By: Valentine Adese (JP) and Alfred Saiki,
The Director General (DG) of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Sir Joseph Ari, has said that skill acquisition is the currency of the 21st century. The DG made this assertion when Publishers of Newspapers and other Magazines in Plateau state, paid him a courtesy visit in his office at the ITF Headquarters in Jos, the capital of the state, under the aegis of Plateau Publishers Forum (PPF), led by Mr. Sarki Zelani as Chairman.
The ITF Director-General’s tenure in the ITF thus far, has proved right the clamour for square pegs in square holes in appointing people into management of Government parastatals and for long, this has not been reported to the general public.
In only two years of his assumption of office, as DG, he has changed the fortunes of an organization that was stuttering on the brink of collapse to an organization that is the centre point of Federal government’s job/wealth creation efforts today.
The visit of PPF gave the DG the opportunity to speak on how he has been able to turn around the fortunes of the organization, staff welfare and how the Fund is employing its vast mandate to equip Nigerians with skills for employability and entrepreneurship.
Describing his journey so far, as the DG/Chief Executive of the ITF in the last two years, Sir Joe Ari said, “You may be aware that the incumbent management met the organization on the brink of collapse because of what transpired from 2014 to the time we took over in 2016.
Indeed, for many that are familiar with the ITF, the period is seen as one of the worst periods in the history of the Organization”.
“Things were so bad that the Stephen Orosanye Committee, had considered that the ITF either be merged or proscribed on account of non-performance. You will also recall that the situation and scenario of the organization manifested in consistent unrest and restiveness by the workforce leading to workers shutting the gate at different times at the headquarters and in many field offices across the nation. Hardly did a week pass by without staff unrest; the management was at logger heads with the two in-house unions; the workforce was equally polarized, factionalized and people were in blocks, leading to lots of acrimonious interaction. It was at this point that I was appointed to lead the organization.”
“Two years on, with the special grace of God and his intervention, and with well laid out strategies, the organization has now been able to resolve the crises both internally and externally.”
“Internally, there has been peace and harmonious atmosphere, conducive for workers to work. As a matter of fact, in the last interaction we had with our two in-house unions, the unions said that their inks have run dry because they have had nothing to write and the reason is because according to them, all the issues of concern have been addressed by the present management.”
“You will recall that the headquarters of the Industrial Training Fund is here in Jos, but the period 2014 to 2016, witnessed the absence of leadership even at the headquarters with the buildings falling apart-the roofs were falling off and the rain beating the buildings- with management more or less in Abuja.”
“At the external level, our interactions with all segments of our stakeholders have led to increased patronage of our services thereby, impacting positively on the Nigerian economy and its people. We have also successfully redirected the ITF system to a level where today it is not only serving as the famous human capacity development organization in Nigeria but has become a dependable brand of the Federal Government, impacting on the economy in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s policy agenda.”
On what approach he had to use to get things working again when he resumed duty, the DG said:-
“With the state of affairs we met, we needed to hit the ground running. As soon as we came therefore, we commenced a two pronged approach to change the fortunes of the ITF for the better”.
“One was to works unto God and two was to heal the wounds of the acrimony that was in the system. Work as unto God in order to place the ITF foremost and never to short change the organization; heal wounds because we wanted to bring back the lost glory that the ITF is known for.”
“So whether you are from the south-east, the south-south, or the south-west, or from the north-west, north-central, so far as you are a Nigerian you are part of the stakeholders of the ITF because here is a National agency of the Government where all Nigerians are stakeholders. And to a large extent, we have succeeded in bringing back the family relationship among the workforce so that today, the ITF is one big family that is indivisible in nature.”
“In line with this two-pronged approach, we formulated a document known as the ITF Reviewed Vision. The ITF reviewed vision has strategies for mandate actualization. It is a 6-year plan conceived by the management on assumption of office.”
“The plan was designed basically to address service challenges, infrastructural deficits, revenue generation and other strictures impinging the actualization of the mandate.”
