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Enugu’s SME ecosystem is an important step in human capital development – Chilo Offiah

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Eneh John

In May 2020, just when the drastic effects of COVID-19 had begun to slowly wean off, the Enugu SME Center announced a new skills acquisition programme.

The programme, called the Enugu Youth Empowerment Scheme (e-YES scheme), is a training programme geared at young people in the state looking to garner high income generating tech and digital marketing skills. The scheme has gone on to be wildly successful, with many of the participants sharing positive testimonials about their experience.

Like the many other Human Capital Development Programmes under the current Governor Ifeayin
Ugwuanyi-led administration in Enugu being implemented by the Enugu SME Center headed by Arinze Chilo-Offiah, the Special Adviser to the Governor on SME Development & Investment Promotion/Director General (DG) Enugu SME Center, they offer participants an interest-free loan to access a private sector-led, intensive learning process.

At the end of this learning process, however, the programme’s facilitated access to employment for these participants, which would not only aid them in repaying their loans but also serves as a launchpad for their career in their chosen field.

“Enugu State cares about its youth. But more than that, we also believe in the immense possibilities of our youth population and are determined to invest positively in our human capital,” Offiah explained.

Since Offiah’s appointment as a Special Adviser on SME Development, his focus has been trained on making Enugu state a repository for outstanding talent, capable enough to be a part of the global talent pool.

With Nigeria’s increasing population for its innovations in the technology space, it is necessary to meet that demand with a substantial amount of skilled workers. Some of the other programmes created by the SME Center have focused on helping women who are interested in tech, find their footing. A programme like UP-SKILL HER is a notable one.

According to the scheme’s description: “The initiative is a digital skills training for women aged 20-35 in Web Design, Digital Marketing, and Graphics Design.”

Over 1,000 young women have benefitted from this scheme since its inception.

“We know how the balance can tilt away from women looking to get into any professional field, especially in the tech space, and much of what we are doing at the Enugu SME Center is making sure to fill that gap as much as can,” Offiah shares on the sentiment behind the Up-Skill Her program.

There is also the Enugu Skill Acquisition Masterclass (ESAM), whose masterclass programs have involved a class on financial literacy in partnership with Money Africa. This class was especially important for people in the grassroots, as well as budding business owners.

Another prominent scheme, whose prospects are endless for the current state of unemployment and underemployment in Nigeria, is the Jobberman Employability Skills Training. The training was designed to help employees and entrepreneurs adjust to working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is also the Enugu Jobs Portal, which is a jobs directory created in partnership with Jobberman and Capitis Global where Enugu State residents can sign up for job placements with compulsory employability training and other optional technical training.

There is also a zero-interest Human Capital Development loan created to help people whose prospective employers require a specific technical skill, to pay for those technical training. This loan can be repaid through the participant’s salary over a number of months.

Enugu State’s particularity about equipping its citizens through its various employment and SME development schemes is a template that can easily be adapted on a nationwide scale.

With unemployment rising up to an alarming rate of 33% at the end of 2020, and a more recent atmosphere of strife caused by under employment amongst a majority of young Nigerians, the future of work for young Nigerians do not really look good.

“Many of the employment schemes available on a national scale can stand to be a bit more accessible to the people they have been designed for,” Offiah says. “It is also important that young Nigerians are given the power to choose a suitable career path, which is why we empower them with the financial resources they need to get the best training possible in that line of work.”

These partnerships with private entities, whose services are the bedrock of various technological advancements are a great step in the right direction in improving human capital. This kind of partnership can be incredibly useful in the Federal Government’s youth empowerment schemes. Seeing as private entities have the expertise, it would not be far-fetched if the Federal Government can subside the funding and make this expertise accessible to young Nigerians.

Another remarkable part of Enugu’s SME schemes is the specificity of these programs. As the world of business, technology, and creativity is evolving, the need for talents who have skills in niche areas can be a good plus. In this way, it would not be enough to want people to be interested, as the current federal government has suggested in the past few months.

In all aspects of agriculture, some might take up the technical process of planting and growing crops, while others can specialize in the marketing and management of that Agricultural produce.

In Enugu, this specificity in skills acquisition can help young Nigerians excel in their industry of choice while optimizing the rest of their capabilities. As Chilo mentioned, this is a process in optimizing Enugu State’s human capital, but to take that sentiment further, these schemes are setting a vital example of what a nationwide investment in young Nigerians could look like. This is also the fastest way that Nigeria can change its socio-cultural, political, and economic landscape by deliberately investing in Human Capital.

*John writes from Enugu

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