‘Lagos to create ICT hub for technoprenuers’
Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti is the Lagos State Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment. Durosinmi-Etti tells JOSEPHINE OKOJIE, in this interview, that Lagos is investing in creating an enabling environment that to generate opportunities for jobs and wealth creation while opening up the value chains of other sectors of the economy.
Can you give us an overview of what Lagos State is doing to generate jobs and reduce youth unemployment?
As you are aware, rapid urbanisation comes with the attendant problem of high youth unemployment. We all know the negative effect of high youth unemployment on development. Governor Akinwumi Ambode, on assumption of office, decided to set up a ministry, the first of its type in the 36 states of the federation, to have a cabinet position that would address these issues. If we grow the small businesses and create an enabling environment for them to have access to finance, access to the market, their businesses will grow, and they will begin to employ more people. On the other hand, what are the problems of employability? We have a lot of graduates that are unemployed. Is it because there are no jobs? Is it because of the employment structure, or are there jobs and the graduates cannot fit in? Various governments have looked into these in the past and we have a lot of government initiatives right from Operation Feed the Nation, National Directorate of Employment to NAPE and the like that are all government-run. We examined all these initiatives and believe that government cannot create jobs; it is only the private sector that can create jobs.
The strategy to do this was why the Lagos State government set up the Employment Trust Fund (ETF) and said we would allocate N6.25 billion every year as soft loans for small and micro businesses, ranging from N250,000 to N5 million, and provide easy access to the funds in line with our eligibility criteria. In the past, such funds have been run by government money, but in this case its tax payers’ money.
In line with the Lagos State policy of inclusion, we let the same people who are in various sectors of the economy– the young entrepreneurs, the civil societies, organisations and young people– to be part of that machinery that set the criteria, create the methodology, to ensure that these funds get to the right people. That is why the governor set up a trust fund to be managed by a set of nine people with only two being government officials–myself and the commissioner for finance.
On the other end of the employability side, we examined the fact that there are three sets or layers of people that have been unemployed over the years. From my experience, a lot of youths don’t know where the jobs are; a lot of them don’t know they have to build up for the jobs. We also have a cognitive institution that should have, sort of, reinforced their academic education, but the skills are still lacking. We talk about the Red Cross, Boys’ Scout, Girls Guide and the like that are supposed to assist students when they are in school to build skills that are helpful when they become employed but all these are no longer there.
Also, the spirit of volunteerism is not there among the youths to learn. This is part of the things we are trying to change. We also have those batches that are middle level, that is, those that are not graduates. So we looked at how we could capture both the graduates and the non-graduates and we identified two ways –it is either you work for people or you are entrepreneurial. So we looked at how we could go back to schools and start inculcating entrepreneurship in them, so we now work with the Lagos State Vocational Educational Board that runs the technical colleges. Recently, we just graduated students from five of the technical colleges. Right from schools, they have a youth entrepreneurship club, which the state will be working with as well.
It is not about equipping them with the skills but getting jobs at the end of the day. So, it is important to carry the private sector along. We reached out to the private sector because they know the kind of skills they want. The private sector is able to say, ‘We need to address this problem together.’ Reaching out to the private sector has been very positive. They have been supportive; they know the right skills in the market. We also reached out to international development partners like Ford Foundation, UNDP, and Mercy Corps International. We work with them on our problems because we know our problems and we look at various areas of synergy to see how we can fill all the gaps. We also looked at the largely informal sectors, which include the artisans. This set of people can also access the ETF to grow their businesses. We work with the Lagos State Association of Tradesmen and Artisans. We have supported them. In the process of supporting them, we related with the artisans at different levels of their associations. We related with them and, in that process, we were able to know their problems. This set of people has been there but they are like the long forgotten lot because we do not give cognisance to them, though they contribute so much to the economy. If we do not give them the opportunity to grow, the business would not be attractive to the youths. We created a data base for them to form an artisan compendium where each of them would have a unique identification number and given an ATM card, which they can use to access credit and also healthcare for themselves and family as soon as the Lagos Health Insurance is active by law. The next thing is to put the compendium on a virtual market, where artisans are advertised online and people contact those that are closer to their locations.
What impact have these programmes had on the youths in the state?
We have the Graduate Internship Programme, where we have 2,000 graduates each year. We are working with Mactay Consulting, which screens and selects them, after which they are given three months internship placement with employers. We pay them N25, 000 monthly and some of the organisations also give them additional allowances. We have reviewed the programme to increase it from three to six months from February and pay each intern N50, 000 to make it more attractive. In addition, we are going to take more recognition of the professional sector and also catchment area policy, which is, looking at the location of the interns. There are three takeaways for graduates from the internship programs. One, if the intern works very hard, their employer will retain them. We have had cases like that. Two, the intern might decide to start their own business. We give them access to the ETF loans, which has five percent interest rate. Three, the programme has a positive peer influence on the interns to work harder.
We also looked at other sectors of the economy such as the orange economy and the no-collar economy. The orange economy is the creative art economy such as Nollywood, where we are working with Street Foundation to train youths in creative arts. While the no-collar economy is the technology side. We are working with Andela to train youths on software development and most of the youths that went through these trainings have changed jobs three times or they are on their own. There are a lot of opportunities in the ICT space that we are harnessing. There has been an organic growth in the technoprenuers in Lagos State, especially along Yaba axis. On 15,000 square meters in old Yaba, the state government is doing a large ICT hub to house all the technoprenuers in the state and we are working on it with Igbele Holdings.
For the non-graduates, we are working with the West African Vocational Education (WAVES) where we do a two-week employability skills training across the state, and also do job shadows for another two weeks where they are attached with employers.
How much has the state spent so far in funding entrepreneurs and how many youths have gone through the various training programmes?
It is not about numbers. If I want to play politics with you, I will just be mentioning numbers, but the problem on ground defies numbers. One thing we agreed in the ministry is that we should move away from is spending money on trainings, but to create an enabling environment called impact investing. When the private sector that wants the skills invest in the training, they can easily provide jobs for them, but when the state trains people and could not provide the jobs for them, it has done worst harm to the persons because they now have relative deprivation. We would create the enabling environment to generate jobs. The enabling environment will account for numbers because once the environment is there, it will generate the numbers. We need to create the environment that would give us traction where job creation would be sustainable and not haphazardly as it is done in the past. We are moving away from the mistakes of the past.
What is the state doing to assist the Federal Government drive of diversifying the economy through agriculture?
It is all an integrated approach. We have signed a contract with one of the biggest rice mills in the country and there should be a backward integration for the project. My next of line of action in the 1st quarter of 2018 is to break down the agricultural value chain, working with my counterpart in the agriculture ministry. I am very convinced that the amount of jobs that can come out of agriculture is enormous. A lot of interests rare going into growing rice now, and when you have rice mills, you are going to be talking about fabrication, automation and up-scaling skills, which is why I said that it’s all integrated and must be a sustainable approach.
There have been so much talk about smart city and it has to do with building the skills of incubations and accelerators. Where are we now regarding the initiative?
In the area of incubation and accelerators, we are coming up with the Yaba ICT hub, which I spoke about previously. In the same vein, we are talking with some of the existing hubs in Lagos constantly and would be carrying them along in the ICT hub we are building.
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