When in 1971, the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) was established by Decree 47, it was charged with producing skilled manpower, among others. Its Director-General, Prof Longmas Wapmuk, in this interview with TOBA AGBOOLA and OLUWAKEMI DAUDA, speaks on the workings of the fund and its role in achieving the Federal Government’s Transformation Agenda.

How long have you been at the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and what is your experience?

Well, I was appointed in August 2006. This means that I’m slightly above seven years in the organisation now. When I came on board, many companies, particularly, the foreign ones were not interested in training at the ITF. They believed that our staff were not very competent.

We addressed this problem by training many of our people overseas. And today, in Lagos, we have many training programmes given to us to implement by major companies. A proof of the rise in training consciousness, on account of ITF intervention, is the increasing request for reimbursement by employers registered, and the remitting of training contributions to the fund. Reimbursement of training contributions is done on condition that ITF’s guidelines on training are met. Therefore, the number of employers that request for and get reimbursed, indicates that training consciousness has really increased.
One of the visions of the ITF, when it was established in 1971, was to be one of the foremost field training and development organisations.

Would you say your organisation has achieved this aim?

I believe the organisation has achieved its aim. The ITF was little known before I took over as the chief executive. We had problem of poor funding. The budget of the organisation was around N3.6 billion, which was too small to achieve all we wanted to achieve. Also, the members of staff were not happy because there was no motivation and the salary was very poor. The relationship between ITF and corporate bodies was not good. My management was also dissolved. These and many more are some of the challenges.

So, how did you address these challenges?

The ITF currently is a household name. First of all, I took a trip to Lagos. I met with stakeholders in the organised sector. We discussed on the way forward. This, of course, enhanced our relationship. As I said, my management was dissolved, so I had to set up a new management. Restructuring and re-organisation took place; and today we have about six vibrant departments in the organisation. I was able to get an improved salary structure for the staff and all the outstanding promotions were implemented.

How did you address the issue of poor funding?

We discovered that, over the years, the money available for training has been very small and we thought that there was the need to improve the level of funding. When I came, I started by soliciting for money from government. I drew up a plan and followed it up by going to the supervising ministry, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and many other places but I could not generate any revenue from my efforts. So, I decided to look inwards to see areas to generate revenue from, if we are to function properly as provided in the law that set us up. I found out that in many countries I visited, they have similar laws but with no reimbursement clause because they use all the money to train. But in our own case, we reimburse 60 percent to the industry and 40 percent is left for us to pay our salaries and do the training.

On assumption of office as the Director-General, I found out that there was a law establishing a Fund. The law provides for the collection of some money to sustain the activities of the ITF. As I said earlier, when I came in, the level of fund generation was very low. Apart from the fact that the budget of the ITF was around N3.6 billion, the law stipulates that ITF should collect one per cent of firms’ and government agencies’ annual staff salaries. ITF is sustained by contributions from the organised private sector. But, when they contribute this money, ITF does not keep all of it. We require them to train their own staff; so part of the training is done by them.

When they train, in accordance with our new law, we refund 50 per cent of what we collected from them. So, we do not keep all the money.

What is left is not enough to fund us, and to equip our centres. That is why, of recent, you see that we have been making a lot of efforts to collect revenue.

Have you started collecting the one per cent of workers’, and what is the level of compliance?

Yes, we have started collecting the money but what we have collected so far is not much. This is because we are just implementing the legislation and there are so many things in the amended Act. If you look at section six of that law and the subsection, the level of compliance is not high, but it has improved. For instance, the number of companies have improved from 5,000 to 20,000. Our revenue has increased to about N18 billion now. Mind you, about 800,000 companies are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). So, you can imagine 20,000 companies out of about 867,000 companies. If we can get hold of at least 300,000 companies, it will solve most of our problems. We still have a long way to go, though, but I know we will get there.

The mission of ITF is to set and regulate training standards and offer direct training intervention in industrial and commercial skills and technology. How have you been able to achieve this?

Since I assumed office as the Chief Executive of the Industrial Training Fund, we have scaled up the training of our staff both locally and abroad with the objective of enhancing their professional competence. We trained members of our staff internationally, particularly in the area of technical vocational education. The objective here is for them to come back and impart knowledge to those at home, so that we would be able to build a core of highly trained technical manpower. At the home level, we have organised short courses for our staff.

Consequently, the ITF has created a crop of well-trained development officers, some of whom are certified and recognised internationally in their areas of specialisation. For instance, we’re very good in the areas of occupational safety, health and environment. Also, we are involved in productivity and efficiency improvement training.

Can you tell us about your training centre? How are they functioning?

The ITF training centre, particularly our model skill training centre, which is located in this compound, has become a ‘Mecca’ for Technical Vocational Education. We have centres in Lagos, Jos and Kano. We have a modern one in Abuja. We have been able to complete the one in Lokoja.

When people come around we start to showcase our centre, which we built with technical support from the Institute of Technical Education Services of Singapore. The ITF also is always at the cutting edge of technical vocational skills training in Nigeria. In addition to bringing people for training, the ITF takes training to the people in the nooks and cranny of Nigeria by deploying a number of mobile training workshops decked with the state-of-the-art modern equipment tools and facilities in eleven trade areas.
So, when we have these mobile workshops, we would be able to take training to the doorsteps of our people. All these attest to our technology-driven processes, functions and programmes in the ITF. And definitely with all these efforts of offering direct intervention in industrial and commercial skills training and development with competent staff, we believe that we will be doing a good service to our country.

We also proposed something to government, which we presented to stakeholders known as National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP) which is an aspect of the national industrial development plan for the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.
This plan envisages that we will have industrial skills training centres in the 36 states and Abuja. And in each of these centres, we have provision for training people in 24 trade areas. We have also made provision in this plan for Centres for Advance Skills Training for Employment (CASTE) and these are bigger centres that have provision for about 45 trade areas and these will be located in the six geo-political zones of the country.

How much does it take to establish each of the centres?

The skill centres are very costly to establish because some equipment can cost up to N15million. We have estimated that the Industrial Skills Centres in the 36 states and Abuja will have provision for 24 trades and will cost about N3.5 billion, while the bigger ones, the advance skills centres in the six geo-political zones, will cost about N5.5 billion. So, if you cost it, you will realise it’s a lot of money.

But we have envisaged that with our amended Act, we will be able to generate the required money over time to help us establish the centres.

Enlighten us on your other programmes, such as SIWES?

We have been organising the Student Industrial Works Experience Scheme (SIWES) for students and there is hardly any technical person in Nigeria that has gone through tertiary education that does not know about the ITF. We have been able to pay some of our SIWES students. We have paid about 430,000 participants between 2007 and now. However, the issue of paying students by the government will stop next year. We want to focus on the training. In fact, we have recommended that government should de-emphasise the payment of money and focus on training.

What role is ITF playing in the economy, especially in the Transformation Agenda?

The ITF is one of the major parastatals of the Federal Government. It is one of the organisations being used by the Federal Government to achieve the Transformation Agenda of this administration.

The ITF, according to the Act establishing it, has the responsibility of providing, promoting and encouraging the acquisition of skills in commerce and industry. It is to generate enough manpower to meet the needs of the economy. Over time, the ITF has been performing these functions. Human capital development is a sine qua non to the economy of any country.

Without identifying and developing technical manpower, most of the industries and organisations will not be able to function and that is where the ITF comes in. We are charged with developing and training and providing technical manpower. And you can see that most of our activities are geared towards this noble objective. So, you cannot say the ITF has lost its relevance – no! In fact, the ITF has rather become even more relevant in the light of the Federal Government’s aspiration to meet up with the leading economies of the world.

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