The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has said that the wide skills gap among the youths was one of the major causes of unemployment in the country.

Mr Segun Awolowo, Executive Director of the council, made the remark while speaking at the graduation ceremony of trainees of garment manufacturing at the AGOA-NEPC Human Development Centre (HDC) in Lagos on Wednesday.

Awolowo said this on the backdrop of the recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics which showed that the unemployment and underemployment rate in the country had risen to 13.3 percent, between the first and second quarters of 2016.

The bureau said 26 million Nigerians were either unemployed or underemployed.

“There is a huge skills gap in this country, and it’s so painful we have an increasing rate of unemployment, the youths are complaining of lack of jobs, while industries are complaining of low personnel.

“For instance, this training session is just the tip of the iceberg, because we were only able to accommodate 75 students, out of over 1000 applications we got.

“The training has been useful, as we have a handful of trainers who have nurtured them on garment making with international standards, but is this number enough?

“This is why we have partnered with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the United Nations Development Organisation (UNIDO) to develop a research on key areas where skills need to be honed.

“The partnership will be published, and by then, we should be able to say there are certain numbers of skilled professionals, or artisans, or potential trainees in a particular field.

“This is why we keep emphasizing that we prepare ourselves for opportunities in various sectors, because the world is waiting to buy from our innovations and ideas,” he said.

Also speaking at the event, Mrs Omoyemi Akerele, Chief Executive Officer, Style House Files, a partner of the project, said that Nigeria needed more garment manufacturers than tailors.

According to Akerele, garment manufacturing which entails mass production for the local and international market, is the best way the fashion industry can generate revenue and create jobs for the youth.

She said that the next batch of the training would begin in 2 weeks and also appealed to government to lend more support in the area of infrastructure, which primarily included machines and power supply.

Mrs Omolara Aromolaran, Founder, Crown Natures, a garment manufacturing company, said that the training was essential for job creation in the country.

Aromolaran said that she would be giving immediate employment to 25 of the graduands to encourage them to work harder, instead of going out idle.

One of the students, Osariemen Faith, said that the training would help her to prepare better to go into mass production and employ more youths, other than just being a fashion designer.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige has hinted at the possibility of getting the informal sector to enjoy the benefits of the Employees Compensation Scheme (ECS).

The scheme by default is restricted to the formal sector of the economy, however the Minister has constituted a technical team to work on the possibility of extending it to the informal sector.

Dr. Ngige revealed this in Abuja while welcoming the Senate Committee on Labour and Employment to the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) headquarters, explained that one of the challenges facing the implementation of ECS is extending its coverage to the informal sector of the economy, explaining that the difficulty is as a result of the flexibility of the informal sector’s earnings.

The Minister who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr Clement Illoh, however expressed optimism that the challenges would soon be surmounted as the Ministry has constituted a technical committee to work on the expansion initiative.

The Minister noted that the statutory functions of parastatals under the ministry are well articulated to ensure national growth and development.

The Minister lauded the Senate committee for supporting the parastatals under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, saying such gesture would boost productivity for national growth and development.

On his part, the Acting Managing Director of the NSITF, Ismail Agaka, has urged the National Assembly to expedite legislative action on the proposed expansion of the social security mandate of the Fund.

Agaka assured that NSITF would not shy away from its principal responsibility, which is the judicious implementation of the Employees’ Compensation Scheme, noting that, “since NSITF began the implementation of ECS, which replaced the Workmen’s Compensation Scheme, it has settled claims of over seven thousand workers to the tune of N700 million”, adding that the beauty of the ECS, is being “a no fault scheme, meaning that NSITF must pay even if the employee is at fault.

“Over 45, 000 employers have already been registered for the ECS. We however solicit the support of the Committee to help the Fund extend the Scheme to Nigerian employees who are not yet covered, in whose interest the Scheme was designed.”

The NSITF boss promised that every contribution to the Fund would be accounted for as its transparency and accountability hallmark, saying the money contributed by the employers is entrusted to NSITF for safe keeping.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour and Employment, Senator Suleiman Nazif, who led the delegation, said by the working visit, the Committee was exercising its constitutional oversight function, noting that such visit presents an opportunity to interact with NSITF management staff, listen to their challenges and ask questions, so that the Committee could assist the organisation achieve its goals.

Speaking further, Nazif said that the Committee would also look critically into the strategic implementation plan as contained in the Fund’s 2016 budget, study the 2017 budget proposal and make necessary inputs, in order to ensure greater transparency and accountability.

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