Overwhelming support as Senate moves to widen ITF’s scope
The Industrial Training Fund (ITF), got overwhelming support from stakeholders in the Senate last week on its desire for skilled population in Nigeria. TAIYE ODEWALE reports
ITF and core mandate
As submitted by the Director – General/Chief Executive of the Industrial Training Fund, Sir Joseph Ari in his presentation at the public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Industries on Amendment Bill sponsored by ITF, it was established on the 8th of October, 1971, by Decree No.47 (now an Act as amended in 2011).
ITF, according to Ari, was vested with the statutory mandate to: (a) Provide, promote and encourage the acquisition of skills in industry and commerce with a view to generating a pool of indigenous trained manpower sufficient to meet the needs of the private and public sectors of the economy , (b) Provide training for skills in management for technical and entrepreneurial development in the public and private sectors of the economy, (c) Set training standards in all sectors of the economy and monitor adherence; (d) Evaluate and certify vocational skills acquired by apprentices, craftsmen and technicians in collaboration with relevant organizations and ( e) management of the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES).
On the basis of the aforestated mandate, ITF as added by Sir Ari over the years, recorded numerous achievements both in terms of the millions of Nigerians that it has trained, its leadership role in the HRD sector and other numerous innovations, including the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES), introduction of In-Plant training and its pioneering role in entrenching apprenticeship in Nigeria that have had a tremendous impact on the economy and served to greatly elevate the overall quality and productivity of the nation’s workforce in line with its mandate.
Impetus given by the 2011 Act
The ITF boss in his submission at the public hearing added thus: “Our activities witnessed greater impetus since the amendment of the Act in 2011, the amendment was a shot in the arm as we have been able to tackle infrastructure deficit by establishing vocational wings in our area offices that have enabled us to up the ante of our skills acquisition activities. Indeed, because of the amendment, the ITF has become an important ally of the Federal Government in its efforts to tackle unemployment and poverty.
Justifying need for further amendments of the Act
Like Oliver Twist, the ITF boss, however, appealed to the Senate through Committee on Industries, to grant the request of the agency for further amendments of its Act in widening the scope of its operations and invariably mitigating the ever rising population of Nigerians with skilled workforce.
His words: “Despite the many achievements the ITF has recorded since the 2011 Amendment, its implementation has not been without challenges, which have occasionally hampered the smooth operation of our activities.
“Our appearance here today, therefore, is to show cause as well as the desirability and the urgent need for amendment of the ITF Act 2011 (as amended) to address observed impediments.
“Specifically, our proposal seeks amendments to seven Sections of the existing Act including sections 6, 14 and 16 among others to expand and clarify the meaning of words, eliminate ambiguities and address interpretation problems, and to include sectors not previously captured as well as ensure the sustainability of the Fund in light of prevailing economic challenges.
“A few examples of our proposed amendments will suffice. For instance, Section 6 sub-section 2 of the extant Act, which reads: “Any supplier, contractor or consultant bidding or soliciting contracts, businesses, goods and services from any Federal Government Ministry, Department, Agency, commercial, industrial and private entity shall fulfil the statutory obligations of its employees with respect to payment of training contribution to the Fund” is amended as follows: “Any supplier, contractor or consultant bidding or soliciting contracts, businesses, goods and services from any Government Agency, Ministry, Department and Parastatal as well as commercial, industrial and private entity shall fulfil the statutory obligations of its employees with respect to payment of training contribution to the Fund.
“Similarly, Section 6 sub-section 3 of the extant Act which stipulates that: ”Any liable organisation, public or private including companies situate in the free Trade Zones requiring approval for expatriate quota and/or utilizing custom services in matters of export and import, must show proof of compliance with this Act in respect of payment of training contribution of its employees and all regulatory agencies of the Federal Government shall ensure compliance with section 6(1)-(3) of this Act”, which restricts the Act to Federal Government Agencies is also proposed for amendment as follows: ”Any liable organisation, public or private including companies situate in the free Trade Zones requiring approval for expatriate quota and/or utilizing custom services in matters of export and import, must show proof of compliance with this Act in respect of payment of training contribution of its employees and all regulatory agencies of the Federal, States and Local Governments shall ensure compliance with section 6(1)-(3) of this Act”.
“In addition, Section 14 which provides that: “The Director-General may require any employer to furnish such returns and other information and to keep such records and produce them for examination by or on behalf of the Director General as appears to the Director-General to be necessary for carrying out his functions under this Act” is amended by substituting the existing provisions with new provisions.
“Section 16 of the prevailing Act with its narrow definitions of the words Contribution, Employers, Employees and Industry, has created a lot of loopholes that have over the years led to a plethora of litigations which to be modest, have cost the Fund a lot in terms of finances, in prosecuting or defending these suits.
“If the proposed amendment of this section is granted, it will go a long way in mitigating the effects for both the Fund and recalcitrant organisations”.
Need for skilled population
In hitting the nail on the head at the public hearing as regards rising population and the need to leverage on it on the template of productivity, through skilled workforce, Sir Ari said: “I wish to restate that the passage of these amendments will serve to expand the scope of our operations and enhance our activities.
“In addition, the amendments are especially imperative now that unemployment in Nigeria has been estimated by the National Bureau of Statistics Unemployment and Underemployment Report of Q4 2020, to be over 23 million Nigerians despite several surveys indicating the existence of vacancies in several sectors of the national economy that could not be filled because of the lack of requisite skills, which underscores the need for all hands to be on deck to ensure that as many Nigerians as possible are equiped with relevant and contemporary skills.
“The amendments are equally pertinent when you consider the recently released 2022 World Population Prospects by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs that projected that Nigeria’s population will hit 216 million by November 2022, and 375 million by 2050.
“Therefore, if necessary measures are not put into place by empowering this youth bulge with skills for employability and entrepreneurship, the socio-economic problems that we are currently contending with in the country will conceivably escalate.
“In a nutshell, an amendment of the Act will enable the Fund to expand its infrastructure to be able to accommodate as many Nigerians as possible that are willing to acquire skills for the national growth and development of the country”.
Acceptance of proposal by relevant stakeholders
After the presentation by the ITF boss, representatives of other critical stakeholders in the Labour Sector like the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Nigeria Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) etc. threw their weights behind the proposed Amendments to the 2011 Act of ITF .
Specifically, President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Engineer Mansur Ahmed represented by Abuja Liaison Officer, Adeyemi Folorunsho, said ITF should further be empowered through passage of the proposed bill.
According to him, in a recent conference on skills and vocational trainings across the countries in Africa, ITF was proposed to be the flagship of such trainings which are to be facilitated by 3m Euro grants.
Since there was no dissenting voice cum submissions against the proposed amendment bill, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Industry, Senator Adetokunbo Abiru (APC Lagos East), in his closing remarks said the amendments being sought in the ITF Act, were very necessary towards making Nigeria move with global trends as far as globally competitive skills trainings are concerned .
“In doing this, as suggested in the Amendment proposals, capacity of ITF in carrying out its operations, will be strengthened by way of further refocusing its activities in line with emerging trends and global practices “, he stressed .
With roughly nine months to the expiration of tenure of the 9th National Assembly, it is expected that the Amendment proposal entitled: “A bill for an Act to Amend the Industrial Training Fund Act (2011) and for Related Matters”, will be given the required passage in Senate, concurrence by the House of Representatives and Presidential assent by President Muhammadu Buhari.