“We are happy with the achievements recorded only two years into the implementation of the plan. For instance, as part of our direct training services, the Industrial Training Fund has trained over 60,000 Nigerians from 2,300 organizations. Over 50,000 youths and other vulnerable groups were equipped with skills for employability and entrepreneurship through programmes including the National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP), the Women Skills Empowerment Programme (WOSEP), Training on Wheels as well as the Technical Skills Development Project (TSDP) among several others.”
As part of his revitalizing the ITF, the DG declared 2018 as a year of delivery. When asked he did that, he said, “You are aware that research is a key mandate of the fund. Our studies and that of others have revealed that despite the efforts of the Federal Government and its agencies to equip Nigerians with skills, unemployment appears to be soaring”.
“Cognizant of the fact that accelerated skills acquisition is the only way to address the rampant unemployment especially among the youths and bearing in mind that governments world over have turned to skills acquisition, which is considered the universal currency of the 21st century, to arm their citizens with skills for employability and growth, we declared 2018 as a year of delivery in which several skills acquisition initiatives will be implemented for the benefit of Nigerians.”
“In line with this declaration, the Fund has commenced the training of 13,000 Nigerians across the country in 11 vocational skills. The 13,000 beneficiaries will be trained under the NISDP, WOSEP, STEPP-C, Fashion design and garment making, Air conditioning and Refrigeration among others. The implementation of these programmes has already commenced and terminated in November, 2018.”
“The Agricultural sector has not been left out as the Fund has commenced training of Nigerians in Post-Harvest Techniques and Product Development, Aqua-Culture/Fish Farming, Manure Production, Crop Production/Greenhouse Technology and Poultry farming.”
“The emphasis on agriculture is to drive the sector in line with the economic diversification agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari. It should be stressed, however, that apart from the National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP), which is being implemented in all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the other training programmes will only be implemented in some selected states.”
“However, when you consider the number of Nigerians that are unemployed, the 13,000 that are currently undergoing training are like a drop of water in the ocean. I therefore wish to call on states and even local governments to collaborate with the Fund for a multiplier effect of the programmes. I also want to appeal to State Governments and other stakeholders to sponsor additional trainees for the programme.”
“Such perspective stakeholders will be required to pay the monthly stipends of the trainees, provide start-up packs for the additional trainees and also offset allowances for the master craftsmen that would be trained as a result of the additional trainees.”
“The only way for the country to reduce unemployment and create wealth through skills acquisition is for all stakeholders to synergize and collaborate with one another so that more Nigerians will benefit from skills acquisition initiatives.”
Recall that on assumption of office, the DG had put staff welfare as one of his top priorities, when asked what he specifically did in respect of staff welfare, he responded saying, “It is universally accepted that a dissatisfied and demoralized workforce is a danger to any institution. It is also universally accepted that any institution aspiring for optimal productivity, must ensure that its workforce is well motivated”.
“On assumption two years ago, staff morale as I mentioned earlier was at its lowest ebb. To reverse this, the new management commenced a series of efforts to motivate and ginger the workforce to greater productivity. For instance, a total of N199,800.00 was disbursed to 289 staff as housing and car loans to ensure that staff of the organization own their own houses and have no transportation problems.”
“As a training organization, we totally agree with the aphorisms that, “If you don’t train them, don’t blame them”. In line with this, the new management embarked on an unprecedented training programme for the Fund’s workforce between September 2016 and mid-2017, a total of 1,646 staff were sponsored on capacity development. Of this number, 1,517 were sponsored on short term staff development programmes, 58 were sponsored on professional membership training in their various fields, while 42 benefitted from long term staff development programmes. 23 were sponsored on overseas training programmes.”
“One of the reasons that caused great dissatisfaction and disharmony between management and unions was the non-payment of staff claims, non-remittance of pensions and NHIS and other statutory benefits accruable to staff. Since our assumption, the story has changed as staff salaries, allowances and statutory remittances are paid as when due.”
“To handle emergencies at the workplace, the management has also established a sickbay in the headquarters. The sickbay is domiciled in the Business Training and Development Department and is equipped and staffed to cater for the health needs of the workforce before referral to other health institutions.”
“Our commitment is to ensure that any ITF worker will be happy coming to the office because of the conducive atmosphere put in place by the management.”