Quite pleasant, the Nigerian trainee scheme, the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) established in 1971 by a decree and democracy retouched and embellished it in 2011 with the ITF Act (as amended) is performing exceptionally in equipping Nigerians with practical skills to drive national economic productivity. ITF’s Director-General/Chief Executive, (DG-CE) Sir Joseph Ntung Ari, KSM, KSS, who is still basking in the euphoria of a renewed mandate in July 2020 was first appointed in 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
For the first time, Sir Ari has rendered the agency as a dependable springboard and fountain of solace for Nigerians desirous of practical and meaningful skills acquisition to make life easier and better. When Sir Ari was appointed in 2016, he met a parastatal in shambles, thoroughly paralyzed and its noble mandate almost gone extinct.
He promised God Almighty and Nigerians to accomplish two things; “… to work as unto God in order to transform the ITF, and to heal wounds.” It is confirmable today that ITF in the last five years under the Sir Ari leadership has outshined its preceding records since existence by breaking new grounds in its operations. The ITF is now one united and progressive family consummating its mandate to Nigerians in glorious ambience.
This is achieved through the meticulous implementation of the scheme’s agenda tagged, “ITF Reviewed Vision: Strategies for Mandate Actualization,” by Sir Ari when he sauntered on the stage as the DG-CE in 2016. And within a span of four years, the Sir Ari leadership of ITF has trained over 500,000 Nigerians in different entrepreneurial, commerce and industrial skills to birth a livelihood at their doorsteps and still counting, as it looks at the years ahead with more determination to impact positively, as over 70 percent of the ITF’s trainees are meaningfully employed or successful entrepreneurs across the country.
Amazingly and under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Sir Ari-led leadership of the ITF has more aggressively pursued its mandate of raising training consciousness in the psyche of Nigerians, generated crops of skilled indigenous manpower, certified as competent enough to superintend on the different sectors of the economy for increased national productivity.
As a leader conversant with the mandate of ITF, Sir Ari commissioned a Skills Gap Survey (SSG) , after which the agency swung into action with sure-proof training programmes to bridge the existing gaps. Therefore, in the year 2018 alone, ITF trained over 300, 000 Nigerians through its array of initiatives such as the National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP), Women Skills Empowerment Programme (WOSEP), Air-conditioning Empowerment and Refrigeration (Training on Wheels), Designing and Garment Making (Training on Wheels) for Nigerian youths, Skills Training and Empowerment Programme for the Physically Challenged (STEPPS-C).
Cumulatively, from 2016 to 2018, the ITF registered its bold imprints in training over 450,000 Nigerians, and by 2020, despite the setback of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the figure rose to over 500,000. The trained Nigerians are today actively contributing to national economy in different sectors through productive endeavors, priced employees, entrepreneurs and small-scale industrialists, with multiple multiplier effects within these work- opportunities nets in the country.
Gladly, the cake of the trainees was further iced as ITF donated start-up packs to beneficiaries to empower them play their hands on commerce and industry in their respective areas of specialized training. It is in consonance with President Buhari’s unyielding obsession to control the spiraling unemployment rate in Nigeria through job creation, promotion of self-reliance and poverty reduction in the country. And Sir Ari is efficaciously and doggedly responding to this national assignment with his accustomed religious faithfulness and zeal for excellence.
Under Sir Ari, ITF has not lost its focus. And equally commendable is its combination of the development of skills in Nigerians with other core responsibilities like research and curriculum development, reimbursements and development of key infrastructures of the agency in the pursuit of its vision of visibility and expansion to reach out to a greater number of functional players in the scheme.
Palpably, in Nigeria today, there is increased visibility of the Federal Government’s concerted efforts to engage Nigerians in productive and self-sustaining economic ventures through the instrumentality of the innovative skills acquisition programmes railroaded by the ITF under the leadership of Sir Ari (KSM). The ITF has immensely induced value-added production in industry and commerce, Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) and vocational and apprentice training programmes in aligning with its vision as the leading Skills Training Development Organization in Nigeria, which targets global ranking as one of the best under Sir Ari.
