Home Feature INTERVIEW: The difference between UK, Nigeria artisan skills competition – British engineer

INTERVIEW: The difference between UK, Nigeria artisan skills competition – British engineer


Barry Neilson is a UK-based Chartered Civil Engineer who started work as an apprentice in draughtsman and progressed to complete a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering. He is currently the Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), Northern Ireland. He has been helping to envelop young people and improve businesses in the Northern Ireland Construction Industry Training Board and Sector Skills Council. After attending the maiden edition of Construction Artisans Awards and Jobs Skills Expo in Abuja recently, Neilson gives the difference between what is done in the UK and Nigeria’s skills expo. He speaks on the role of government in transforming unskilled artisans to qualified skilled workers, among other issues in this interview with Viewpoint Housing News.   

Viewpoint:  Tell us more about your work at CITB Northern Ireland.

Neilson: I had previously done some works with the British Council and through that they asked me to look at ways of partnering with Nigeria through skilled projects. I first had the experience in Jordan when a lot of people came as refugees, who were low in terms of qualification and knowledge but were eager to work.

My idea was to bring people of lower qualification into a system where they can develop themselves so that they can be employed and to start them on a ladder of training and qualification.

Viewpoint: How did you get to attend the Construction Artisans Awards and Jobs Skills Expo in Abuja?

Neilson: As part of the British Council sponsored partnership, the project identified that skill competition will be a fantastic showcase that will encourage people to come into skills and this is the same idea that C-STEmp [organizer of Construction Artisans Awards and Jobs Skills Expo in Abuja] fosters.

My experience is in my organization in Northern Ireland where we host the skills competition which over the years has been very successful in terms of winning medals. So our system has proven to provide excellence. What we do is to provide the platform through the CITB NI where we share our experiences and that is what we have done with C-STEmp and we have also provided them with our test kits that we have used in our competition so that they can learn from what we have done and develop a style that will be workable in Nigeria.

Viewpoint: How would you assess the Abuja event?

Neilson: What I can say is that the standard for selection in the UK is significantly higher than what I see in Nigeria. But then, we have been doing the competition in the UK for the past 50 years which means that we have been improving every year to get to this point today.

Also, one of the differences with the Nigerian situation is that the competition is mainly for artisans in the construction industry unlike in the UK where we have a combination of all skilled persons in different fields coming together under one roof for the competition.

So in terms of comparing it with what we do, I would say it is a success that will be improved upon in due time. I think the difference is that in the UK we have a structured system of training where all the programmes  for apprenticeship are done by the government in partnership with the private sector who provide the training ground for the unskilled workers to learn while they are been paid some money.

A competitor at the Construction Artisans Awards and Jobs Skills Expo in Abuja recently.

Viewpoint: What is the role of the private sector?

Neilson:  The role of the private sector is to employ the young people on site, to give them practical knowledge of what they have learnt and also pay them a salary and allow them to take one day a week or five days a month to attend a technical college in the city.

The difference is that an unskilled person might not be useful to an employer so the salary will not be as much as those of a skilled and experienced person, but the employers in the UK see the benefits because their drive is to have skilled workers to deliver quality jobs for their clients. All organisations in Northern Ireland deposit a certain amount of money into my organisation and through that we support employers with the training of employees.

Viewpoint: Is your organisation private?

Neilson: My organization is an arm of government that is founded by a government legislation but we are controlled by employers because the employers provide funding through levy which we use for the training and also provide grants. Through that an employer can claim grants after his employee finishes his training or gains their qualification.

Viewpoint: If the UK system is different from what is obtainable here in Nigeria, what is your advice to C-STEmp?

Neilson: My advice is that C-STEmp should look inward and come up with a system that works for them because the employers here have a different culture so they must not adopt the UK system to achieve result. I think what is important is every state should adopt a system that best works for them.

One of the gaps I saw is that I see a system that does not involve the employers and educators but I hope that they will improve as time goes on.

There certain areas I think C-STEmp can improve such as the government taking the construction artisans to the next level, in readiness to compete on the global platform and attain self-sufficiency in the construction industry.

Viewpoint: How would you assess Nigerian artisans?

Neilson: My impression about artisans in Nigeria is that of a people who are blessed with natural resources, with a large population and a people full of enthusiasm to work unlike what you see in the UK where young people are not willing to work.

Viewpoint: Apprenticeship has still not been given much regard.

Neilson: What I can tell you is that in the UK, artisans are paid higher than lawyers. Therefore, academic qualifications are not better than skilled workers because the core professionals have more competitors and the jobs are not available. And a person going to a conventional school will spend more while an apprenticeship will earn more and still acquire a degree.

This is what we have been doing [under CITB NI] in partnership with Belfast Met and other European project partners from Ireland, Portugal, Croatia and Macedonia, to develop BIMcert – a training model and toolkit to help all levels of the industry take their first, or next step to working with BIM.

Building Information Modelling has become a key requirement in the built environment, where all relevant information is created and managed through the lifecycle of a construction project and where digital and virtual reality technology can be used to provide information on every aspect of the project. It is a significant tool in the development of better energy efficiency in the construction and ongoing management of our built environment.

The partners working on BIMcert will develop a toolkit which will be used to enhance building modelling approaches to sustainable building design. CITB NI will be carrying out a survey of the industry to ascertain the current level of BIM maturity, knowledge and understanding within built environment practitioners and academia, to establish current levels of sustainable design and construction practice.

This is a once in a generation opportunity for the industry to take ownership of the development of qualifications in terms of both content and method of delivery to ensure the tools developed meet industry needs and encourage a step-change in the industry’s engagement with a technology that could improve the way we create and manage our built environment and encouraged all sections of the industry to engage with the project by contributing to the survey.



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