When Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Jacob Jusu Saffa spoke about providing ‘bread and butter’ for the people of Sierra Leone, most perceived it as manna from heaven, not knowing that what he meant was to teach men how to fish and so feed them for a lifetime. Yesterday, 11 June, the Finance Minister launched the Sierra Leone Skills Development Project (SLSDP) at the Ministry of Information and Communications. He referred to the project as the “bread and butter for our youth.” Several conducted skills gap assessments suggest that our workforce lacks both foundational and technical skills, and the high cost of training is often prohibitive, especially for most domestic enterprises. SLSDP as a consequence has been conceptualised within the framework of supporting the Government’s overall human capital development agenda through skills upgrading and facilitating the establishment of a Skills Development Fund. The project is an initiative that will support the country’s capacity to increase labour productivity. The objective of the Sierra Leone Skills Development Project (SLSDP) and thus the Skills Development Fund (SDF) is ‘to develop a demand-led skill development system to support Sierra Leone’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy’. The Finance Minister said youth are mobilised more during campaigns by politicians, “but unfortunately we forget them when elections are won.” He recalled: “During one of the rallies somewhere in the south President Bio asked me what can we do for these people, that was the time we started analysing the types of unemployment. We look at the graduate unemployment, those who leave the university and unable to get jobs largely because of the curriculum… a curricular that do not match with the existing job market. You have those who cannot read and engaged in farming and you have the early school leavers who are often left in the cold. They all want jobs, but unfortunately, they cannot have the jobs because they lack the skills demanded by the labour market. So if you have to address the issue of unemployment, it is imperative that you develop the skills; without it, you would be wasting time.” “When you are trained you can either be self-employed or work for other institutions and attain a means of sustainable livelihood. That is the bread and butter. If you have to provide bread and butter for the people you have to provide them the necessary skills.” The Finance Minister further added that providing such skills is “clearly articulated in our manifesto. Among other things is the establishment of technical institutes in district levels. We are very much advanced in that and we are going to do it,” he assured. World Bank Sierra Leone Operations Officer Abu Kargbo expressed their admiration of the Government of Sierra Leone for making skills development a priority in the medium-term national development agenda under two main clusters: human capital development cluster and diversify economy and political cluster. He explained that the project is mainly funded by a US$20m loan provided by the World Bank with a counterpart funding of US$2 million from the GoSL, amounting to US$22m. The project has two components: a US$19m Skills Development Fund (SDF) component and a US$3m Capacity Building and System Strengthening component. He said the need for skills development in Sierra Leone cannot be overemphasized, adding: “We all know that countries rapidly increasing populations along with GDP demographics and heighten levels of poverty require government’s deliberate effort to improve the overall wellbeing of citizens of this country and one way to do it is to improve the labour force in Sierra Leone.” NCTVA Director Alhaji Jalloh said education is the key to development, but skills training is the master key. This project, he said, emphasises demand-led skills in key sectors of the economy. It also talks about competency-based educational training, “which means that we would be testing competence to produce rather than to explain. When our youth have the prerequisite skills they would be contributing to national development.” Acting Minister of Labour Lansana Mohamed Dumbuya said during a routine visit to the industries in Sierra Leone: “We have found out that lots of positions which should be acquired by Sierra Leoneans are not occupied by Sierra Leoneans. We are always challenged when we visit these institutions; this is because we don’t have the required skills. This project is important because at the end of the day the skills gap we have in the country would be filled.” The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, Gilbert Cooper, explained that the TVET policy was born out of the desire to address critical challenges identified in the rapid diagnostic studies undertaken by the Minister of Higher Education in May 2018. The recommendation of the study triggered a TVET policy that is relevant, flexible, effective, efficient accessible, and sustainable. Minister of Technical and Higher Education Professor Aiah Gbakima said, “It is extremely important that we now tailor our youth and give them the opportunity to do something.” The Skills Development Fund Administrator said Sierra Leone’s human capital is quite low and the quality of skills acquired in schools relative to what the economy requires is also a challenge. “Government’s intention to improve skills training in the country will go a long way in addressing the high unemployment rate in Sierra Leone. Lack of skilled labour is why companies have been coming in with foreign workers. Until we flatten the curve and change the trajectory of the imported labour force we would not be able to take care of our youth and progress.”

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