Sunday, August 14, 2022

Life Changing Opportunities: A Tale of Skills Acquisition in The Gambia

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By Ndey Sowe

Muhammed Cessay, the Founder of Prospective- a satellite Installation company in The Gambia in early 2018- received a scholarship package from Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) through its SKYE Fund to study satellite installation and receive programming at Sterling Technical Training Institute.

 “This was a life changing opportunity for me as it equipped me with the necessary knowledge and skill, which enabled me to be earning decent income and create employment opportunities for many other young Gambians,” he said.

Muhammed was one of the many young Gambians who had no hope of making it in the country. He believed that there were no opportunities in The Gambia and sees the irregular migration to Europe (known as back-way in The Gambia) as the only way to charge his life at the time. But Muhammed’s mindset suddenly changes, thanks to the YEP and Sterling Family for their support. He started his business and created employment for other youths.

“In 2019, YEP approved me for a mini-grant worth D47, 000 to start up my business. I opened a shop where I sell all kinds of satellite and electronic materials to make profit from both installation and sales of materials,” he said.

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As his business grows, Muhammed trained 5 young Gambians who were jobless to become qualified satellite installers. He would also train 15 intern students from the Sterling Technical Training Institute. Among the 15 interns, 4 are females who are now running their own businesses.

“In 2019, I benefited from the YEP entrepreneurship training to learn more skills on how to manage and run my business. They also patronized my business by giving me contracts to install satellite dishes for them in various youth centers in different regions in The Gambia,” he said.

When Covid-19 popped-up its ugly face, businesses were closed and a lot of Small and Micro Enterprises (SMEs) struggled to keep their businesses going.

YEP chipped in and supported many with cash  amounting to thousands of dalasi for women and youth-led businesses in The Gambia. This support helped many entrepreneurs to pay rent, salaries and prepare better for post Covid-19.

Muhammed said the min-grant support contract from the International Trade Center through the Youth Empowerment Project (ITC-YEP), which was a Covid-19 support package, went a long way to increase his customer base and his monthly sales from D20,000 to over D100,000.

“I was a mini-grant beneficiary in 2019 and in 2021 I am a supplier of satellite materials to other mini-grant beneficiaries. The SKYE-Fund is one of the best youth empowerment projects ever implemented in The Gambia and I encourage fellow youths to apply for the YEP SKYE-Fund,” Muhammed disclosed.

The Third SKYE Fund Programme

On Wednesday, 13th October, 2021 stakeholders launched the third model “SKYE Fund Programme” funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa through the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and Jobs Skills and Finance. The initiative was implemented by the International Trade Center (ITC) in coordination with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Trade.

The third cycle of the SKYE Funds will sponsor new technical and vocational training opportunities for 860 Gambian youths who are not in employment, education or training and youths and women interested in enhancing their skills. The SKYE Fund is a results-based competitive funding model that ensures training graduates meet industry requirements, or in the case of self-employment, successfully meet market opportunities.

Muhammed encouraged the ITC and its implementing partners to keep supporting the youths through skills and entrepreneurship training as well as providing start-up support for them. He also encouraged youths to make the best use of the opportunities available.

Providing skills, entrepreneurship training and supporting start-ups are key factors in addressing youth unemployment in The Gambia. That is exactly what YEP did through its SKYE-Fund, this impacted on the lives of many youths that led to better and improved socio-economic standards of many young people in the country.

Two years back, the Ministry of Higher Education with support from ITC and the European Union validated the TVET Roadmap, which was built through an inclusive process with all stakeholders. The roadmap sets out strategic actions to improve relevant, equality, and accessibility to Technical Vocational and Educational Training (TVET) in The Gambia. These include the development of TVET policy, the TVET roadmap which was launched in 2019, and revamping TVET centers with Ndemban Skills Center being the most recent one.