In the agriculture sub-sector, which is a prioritized agenda of the Buhari administration in economic diversification, ITF has developed the capacity of Nigerian farmers in consonance with securing the agricultural value chain. It spans areas like fish farming, poultry production, crop production, agric-mechanization, agro-business and post-harvest management, manure production, technology farm management, and water resource management among others. ITF has reactivated its undeveloped lands in states and established demonstration farms. It is also dialoguing with states like Anambra, Benue, Kano, Plateau, Gombe, Oyo, Ogun and Niger in an ambitious demonstration farms expansion initiative.
The Sir Ari-led ITF has also keyed into the Buhari administration’s e-governance policy by automating its operations for efficient and effective service delivery. ITF now conducts it training services, financial transactions, remittance of training contributions and the Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) and reimbursement online using digital technology. Of recent, in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, the agency conducted free online training to employers of labour.
To sustain ITF’s robust relationship with contributing employers, Sir Ari has ensured the appropriate and time remittance of the contributory funds to employers who have met the reimbursement criteria. A total of 510 companies were reimbursed in 2020 with the sum of over N6 billion, the highest amount ever disbursed in a single year in ITF’s history.
The ITF’s biggest impact in the period under scrutiny is the expansion of training infrastructures across the federation. Sir Ari completed structures abandoned for decades and also, built new ones. Some of these structures’ have been commissioned and functional, while others are awaiting commissioning.
Among ITF’s completed projects are the Mechatronics workshop and administrative block at the Industrial Skills Training Centre (ISTC) Kano; Lagos Island area office complex, the Katsina area office complex with an administrative and vocational wing; e-Library complex and stores at the ITF headquarters, Jos; blocks of classroom at the ITF Staff School; the establishment of six new Area offices in Lafia, Gwagwalada, Badagry, Owerri Rumoukwuta, and Abakaliki.
The expansion spree of ITF’s offices to intensify greater access of Nigerians to the programmes offered by the scheme has also reflected in waiting awaiting commissioning offices like, a Multipurpose building in Maitama, Abuja; the Gusau area office complex and vocational wing; Awka Area office complex and vocational wing; Minna area office complex and vocational wing, Aba area office complex and vocational wing; the headquarters conference centre, auditorium and gymnasium,
This is in addition to the creation of two new Area Offices in Ikorodu in Lagos state, and Gombe state. ITF has also purchased Jossy Royal Hotel, which in Bukuru, Plateau state which was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to aid the scheme train Nigerians interested in the hospitality value chain.
Whilst commissioning the new Lagos Island area office complex in Iponri, bringing the total number of the ITF’s offices to seven in Lagos state, an elated Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, endearingly stated;
“…asides the Lagos Island office, the ITF has six other offices and an Industrial Skills Training Centre (ISTC), situated at various locations within the state to ease access to its services. I dare boast that no other state in the federation has been granted this kind of privilege… permit me to congratulate and appreciate the Management of the ITF under Sir Joseph Ari for its huge successes in human capacity development and its tremendous efforts at tackling unemployment and poverty in our country Nigeria through the implementation of numerous skills empowerment programmes that have benefitted Nigerians across the country including the citizens of Lagos state.”
Sir Ari and the management of the ITF have also launched unveiled the second phase of the ITF Reviewed Vision: “Strategies for Mandate Actualization.”
The second reviewed vision covering four years is designed to remedy the lapses observed in the implementation of the first phase, build on the achievements and directly address emergent challenges of stakeholders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is ensconced in Direct Training Services, Revenue Generation and Sustainable Funding, Resource Utilization, Special Intervention Programmes, Human Capital Development, Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES), Research and Development, Automation of Business Processes and other Programmes and Services.
Based on these impactful outing of the ITF under Sir Ari, garlands of awards came from corporate bodies and the Government. The Council for the Development of the Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), chaired by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, appreciated ITF with the prestigious award of Excellence as Outstanding MSMEs Clinic Partner and the Award for outstanding contribution to the development of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Nigeria respectively. And President Buhari expeditiously approved tenure renewal for Sir Joseph Ari based on these track records of service.