Mrs. Mary Katugwa is the Assistant Director/Area Manager Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Minna Area office, Niger state capital. In this interview with Senior Correspondent, Chinwendu Nnadozie, Katugwa explains some of the erroneous impressions some Nigerians have about the federal government agency and how it is adding value to the nations’ economy through advisory role, training and retraining of staff of government and corporate organisations as well as creating jobs and generating revenue. Excerpts
Please, may we know what the ITF stands for and what are the functions?
ITF is the Industrial Training Fund, a Federal Government establishment, called Parastatal ‘A’ and it is charged with the responsibilities of; providing, promoting and encouraging the acquisition of skills with the view to developing a pool of indigenous trained manpower sufficient to meet the managerial and technical skills required to meet the needs of Nigeria and her economy.
For how long has the ITF been in existence?
ITF has been in existence for about 43 years. The agency came into being precisely on October, 1971 and has been in the fore front of ensuring that Nigerians and its parastatals are bequeathed with the right skills needed to grow the nations’ economy.
Talking about skills, what kind of training or skills are different from that acquired from primary, secondary and at the various tertiary education of learning in Nigeria?
Not really, but ITF engages in lots of skills training basically aimed at developing the manpower including middle category and managerial levels and in the area of safety cutting across boards. If I understand your question well, the ITF is not trying to take the place of any of our educational institutions but it is a kind of after school’s continuous training agency for improved service delivery.
In a nutshell, why was the ITF established?
In the past, we had a lot of expatriates manning various ministries and agencies and at a point we realised that these people will one day go back to wherever they came from and there will be nobody to replace them and the jobs will suffer because expatriates were the ones doing virtually most of the jobs and the federal government was getting worried over the developments. The government realising that Nigeria needed different cadres of staff to fill the vacuum that will be left by the foreigners and therefore decided that we needed hands to fill the gaps they will be leaving behind by way of knowing the rudiments of each job and what is required therein. The ITF was borne out of the desire to fill operational gaps in government agencies, hence part of our mandate includes, recommending training for the MDs after ascertaining their training needs, engaging technical and vocational skills acquisition or training such as, welding, tailoring and refrigerator repairs training, safety and so many other areas cutting cross boards.
I need to get something clear ma; all that you have just enumerated are more of artisanship and that certainly cannot be the kind of training I think I should go for if I were a manager of a private firm or any government agency. Who are your target audience and how do you go about this training of yours?
That is why I said we engage in both managerial, middle and lower cadre training. Besides that, the ITF also engage in identifying the training needs of companies, government boards and parastatals, we refer to them as clients. Working with our clients we try to find out where they have training gaps and we come up with recommendations that would enhance working efficiency and advise that training should be organised for the category of staff to bridge the gap where necessary.
Who are your target clients?
Our target is particularly the lower and middle cadre skills cutting across most government boards and parastatals, industries, corporate and private organisations with five or more employees on its payroll. And let me emphasise again, our target is the youths.
Where does monetary commitments come in, who pays for the services or training so rendered?
Our clients are profit making organisations, industries, or private and government owned agencies boards and parastatals that are profit making across the country. And for who pays for services, the clients remit mandatorily one percent of their entire emolument annually to the ITF and in return we engage in any of technical, vocational and managerial training as the case may be, hence the name Industrial Training Fund because we also recommend certain training for their staff.
The ITF collects 1% of the entire emoluments of all registered companies that operate in Nigeria, including government agencies, boards and parastatals on annual basis?
Yes! (Laughs) ITF as the name implies basically trains and retrains and again, generates revenue from the various companies and industries that are profit making who pay us one percent of monies they make in a year. We train them and generate revenues.
The ITF must really be generating substantial sum for the country. But Ma, many Nigerians would like to know examples of your clients or customers.
Our clients cut across virtually all segments of the nations’ economy, so long as they are registered companies in Nigeria, making profit and have up to five persons on its payroll. Apart from organisations that are already there, we have example in Niger state; we have tertiary institutions like the FUT, Minna ventures, a unit of the Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna, Niger State Polytechnic, Zungeru, Niger State College of Education or is it now, University of Education, Federal Polytechnic, Bida. They make a lot of money through this their consultancy services and big companies like DANA pharmaceuticals limited and Biwater. I think these are owned by foreigners. Others are Ministries, Departments and Agencies MDAs.
