By Sir Joseph N. Ari (KSM)
The Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) remains one of the Industrial Training Fund’s most enduring contributions to human capacity development in Nigeria.
The Scheme emerged in 1973 out of a study by the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), which indicated a gap between knowledge imparted to students of tertiary Institutions and obtainable practices in industries.
Prior to its commencement, most graduates, especially of Engineering, Technical and allied disciplines from Nigerian tertiary institutions were perceived to lack Adequate practical skills and technical knowledge Required for employment in industries as the theoretical knowledge taught in tertiary institutions was clearly not responsive to the prevailing needs of employers of labour.
The primary objectives of the Scheme, which fully came on stream in 1974, was to provide an avenue for students in institutions of higher learning to acquire industrial skills and experience in their course of study, prepare them for the industrial work situation they are to meet after graduation, and expose them to work methods and techniques in handling equipment and machinery that may not be available in their institutions.
Other objectives of the Scheme included to make the transition to the world of work easier and enhance students’ contacts for later job placement, provide students with an opportunity to apply their knowledge in real work situations thereby bridging the gap between theory and practice, and to enlist and strengthen employers’ involvement in the entire educational process as well as to prepare students for employment after graduation.
Until 1978, the ITF was solely responsible for funding and managing the Scheme. However, soaring operational costs owing largely to the increasing number of participants compelled the handover of the Scheme to the Federal Government, which then handed its management to the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).
Due to some challenges, the management of the scheme was again reverted to the ITF, this time in liaison with the National Universities Commission (NUC), the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and later the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE).
Funding was, however, to be the sole responsibility of the Federal Government. At inception, SIWES had 784 students of accredited disciplines from 11 participating institutions, which gradually increased as the Scheme gained more popularity and acceptance as it became a prerequisite for graduation.
In addition, a combination of the Establishment of more public and private Universities, Polytechnics/Monotechnics and Colleges of Education; accreditation of disciplines other than the technical engineering and allied courses that the Scheme was initially intended for, and the increase of admission quotas of most tertiary institutions by the Regulatory agencies ensured that participation in the Scheme soared astronomically.
Along with the increasing number of participants came other challenges. Whereas participants continued to rise unabated, budgetary appropriations for the Scheme, especially in the last ten years, occasionally did not reflect such soaring participation.
Rather than a commensurate increase in budgetary allocations to accommodate the increasing numbers, appropriations for some years fell short of what was required to completely offset students/supervisory allowances.
Occasionally, even these inadequate appropriations were frequently not fully released. Coupled with this, was the late release of budget allocations, which occasioned a situation where appropriations for a particular year were used to offset the allowances for previous years.
This inconsistent and delayed release of funds meant that participants were paid in arrears. But beyond this, the unique management arrangement of SIWES, which involves the ITF, the Supervisory agencies-the NUC, NBTE and the NCCE- and tertiary institutions, is fraught with its own difficulties.
This complex Management structure has ensured that any failure or tardiness along the chain severely impacts the management process, including payment of students and supervisors allowances.
For instance, before payments are made to participating Students, several laid down processes have to be followed.
First, the tertiary institutions have to compile and forward list of prospective students to the Supervisory agencies. The Agencies, in turn forward the list to the ITF for verification to ensure that among other things, all the participants are from SIWES accredited disciplines, confirm that the names on the list are not duplicated and ascertain the accuracy of the account details.
This verification exercise is conducted by the Fund, in collaboration with tertiary institutions. Any failure or delay at any stage of this process negatively impacts the Scheme especially the payment of allowances.
It is also noteworthy that even where all the processes have been followed and despite all efforts at enlightening prospective participants, some students still submit account details of parents and other relatives thereby further complicating the payment process.
Despite efforts at awareness by the ITF through orientation seminars before students proceed to their places of attachment and other stakeholders’ inputs, this problem still persists.
Another challenge is the misconceived notion by students of tertiary institutions that any student on any form of attachment is entitled to payment under SIWES. It will be recalled that when the Scheme commenced, it was restricted to particular disciplines.
Though the number of accredited courses and disciplines have increased over the years, most students are unaware that not all disciplines are accredited under the Scheme.
Any student on attachment outside of accredited disciplines is therefore, not entitled to the stipend. Complaints of non-payment of allowances have mostly come from this group.
Other challenges include irregularities in the calendar of tertiary institutions which has resulted into a situation where participants are unable to fully complete the six-month period expected of students of universities and four months for those of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, late submission or failure to submit master and placement lists of students going on attachment to supervisory agencies for approval and subsequent verification by the ITF, lukewarm attitude of some students to participation in the Scheme, rejection of students by some employers of labour and improper placement of students in line with their course of study amongst others.
In the face of these challenges, the ITF has strived to meet all its commitments in the Scheme, particularly with payments of students and supervisors allowances, especially under the leadership of the incumbent Director-General, Sir Joseph N. Ari.
Records between 2012 and 2018 indicate that a total of N11,734,560,723.00 was paid as students and supervisory allowances of 2,122institutions.
Of the figure paid, N4, 177,177,232 was paid-by the current Management. Apart from the payments, the ITF has expanded avenues and platforms for greater interaction with stakeholders. For example, the SIWES Conference, which is an avenue for all stakeholders to brainstorm on the Scheme, and which has over the years generated remarkable recommendations towards the effective management of the Scheme, are held more frequently.
Furthermore, to ensure that employers of labour accept Students on attachment, the Fund has included acceptance of students as one of the pre-conditions for payment of reimbursement to contributing employers. This has greatly improved acceptance of students on SIWES by employers of labour.
Despite the Fund’s efforts, there is a greater need for all stakeholders to chip in their bit for SIWES to function seamlessly given the multifarious challenges that currently assail the Scheme. From the Federal Government, the Supervisory agencies, tertiary institutions to the students, every stakeholder should show greater responsibility and play their roles.
The Federal Government, for instance, should ensure full and timely release of funds allocated to the Scheme. The tertiary institutions and the students should on the other hand ensure prompt submission of master and placement lists of students and the provision of accurate personal bank details respectively, as cases of account names not corresponding with students’ names lead to non-payment of allowances.
In addition, tertiary institutions should ensure regular Calendar to enable their students spend the required six-months of the training for Universities and four months for Polytechnics, Monotechnics and Colleges of Education, while employers of labour should also show a sense of patriotism by accepting students on attachment.8
It should be noted that when all stakeholders play their roles, the Scheme will continue to serve as a veritable vehicle for the provision of practical experience for students of our tertiary institutions.
Sir Joseph N. Ari (KSM) is the Director General/Chief Executive of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF)