A local foundation with the backing of Ford Foundation is pioneering a change that is providing jobs in Rivers, Abia and Akwa Ibom states, writes ROSEMARY NWISI from Port Harcourt.
Niger Delta states are experiencing a new boom. The reason: the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), is equipping youths with requisite skills to make them marketable not only locally, but globally.
PIND in partnership with Ford Foundation, in 2018, began a radical skill acquisition training programme for youths from ages 16 to 27 – 30, who are either school dropouts, or idle primary/secondary school leavers, who are not unemployable in any standard, as well as those in unskilled jobs, who can barely make ends meet to empower them. The idea was to use the initiative to end insecurity, militancy and restiveness in the Niger Delta region.
Beneficiaries are given life skills ranging from Agriculture/Acqua-culture, fabrication, engineering, information communication technology (ICT), entrepreneurship and fishery among others.
To test-run the template, a platform: “Niger Delta Youth Employment Pathways Project” (NDYEP), was set up with three states of Rivers, Abia and Akwa Ibom were selected for two-year pilot scheme, after which the template would be introduced nationwide. Since the programme began last year, over 1,000 persons have been trained by 13 carefully selected training partners across the three states.
The first batch of the trainees have long been graduated and majority of beneficiaries, and reports from the training partners at the review meeting of the “2nd Grant Award signing ceremony” for the take-off of the final phase/batch of the pilot scheme in Port Harcourt, Rivers State recently showed that majority of the beneficiaries of the first batch were already engaged both locally and overseas, with some of them working for foreign-based companies from Nigeria and are now being paid in foreign currencies.
One of the Training partners is Mrs Chigozirim Uche of “Akiara De-Luke Academy, a fabrication institute, in Aba Abia State, who said the first batch of trainees have all been employed by both local and international companies.
She hinted that already, several companies are queuing up to absorb those being trained by the Academy.
“PIND has really directed us to another aspect of training, before now, the trainees benefitted from a starter pack at the end of their training, with which they could start their business, though the trainees sell these off, right at the gate of the venue.
“Now, we look for jobs for all the trainees since we cannot employ them, and this has reduced the need to provide them with starter kits.
“And our experience in this just-concluded phase was that we discovered that the trainers we engaged from the organised sector to train them at the end of the training period picked the best trainees leaving the rest for us, Today our trainees go out on owning their own to get jobs, come back and do them in our factory and make their money and living.
“Just recently, I needed them to help do something for us in the school, and I was told that two of them have used their NABTEB certificate to travel to overseas for a job, and I was so happy.
“Already some construction companies we are in contact with have begun to look for our products for employment. Right now, companies are already queuing for our trained youths,” she said.
Another partner, who trained 100 youths in engineering in Akwa Ibom State, said eight of their first batch are now in Romania, while two others are in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) where they are presently working.
According to him, a Lagos-based engineering firm is willing to relocate to Uyo in order to have better access to the trainees.
“When we were giving the partnership contract in the first batch, we started with the training of 50 people and connecting them to jobs, eight of them are now working for a company in Romania. After the programme, we connected some of them to the UK, to the US and they are working from here, but are being paid in foreign currencies.
Speaking at the event, PIND’s Executive Director Dr. Dara Akala, noted that the target was to provide jobs for at least 10,000 youths in the region within five years.
Akala noted that the programme’s concept is all-inclusive and cuts across both genders, youths in the rural and urban areas and those with special need (the physically challenged) of Nigerian origin.
Akala said unemployment was a serious challenge confronting states of the Niger Delta, adding that the essence of the grant was to ensure that beneficiaries become entrepreneurs at the end of the training.
He insisted that PIND’s focus in the campaign is not to train people, but to create outright employment.
He noted that the project sponsors released $2 million for youths training for a period of two years, adding that the value of grant given is based on certain criteria, including location, type of programme they are delivering and the budget estimate they provided.
“We receive a total of $2 million from Ford Foundation and the target is to train in the first year 1,000 people and in the second year 2,000 youths, but you need to understand the training components just to prove the concept of this modelling pathway for youth employment, there are other things like Ecosystem building, which is working with stakeholders that have interest or a stake in youth employment creation in the region by that I mean the government, the private sector, Ministry of Youth, Ministry of Economic Empowerment and Employment, bringing them together.
“Employment and population are problems we are facing in Niger Delta and Nigeria at the time. We have lots of skills acquisition in the region and when you look at the investment in it, you will understand that they make no much meaning.
Asked the criteria for selection of state for the pilot programme, Akala said it was based on states with the highest burden of youth unemployment as released by the National Bureau of Statistics report.
Corroborating Akala, Executive Director, Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (PHCIMA), Erasmus Chukeunda said the process would help to reduce restiveness among youths and pledged that PHCIMA would partner PIND to ensure that beneficiaries get employed in establishments in the state.
He said: “Our youths in the Niger Delta no longer get jobs easily because they have a lot of people competing with them from the North and West. The chamber would enter a partnership with PIND to ensure that those trained would be given the job.”
Nigeria is ranked as one of the countries of the world with the highest unemployment rate, majority of which are youths. With over 200 million population, a report credited to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in 2018 has it that 36.50 per cent of the (country’s) population is made up of unemployed youths, both graduate and non-graduate youths, including school leavers and dropouts.
The NBS showed that the highest unemployed youths are found in the oil-producing Niger Delta states, especially, Rivers, with over 37 per cent, followed by Akwa Ibom, 36 per cent, and Abia State. Other members, who represented the pilot states in the second award event, praised PIND for the innovation in youths skill and empowerment training and urged the beneficiaries to make the best of the opportunity the programme has provided to enhance their future.
Speaking, Dr. Ifeoma appreciated PIND and Ford Foundation for the job they are doing among the youths, adding that the innovation they have introduced into the training has resulted in both skill empowerment and character moulding of the youths.
“This is a departure from the norm before now we train and Abia traders will stand at the gates to buy off our starter packs. I can say that we are not just here for skill, the soft skill for me is the most important thing, this programme has added that which has been lacking in our training, the youths that are produced in this programme are developed, and balanced youths, they have the skill and also character,” she said.
Abia State representative noted that the state has benefited so much from the programme and that the SMEs are now more institutionalised, more sustainable and more positioned for bigger business.
“Abia State government is learning a lot from the mechanism of the programme and the breakthroughs that it is bringing to the state. Last time it was 1,300 plus and with this, we are expecting that the state Gross Domestic Product (GDP), will grow by 240 per cent.”
They urged PIND and the stakeholders to maintain the trust reposed in them by ensuring that the process remains transparent and accessible to all classes and genders of qualified Nigerian youths, who indicated interest to be trained.