerian deserves an opportunity to earn a decent living and to contribute to the nation’s development process.

In the end, every investment in this regard will be worth every dime put into it.

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