Opinion

Improving technical training in tertiary institutions

As the country is poised to equip the teeming Nigerians – particularly the youth – with a view to making them self-reliant, it’s indeed imperative to strengthen the value of technical-based learning taking place in our various tertiary institutions.

In view of the above, the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) – which serves as a platform to technically train the undergraduates – needs to be critically considered by the concerned authorities as we approach the post Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) era. It’s not anymore news that the SIWES has been on the decline for decades now that if drastic measure isn’t taken towards addressing the lingering anomaly, the scheme is liable to go into extinction in no distant time.

The SIWES is a skill acquisition initiative designed to expose and prepare students of universities, polytechnics, monotechnics as well as colleges of education for the industrial work situation they are likely to encounter after graduation. SIWES was initiated to be a planned and supervised training programme based on specific learning and career objectives and geared toward developing the occupational competencies of the participants.

The scheme, which is generic, cutting across over 60 programmes in the universities, over 40 in the polytechnics/monotechnics, and about 10 in the colleges of education. It isn’t meant for a particular course of study or discipline, though it was introduced mainly for the sake of technicallyinclined ones.

Since inception, it is being reckoned to be an innovative phenomenon in human resources development in Nigeria. While some institutions and disciplines permit SIWES’ duration for only three to six months, others go for up to one year.

The programme, which permits the affected students to seek for Industrial Training (IT) or Teaching Practice (TP), as the case may be, in any establishment of their choice, has ab initio been a cause of concern to education and economic planners, particularly in respect of graduate employment and impact on the general societal development.

On the other hand, there are equally mixed feelings among education stakeholders concerning how much of the programme that is actually helpful to students’ academic performance and job readiness after graduation. Whatever positive impact the SIWES has thus far created on the students’ wellbeing and the society at large, the truth is that the primary purpose for which the programme was implemented has recently been relegated to the background. The prevalence of the inability of SIWES’ participants to secure employment after the programme, or even perform adequately if eventually employed, casts doubt on the continuing relevance of the programme to the contemporary industrial development drive in the Nigerian society.

This obvious lapse isn’t unconnected with negligence and/or apathy on the part of the trainees, trainers, concerned institutions, and the government. It’s noteworthy that most of these students dodge the programme. They prefer indulging in activities that would fetch them money to going for the technical knowledge. To this set of individuals, partaking in the industrial programme is simply a waste of time and energy. In view of this misconception, when the programme is meant to take place, you would see them participating in all sorts of inconsequential menial jobs or even gambling and what have you just for the aim of raising some cash.

This growing mentality of placing money before knowledge has contributed immensely in endangering the prospect of the laudable programme. Those who bring out time to participate in the programme, are prone to one challenge or the other.

It’s worth noting that greater percentage of the trainees is not paid by the establishments in which they are serving, not even stipend. Hence, they would end up making use of their personal funds to service their transportation and accommodation fees.

It’s more worrisome to realize that most of these trainees are overused by the firms. Rather than teaching them the needful, the supposed trainers would engage them in unnecessary activities, thereby making them lose interest in the actual training. Worse still, most of the institutions involved don’t show any concern.

They do not cough up time to supervise the students in their respective places of assignment. Ridiculously, in most cases, the schools would remain ignorant of where the students are undergoing the training till the duration of the programme elapses.

This particular loophole as mentioned above has over the years served as an advantage to those who never participated in the programme. In this case, during the SIWES defence, the affected student or anyone who have dodged the programme would claim to have undergone the training in any establishment of his/her choice, and the supposed supervisor would never bother to ascertain the truth.
Inter alia, funding of the SIWES hasn’t been encouraging in recent times.

The Industrial Training Fund (ITF) – the body responsible in the day-to-day funding of the initiative – currently appears incapacitated, probably owing to lack of adequate allocation from the government and other financiers. Sometimes, the students would be deprived of the statutory allowance they are entitled to after the programme. Those who were lucky to receive theirs had to wait for a long time. This is indeed uncalled for. The SIWES is obviously yearning for resuscitation.

The present state of moribund experienced by the scheme can only be properly addressed by revisiting the extant Acts that bind it with a view to making amends where need be. Such step would enable every authority involved to start seeing the initiative as a priority towards the anticipated, or perhaps ongoing, economic diversification.

The said policy ought to categorically specify what is expected of the trainee, trainer, institution as well as the governments at all levels, as regards the sustenance of the scheme. Similarly, there’s need for an exclusive viable law enforcement agency that would penalize or prosecute any defaulter. This must be initiated in earnest if we as people are truly determined to positively turnaround. Hence, reviving this technical-oriented initiative whose motive truly means well for nation-building is long overdue.

But such lofty motive can only be holistically actualized by changing all the flat tyres that have succeeded in crippling the journey so far. So, as Nigeria approaches the post- COVID-19 era and plans towards alleviating the anticipated colossal poverty level, she shouldn’t be reminded that improving technical training in our tertiary institutions cannot be shortchanged. Think about it!

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