Mod MK. Secka, the permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Higher Education

“Skills development is central to the development of The Gambia. The TVET sector is the bedrock for employment and growth. Therefore, our National Development Plan (NDP) prioritizes the creation of a skills-based economy that will serve as a catalyst for job creation, value addition and sustainable economic development,” said Mod MK. Secka, the permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Higher Education.

He added that together with its development partners, his ministry is undertaking numerous projects to decentralize TVET delivery and improve the quality of training.

Mod MK. Secka, the permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Higher Education

“Investing in skills and TVET is a very effective strategy to create employment and boost socio-economic development. The results from our previous training have shown how the skills have helped young Gambians find jobs, and create companies of their own,” said Modou Touray, the Technical Adviser and Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the International Trade Center.

Touray said the ITC is determined to keep on supporting the TVET sector and continue investing in skills training. He assured to work hand in hand with government, key institutions, associations, and development partners, including their Tekki Fii program partners to implement the TVET roadmap and its strategic initiatives.

Youth unemployment and underemployment is one of the defining development challenges in the Gambia. The 2018 Labour Force Survey recorded a youth unemployment rate of 41.5%. The share of young people who are not employed and are not involved in education or any training activities was estimated at 56.8%.

Photo: Ridwane Abdul Rahman, Programme Manager European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa

Ridwane Abdul Rahman, Programme Manager European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, shared ample evidence that the SKYE-Fund and other supports will be a powerful formula to address the unemployment and underemployment challenges in The Gambia.

“I am happy that we are able to reconvene in order to launch the next round of skills training opportunities. It is also a reflection of the EU’s continuous commitment to support The Gambia and its people to meet the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP) and help create decent jobs and prosperity for all,” he said.

Photo: Fatou Badjie

Fatou Badjie, an electrician for both solar and electrical installation and also an entrepreneur currently a trainee at Sterling Training Center studying CCTV installation, is one of the beneficiaries from the YEP entrepreneurship training to learn more skills on how to manage and run her own business.

“I felt in love with the electrical work since my junior school days and upon completing my high school, I followed my passion to study electrical and prove to the young people in my community that skills and success in a discipline is not defined by being a male or female, but the commitment and hard work that one employs in that discipline,” she explained.

In her dreams and wondering what to do next, Fatou was told by a friend about YEP sponsoring a course at Sterling Training Center.

“I then say to myself, a man looking for a shade met with sun. As such, I enrolled into the solar electrical installation programme,” she narrated.

“It was a great experience with so much learning but it was challenging too, [due to] economic, social and also the distraction from friends was not helpful.”

Fatou, like many other young females in a male dominated sector, stood by the test of time. She said the experience at Sterling Training Center was life changing for her, saying their lecturers gave them everything they could, the management guided them and encouraged them not to give up always.

Upon completion at Sterling Training Center, Fatou could not find employment. But not all hope was lost. She used her entrepreneurial skills to start her own business.

“Today am very happy to say that I started my own business in both solar installation and sales of electrical materials. I have one employee last year for a start. I make a turnover of D60,000 dalasi and a profit of D20,000,” she detailed.

She applauded the ITC and EU for providing her with a life changing opportunity, without which she might be still in her dream land wondering and the stigma from society will still remain with her.

“Challenges are everywhere. That is my belief. Bad and good comments I took and still take them all. Just focusing on my dreams and working hard to see them achieved,” she advised her fellow youths, especially women.

Photo: Dr. Gibril Jaw, the Chief Executive Officer of the NAQAA

Dr. Gibril Jaw, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Authority (NAQAA), disclosed that his institution has successfully executed a series of activities funded by the ITC geared towards the operationalization of TVET roadmap strategy.

“In response to national and global demands, and in tandem with the National Development Plan, support through access to quality and relevant TVET is imperative in the transformation agenda of the ministry of higher education. We hope that more support will be accorded to TVET institutions in meeting and maintenance of national standards to ensure continuous and continual quality enhancement within TVET in the Gambia,” Dr. Jaw said.

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