A case for technical colleges in Nigeria
For a while now, Nigeria has been witnessing exponential growth in the rise of certificateawarding institutions and massive production of holders of certificates of all kinds: diplomas, NCEs, degrees, masters, PGDs, etc. Ordinarily, this should be a welcome development. But, unfortunately, this phenomenon comes at the expense of acquiring quality skills, thus resulting in the production of certificate holders with no skills at all or with some skills that are not in demand and/or have no economic value whatsoever.
One comes to realise the effects of this phenomenon when one does a simple closeproximity analysis—for example, over 60 registered and unregistered colleges of education award NCE certificates in Bauchi State alone. Most of the courses offered in these colleges are combinations of English/Hausa, Social Studies/ English, Arabic/Fulfulde, etc. The questions to ask are: what are the specific skills that an average NCE holder acquires in the three years they spend in college? Do these skills, if any, have any economic value? If yes, how many NCE holders, for example, does Bauchi State need at any given time?
Again, in Toro, one out of the 20 local government areas of Bauchi State, there are six colleges of health technology and counting. Most of the courses offered in these colleges are diplomas in Medical Records, Environmental Health, Community Health, Laboratory Technology, etc. I may sound dismissive of these courses, but don’t get me wrong. These are significant courses and perhaps, with valuable skills to offer, but we already have enough to go around. And, trust economics, its laws are no respecters of irrational decisions: the higher the supply, the lower the demand and invariably the price. So the need to rethink why we do certain things instead of other things could not be more urgent.
The way forward
To be very clear, I am not presenting anything novel. Our pioneer leaders had envisaged the inevitable need for technical skills for economic growth and development, and that’s why they established monotechnics polytechnics and technical colleges across the country. No thanks to unimaginative leadership and penchant for mass production of certificates-wielding graduates that had led to having polytechnics with more students studying mass communication, theatre arts than engineering, computer science, statistics, etc. Nothing can be more ironic.
In the following subheadings, I will argue on why we should pay more attention to technical skills and invest more in establishing technical colleges:
Rest assured that employers lined up waiting for you once you possess skills like plumbing, welding, woodwork, carpentry, masonry, tiling, electric wiring, programming, website and apps development, etc. With an increase in population comes corresponding demands for housing, food and services. So, these skills will forever be in need, so long as we breathe. And in the event you don’t want to be on the payroll of anybody, you can monetise the skills by employing yourself. For example, a diploma holder in animal health and production can engage in the private practice of visiting farms and local markets to provide first aid treatment. There are too many farms to go around. We can say the same about a plumber, tiler, painter, etc.
Less time than conventional schooling
Most technical skills can be acquired in a record time, probably in a year or two and then you are good to go. The most interesting thing about a given skill is that the more you practice it, the more you master it. Moreover, it is more difficult for a person to forget a set of skills than the paper-based theories learned in school. Very unlike typical schooling (a diploma or a degree), where you would spend two or four years with no specific skills to show and then sooner you would forget the little theoretical knowledge you have acquired since you are not practising.
High return on investment
Compared to the money spent to acquire NCE certificates, diplomas in health-related courses, and some instances, degree courses, you are better off having any of the aforementioned technical skills. NCE holders and, in some cases, degree holders hardly make up to N30,000 per month in many private schools. In fact, even in public service, NCE holders fetch N36,000 per month in Bauchi State. When you analyse the time, money and energy expended to acquire the certificate and the monetary reward after that, you will struggle to make economic sense of the decision. So many Keke NAPEP operators make more than that amount in a month. So much for a heap of certificates!
Again, as a private investor, you are better off establishing a technical college, especially if you would engage in vertical integration by employing your products (graduates). For example, you can set a company that specialises in finishing and look for contracts. Trust me; we have a paucity of skilled workforce in the building industry. We do import tilers, plumbers, welders from outside. That’s how bad things are and that’s how vast the opportunities are.
And for those who want to ‘japa‘ (to go abroad), your chance of securing a visa and employment abroad is greatly enhanced if you have any technical skills. This is for non-medical professionals and exceptionally brilliant computer wizards.
The argument here is not whether an NCE certificate or health technology diploma or even degree certificate, for that matter, is good or not. No! The idea here is that we should go to colleges and universities to acquire skills that we can use to improve our financial situation. If the so-called certificate(s) you have obtained cannot fetch you a job or equip you with skills that people can pay for, you need to rethink why you were in school in the first place. We have tons of graduates and varying certificate-holders roaming the streets for jobs that are not there and crying for lack of employment; meanwhile, they have no skills worth employing. We are massively producing what we do not need and under-producing what we urgently need. Something is wrong.
We have to appreciate the dynamics of time. Long ago, all it takes to climb the mythical social ladder and join the much-vaunted middle-class is a certificate of any kind. Whatever or not you studied in the university is immaterial; public jobs were waiting for you. But that was then. Those years of yore have passed for good. There are no more public jobs for everyone. Internalise this and know peace. As for private companies, well, first of all, they are not charity organisations. Secondly, they are profit-driven, so they don’t employ people to fill any underrepresented state’s quota. Thirdly, they reward value— what you have to offer is what counts. You need much more than a certificate to survive. You need skills, not just any skills, but skills that have economic value.
You need to wake up and smell the coffee. Hello!
Tilde can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org