Artisans and Our Skills Gap

I frequently refer to artisans as the third leg of Nigeria’s axis of evil, after politicians and civil servants. I believe that if, or whenever, politics and the civil service are eventually fixed, artisans will still be the one thing holding us back.

In a sense, I exaggerate but we all use tailors, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc and have the scars to show their skills deficiencies. Plumbing simply never ends in most houses. In spite of the “German foundation” damp rises in in almost everyone’s walls in Lagos. Your electrician will fry your switchboard and vanish. Then, the tailors and carpenters – do I really need to justify their inclusion in this horror show?

And in this instance, we know it’s just a Nigeria thing. Growing up, the best basket-weavers were Ghanaians (but we drove them out, didn’t we?) and the best-tailors were francophone (les Togolaises et les Senegalaises). Right now, in masonry, that brick/stone effect that people do on their walls, the best people to do it are the Beninois and the Togolese. Why is it only in football that our non-skilled labour trumps that of our neighbours along the West-African coast? What is that they do differently? I actually do not have an answer to that question but I know, from short spells in Abidjan and Porto Novo that the lifestyle is very different from ours. Attitudes also seem to be different, with the Porto Novo experience particularly underscoring this.

For a period of about three months, during the ASUU-enforced two-year break between secondary school and university (circa 1995), my uncle and aunty dumped my cousin and I at the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo. The Songhai Centre is an agricultural skills acquisition “school” where students from all over the Benin Republic come to train before moving on to large-scale, commercial farms. The food was not to my liking and we (my cousin and I) spent more time watering the crops than anything else (arosser!) but I recall one of the students saying how he needed to complete 24 months at Songhai to become employable at a larger farm. At the time I thought, 24 months to learn how to plant, weed and water crops? Who has time for that? These days, especially after an artisan has come to do remedial work, for the 5th time, on work he did shoddily, I wonder whether he had any structured training at all.

More recently, I have met two Togolese masons who are both frequently contracted to come and work in Nigeria. One of them came to our meeting in an LR3 (so he’s done okay for himself). He also spoke about attending a training school for a few years and then working as an apprentice under a master-builder. I doubt very many of our masons are crossing the borders in the other other direction.

Perhaps it’s the easy-going life that they live that reduces the pressure we have in Nigeria to achieve more over less time. Maybe it’s therefore easier for them to contented. Perhaps their societies are more accepting of people who don’t have university degrees. We need to find out whatever it is that makes them stay long enough in skills schools to properly learn trades and just copy.

The reality is that we don’t have enough corporate jobs to employ everyone who has undergone higher education in Nigeria. There is also a stark hierarchy, where employers are concerned, of graduates from tertiary institutions: Federal Universities (there’s even an elite sub-class in there) > State Universities > Polytechnics > Colleges of Education.

Finally, employers generally pay higher salaries to people with foreign degrees, a premium for the better education they’ve ostensibly received. Clients generally pay more for lawyers renowned to be more highly skilled in an area of law than others.

Would we as consumers be willing to pay thrice as much for properly trained and qualified technicians and artisans?

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4 thoughts on “Artisans and Our Skills Gap

  1. Your post is on point. I was excited when I got to Nigeria, saw all those beautiful town houses and estates springing up, but terribly disappointed with the poor finishing. The other thing about our artisans is their propensity to lie, cheat & dodge! Are you sure you won’t upgrade them to the second leg of the ‘axis of evil’? (lol!). However, what is painfully true is that they are a reflection of society in general!

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    • Yes it is a shame to see those nice, pretty houses with crooked walls and badly installed fittings. Would love to upgrade them to No. 2 on the axis(hehehe) but politicians and civil servants truly take the cake!

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  2. I would gladly pay thrice as much for good service because you know what? When the job is done poorly, you end up wasting so much more time and money and some of them critical to human safety (mechanics) simply cannot be negotiated with. It’s appalling to put it mildly

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