From where does the negotiations start, they come to you or you go to them?
It depends, we go to them if they don’t know about their responsibilities to us, in cases of new companies, while we also remind some who may have forgotten about the need for continuous training of their staff. Like today, I was at a function and I was discussing with one of the Permanent Secretaries and we got talking on what we offer and how we can organise training for better working efficiency. We train not only managerial staff like Directors but all other cadres of staff, we train from top to down and as we train with them we as well generate revenues.
Some of the clients you mentioned are companies with just five staff, isn’t that too much tasking an organisation that is just coming up. Secondly, you did not mention anything about hospitals and faith based organisations because they also make money to expand, some of them even have chain of schools?
This is computer age whereby you cannot quantify the amount of profit made by companies by the number of staff in their payroll. As a matter of fact, in the past our clients were companies of 25 workforce and above but in the year 2011 the decree establishing the ITF was amended to take into considerations even companies that have five employees. So if you have five workers in your employee and you are a profit making venture, you pay us one percent of your entire emolument. That is it.
You generate revenue from all registered profit making organisations in Nigeria. As a federal government establishment, may we know how you manage or where you remit the funds so generated?
Let me state something clear, after collecting one percent of the entire emoluments from our clients, we kind of reimburse the organisations registered with us with 50 percent of whatever they have remitted to us in the coming year. ITF as a federal establishment is self funding, we generate money for sustenance. The essence of this transaction, that is, paying some of the money back to them, is for them to make a commitment, encourage them to train and retrain their staff for better working and managerial efficiency.
Many investors and industrialists have had course to complain about what they view as multiple taxation by government, is the ITF another tax master of the federal government and how do you get your clients to remit the monies?
I don’t think so. I would rather explain it this way, the ITF is not in any business deal, if that is what you are insinuating, but it is all about compelling all registered private, corporate and government owned agencies to set aside certain percentage of annual profit for the benefits of the ITF and the clients themselves because fifty percent of the same sum goes back to them the coming year. On your second question, we go and audit their accounts, and by doing so we know how much they will pay us as one percent of their entire emoluments. If you train you will get part of the money back. And we always explain to them that if you follow all our schedules you will understand that the benefit is not just for the ITF and government but for both the payer and the payee. That is why we compulsorily demand for one percent which is a sort of commitment and we go ahead and train you. The way we compute it from the lowest to the highest person, there will be more efficiency among personnel occupationally, at least on an annual basis and if you don’t train you don’t get part of your money back as usual.
Aside corporate organisations and government agencies you train youths and also pay them, where are they coming from and how do you get funding for that?
Like I said earlier, we do a lot of things all geared towards enhancing the workings or productivity of companies, agencies and youths as well. The young ones I am talking about are mainly students who go on Industrial Attachments or what we call IT students, we pay the IT students not from the money we generate in ITF but we get the money we spend on them from the federal government because we also manage what is called, Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) as part of our mandate because we are the custodian of the scheme for basically youths that finish from the poll of Polytechnics/Monotechnics, Colleges of Education and certain categories of courses in some Universities to improve their technical knowhow practically.
The ITF seems to have been saddled with lots of responsibilities, how does your agency work out this arrangement with school authorities. who are your clients, schools in this case?
We are constantly in touch and interact with our clients; the Universities, Polytechnics/Monotechnics, Colleges of Education before they release students for the industrial training attachment because we also supervise students who go on IT. We organise what we call SIWES orientation to prepare the candidates to prepare them especially on practical aspects of what theory they may have gone through in school.
What is the essence of students going on IT and going back to school again after some months or a year?
The essence of the industrial attachment is for the students to be exposed to the world of works, the practical aspect of what they have done or what they will do theoretical. Note that, not all universities can afford all the heavy machines required for engineering students. For example, some of the big machines they see in theory, they will be able to experiment in practice with the machines when they go for the minimum six months compulsory IT for university students and four months for polytechnics/monotechnics and colleges of education. It is compulsory for all engineering students and we have a kind of monitoring and supervision that involved representatives of both the ITF Industry Based Supervisor and the schools who are in this case our clients.
