How skills upgrading can go national – from a rubbish start!

Nigeria’s runner-up in the European Training Foundation’s Green Skill Awards 2022 knows how to upscale.

Goodness Tamuno Kelechi-Ahunanya started from scratch with a waste recycling business she turned into a training organisation Operation Skill Them Up.

As a young graduate – and female jobseeker – Goodness struggled with sexism and discrimination when she went job hunting. Dejected and depressed she had a flash of inspiration and began turning scavenged rubbish into useable items – pieces of furniture from old tyres and plywood, arts and crafts from other waste.

With garbage plentiful and free to scavenge on the litter-strewn streets of Sokoto, a city of around 500,000 people in the extreme north-west of the country, close to the border with Niger, the economics worked.

Once her business was up and running, Goodness realised that she could help others facing similar employment challenges and launched her schools-based Operation Skill Them Up to share her knowledge.

“If students and teachers have access to entrepreneurship skills, it enables self-reliance, job creation and human and economic development,” she reasons.

Her win in the Green Skills Awards has her thinking bigger.

To up-scale the sustainability of her project, she sees only one way: partnership or collaboration with government, NGOs, the private sector and donor organisations involved in skills training programs for economically and educationally disadvantaged students.

“Human capital is a country’s greatest national resource. The inadequate job of preparing students for jobs threatens our nation’s economy,” she says.

By establishing “effective, efficient and well-equipped Skill Acquisition Centres” in key urban and rural communities a new generation of entrepreneurs can be empowered, she believes.

An approach that aims to provide students with “starter kits” to set up their own small businesses after graduating from secondary school could be a game changer.

Students that are empowered to become self-reliant can “serve as catalysts for economic growth and development.” And with a reduction in high rates of poverty, violence and insecurity can also be tackled. By reusing waste material key green challenges are also tackled and cleaner communities also mean lower rates of environmentally-borne diseases.

Goodness has many examples of success stories and singles out a couple that exemplify the approach of Operation Skill Them Up.

“Supreme Amapu was one of our relentless graduates who is making a successful strive from all he learnt,” Goodness says.

“He’s a university graduate and with no job then, but now he’s an employer of labour. He’s the owner of Twins Craft Collections located in his home town. He decided to site his business there to promote Skills Acquisition Training, and engage restive youths into meaningful activities.”

She also highlights Eldorado Igbikiala, a contract teacher in a rural community, who went onto become a coordinator for Skills Acquisition Training in her school.

“During weekends she travels to nearby communities to train youths in different skills,” Goodness notes.

And there is diploma student, Naomi Eremie who could not continue in education due to financial constraints.

“She participated in our skills training and after graduation she now manages a local leadership-based cultural pageantry that emphasises community involvement, “ Goodness says.

Contestants attend a 2-week boot camp designed to prepare them not only for the pageant but also for human relations and Skills Acquisition Training. Currently, she is funding her Higher National Diploma from the sales of products she makes.

Goodness has some concise advice for those who may wish to enter next year’s ETF Green Skills Awards:

  • Tell a brief story about the birth of the project
  • Be clear about the vision and mission of the project
  • Use different media - pictures, videos etc. – to help explain what you are doing
  • Be optimistic, realistic and accurate, have faith and work hard.

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