I am a product of the apprenticeship system, but not necessarily like the regular ones we have around. It was more of a mentorship. I have told this story many times. After my NYSC, I wanted to work in one of the top oil companies in Nigeria, but that didn’t happen. This went on for about 2 years. I was jobless and I knew I had to do something about my joblessness. However, as I have always wanted to become a computer engineer having studied Electronics and Computer Engineering in the university, I knew I needed to acquire some skills because at school we were not privileged to use computers adequately enough to help develop our skills which could help cement our knowledge and insight.
What I did was work as an apprentice for 6 months with a friend. Those 6 months helped me to master the art. It helped me to acquire the skills and guided me to pick up the expertise. I got my hands dirty and was able to master the skills. I understood customer service; I understood the business angle, business management skills, problem-solving skills and so many more. Apprenticeship is not just about employability it is about is also a way to help people understand the business angle of things. Apprenticeship provides problem-solving skills, it provides a pipeline to capacity building. The apprenticeship system gives you access to the market.
We need to know that it is one thing to acquire the traditional educational skills you get from the tertiary institution, but when it comes to proper training, when it comes to understanding the role, what you need is mentorship. Handholding cannot be overemphasized. You need to walk with someone who has such experience. It is easier for you to pick up skills when you work in a small establishment. This can be likened to what you experience as an apprentice.
Also, if you are a salary earner you work within a role, but as an apprentice, you are able to learn so many skills at the same time. You are able to know the industry as a whole.
Having benefited from the apprenticeship business model, I have been able to replicate this in my company by introducing Slot Academy. In Slot Academy, we adopted the apprenticeship system. My Foundation, Ezeigbo Slot Foundation which is the company’s CSR, introduced the Slot Academy 24 years ago. The Slot Academy organizes a vocational training program for 6 -12 months, during which young people are availed of the necessary engineering skills required by the telecommunication industry, specifically the phone companies. By young people, I mean people between the ages of 18 and 35. Over 2000 young people have gone through our system. About 60 percent of these are working with us and some are working with our competitors. Most of the mobile phone engineering servicing companies today have graduated from our scholarship and graduates from our Academy. A reasonable percentage of them are also running g their businesses.
It is a system I think will help us to create more jobs and help more people to become self-employed. So, the Slot Academy is a huge success and it is a typical example of what the apprenticeship model can do. Before the advent of GSM, we were in the Computer Engineering business, maintaining, networking, and training. So when we pivoted to the GSM business, it was natural to train people on phone engineering skills. In order to ensure that we provided adequate training, we brought in a French-speaking mobile phone engineer from Ivory Coast to Nigeria to train our people, we also got a Nigerian interpreter. All this enabled us to transfer this specific skill to our people here.
The training, at Slot Academy, specifically equips trainees with the necessary industry requirements. We have some collaboration with some states in Nigeria. Through Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASVEB), every year we collaborate to train youths who benefit from a scholarship program that is provided in partnership with GIZ–a German company, interested, in vocational training for Nigerians. We are also in partnership with Edo and Abia states governments. Apart from these, we partner with some organizations such as Ikeja Electric to extend this scholarship to Nigerian youths.
The practicality of the apprenticeship system cannot be over-emphasized.