Are those in medical field included in the IT?
No, industrial training is basically for those in hand and craft related courses, particularly engineering and technical based courses. In fact, it is compulsory for engineering students because it helps them to fit into real life paid jobs or when they want to establish their own. That is why we also encourage students to go for IT in companies that handle relevant areas to their course of study.
How many institutions in Niger state do you work with as your clients as at today?
We have nine at the moment and I meet with them on a quarterly basis. What we do is to pay courtesy visits to the Vice Chancellors, Provost or Rector depending on the institution and interact with him/her and their management team. During such meetings, we do have student representatives and schools’ SIWES coordinators present in case there are grey areas that need clarifications, we try to provide answers to questions that may arise on the course of exercising our separate functions to meet desired impact. It is also during such meetings that we get to know the number of students that are billed for IT. The schools provide us with the master list used for placements of the students on IT; their matriculations number, courses of study, and again account details with which we relate with them. It is also during such interactions that we enlighten schools on the importance of making the SIWES unit very functional.
What are the challenges you encountered in the course of duties, in the payment of students or sorting out some financial issues with public and private agencies?
In carrying out our training we come across a couple of challenges on the part of some big organisations who will either not want us to know their true financial standing or not willing to set aside monies for such trainings. For the educational institutions and the students, I will not want to go into details but we have had issues with institutions in paying the students as and when due, which may have been caused by delay from the federal government. We also realised that some students were not getting the right amount or not getting anything at all until they graduate, but now we can say that things are better, the funds come in time from the Federal Government and this has made our job a lot easier. As the coordinating body, the ITF on its part has been able to pay millions of Naira to schools and their students on IT and as well as other clients outside the education sector. When students bring their details, we send them to the headquarters in Abuja, they check the names and they send the money to us or credit the students’ accounts on completion of their IT.
Have you had any cause to deny any IT student their financial benefits due to problems of them coming from private schools?
Of course, higher institutions that are not accredited usually are not part of our clients. Accreditations are done by their supervising bodies, so we work hand in hand with the education bodies like the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) before we engage in any business negotiations with them.
What has been the level of cooperation in remittances, have you encountered any form of defaults from any of your clients?
Not as much, except for new clients because ITF is almost as old as the country itself, and it is still being guided by the same policy. So I will say we don’t have much problems with the institutions. Many of them are already aware of what we stand for and they try to work along with us, and over the years they have gotten it right. The initial problems we encountered had to do with many of them not opening accounts. I remembered that we had some issues sending monies to institutions and they don’t pay the students and it was not just in our interest. Sometimes, it is also about transfers, taking over and handing over, in cases of staff transfers or redeployments and who is eligible to sign or counter-sign when the need arises during disbursements.
How frequent is the training for your clients?
Our trainings are usually on annual basis and as the mother of all trainers we also monitor whatever other training you may have acquired abroad because it is not all the trainings abroad that fit into our Nigerian system. Though, we don’t restrict people who chose to do otherwise but we know for sure that not all that claimed to be trainers are competent by way of knowing what is required at any point in time and doing it just the way ITF would do. It is just unfortunate that the culture of training is not just there among many agencies in Niger state but we try as much to correct that and ensure that they embrace the best practices of training as we also regulate other forms of training. That is why even if you engage consultants we try to be involved to know what kind of knowledge they are imparting.
Dealing with different types and people of different age groups may not be an easy task, what has been your greatest challenge working with people from different background?
Unlike what is happening in some developed states, in Niger state some of the companies are not quick in training. We have to visit them many times and continue to market the agency in order to enhance greater productivity among both the management and the staff. We have always realised that they don’t want to spend money to train but we continue to encourage them to give us a trial and it pays off, because sooner they will understand and appreciate what we are doing. We initiate stakeholders’ forum, a forum where we meet with our various clients to discuss topical issues that will be of immense benefits to all of us as family. They ask us questions and we try to provide answers on areas that will enhance better understanding and workings of both ITF and their clients or stakeholders.
Source : Independent