Home Feature INTERVIEW: ‘Through skills competition we’ve given artisans positive outlook’

INTERVIEW: ‘Through skills competition we’ve given artisans positive outlook’

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Anne Dirkling is the Director Partnership & Sponsorship, iCreate Africa, a social enterprise that is tackling unemployment through rebranding of technical skills. The crux of its campaign is that apprenticeship, unlike conventional education is more functional and responsive to the needs of the society. Last year, iCreate Africa held the first Technical and Vocational Skills Competition in Nigeria tagged iCreate Skill Fest where artisans who distinguished themselves in different trades became stars, thereby making fortunes for themselves. Speaking with Viewpoint Housing News, the Director Partnership & Sponsorship, iCreate Africa says the negative attitude toward apprenticeship is changing for the better.

Viewpoint: iCreate Africa did a skills programme in Abuja in October last year. What happened at that event?

Dirkling: iCreate Skill Fest 2018 which was hosted in Abuja on the 26th and 27th October at the A Class Park in Maitama, has been the biggest vocational skills competition ever witnessed in this country till date. 14 different skill trades across various sectors like Construction and Building, Creative Arts, Hospitality and ICT were featured and we enjoyed participation from the ECOWAS region. The screening process of the final competitors was rigorous and the maturity of the competition was world class niveau.

What informed this initiative and the establishment of iCreate Africa was for us to create awareness that a career in any technical field must be promoted in order to raise the profile and the recognition of skill professionals in this country. Through Skill Competitions, alongside side events such as industrial exhibitions, business pitches, panel discussions and an ultimate prestigious award ceremony that celebrates the winners as iCreate Skill Champions, we are actually able to rebrand skills and project the value of skills and thus encourage the youth to consider a vocational trade as a viable career option.

Viewpoint: Who won the star award?

Dirkling: While we had participants from Ghana and Sierra Leone also, all winners are Nigerians from different geo-political zones with different backgrounds. Even though being graduates, most of them found were unemployed or at least underemployed prior to the competition. With 14 different skill competitions from Carpentry to Plumbing, Bricklaying and Floor and Wall Tiling from the Construction industry segment to Garment Making, Barbing, and ICT-related categories such as Robotics, we have crowned 14 first winners as iCreate Skill Champions.

All second and third positions have equally been awarded with respective prizes, ranging from cash prizes to apprenticeship opportunities, internships, commissioned works and job placements. Also top-class precision tools and equipment were donated to all our Construction industry champions by our valued partner Robert Bosch Nigeria Limited. Such encouragement and commitment by our partners makes a big difference for the participants as it has a direct effect on the skill excellence and accuracy of their works. None of them has ever worked with such sophisticated tools before.

All participants have shown a tremendous amount of dedication, zeal, talent and skills that must be nurtured and promoted, so it’s not only about the first winners. Surely, they do play important role as brand ambassadors for the “new face of skills” which we promote.

Viewpoint: So what has happened since after that competition?

Dirkling: First of all, for us to change the societal perspective about technical skills, we need to write success stories. For us to achieve this, we are promoting our winners as celebrities and youth role models through media tours and exposure.

After the official post-event press conference at Sterling Bank Headquarters, we went to various media houses, TV and radio stations. Our trusted partner Trace TV profiled the Champions in interviews to inspire other youth by revealing their skill journey so to say. We had professional photo shoot which projected them in a complete new light with newly designed costumes and uniforms for the different skills sets. You will see the result of this in our campaign for the upcoming Skill Competitions.

Some Champions have been absorbed by ICreate as our full-time staff, some have been given commissioned work and undergoing training or an internship program. All 45 winners will be receiving entrepreneurship training by Sterling Bank Plc.

Our Skill Hub and training center is currently under construction which will incorporate co-working spaces, a Makersspace, training facilities and incubation programs. Any interested party is welcome to approach for more information on this. Our iCreate Skills App is about to be launched which shall be a direct interface and one-stop shop for skills.

While we are preparing for our attendance at the World Skills Kazan 2019 in Russia in August, we are looking forward to host even four Skill Competitions this year: three regionals across the zones in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos and the finals in Abuja in December.

There is certainly a lot in stock to shake this system and wake up all relevant stakeholders that we must invest in technical skills and youth skills acquisition programs.

Champions at the iCreate Skill Fest 2018 hosted in Abuja

Viewpoint: Have you followed the participants in your skill expo to say because of the event they have got some benefits?

Dirkling: I just mentioned the various trainings and commissioned works as well as other interesting prospects that will await the participants.

Beyond this, we have successfully signed up some of our Skill Champions as Brand Ambassadors for corporate bodies i.e. Oladiti who has an amazing job in the Tiling competition was signed up by Cachez Group, a leading real estate developer firm based in Abuja with an impressive portfolio. We can testify to a lot of impactful results post the event.

Viewpoint: Have you any training centre or you just do expo?

Dirkling: Our core mandate is not based on training, but to lay the foundation for and show why more investments into the skill eco-system are necessary and beneficially to the entire TVET value chain, the economy and society at large.

While the Skill Hub is under construction, we depend on agreements and arrangements with partners to cover training through programs. Later, we will launch training programs in collaboration with the relevant bodies like NBTE, ITF and other partners. We are just a good year old and want to grow organically. We cannot do it all and be everywhere. As much as we wish to take up everything, reviving the educational sector in Nigeria remains a common effort of many stakeholders.

Viewpoint: You attended the artisan expo in Abuja last week. What is your assessment of the event?

Dirkling: For us, it was extremely encouraging to see that government and the private sector can put up such credible event for the construction sector. Exactly what iCreate Africa is doing. The Artisan Expo honoured the work of the skill professionals in this country. We simply cannot have enough of it. We were pleased to see that other skill trades like painting and welding were represented.

The attendance was equally encouraging. The Presidency sent in His Excellency, the Honorable Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola, a very able representative. Such gesture is important and sends important signals to the youth.

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