(By Iheanyi Ezinwo)-Nigerians have been urged to place less emphasis on certificates and pay more attention to skills development in order to empower the youth to establish new business ventures and contribute to the Gross Domestic Product.

This observation was made by Prof. Okey Onuchukwu, Director of University of Port Harcourt Business School, in a chat with Notable Outcome Publisher, Iheanyi Ezinwo, in his office, in Port Harcourt. The professor of Economics, who stressed that institutions of higher learning are playing their part by providing opportunities for students to learn and acquire relevant entrepreneurial skills, believes that it is left to each student to decide what to make of the opportunities.

His word: “We have introduced entrepreneurial courses at different levels – year three and four. In year four, they do more of practical. Those that want to engage in Stock Exchange, for example, also have opportunity to do so. This thing depends on those that are involved in the programme.

“ A student might finish and won’t even take it serious. I know that even in the university here, we have an entrepreneurial centre where students go to learn practical skills, turn by turn. Skills that are available include furniture work, cake making, hair design, how to do some analysis using some kind of packages. In my own department , apart from the entrepreneurship they do, in econometric laboratory they learn how to analyze data. You know that is one particular skill that can also help when they leave school.

“There are different areas: it depends on how serious the students are. Some might just participate just to pass the course, and others might take it serious and then learn something out of it. I recall that one of my students, who graduated two years ago now has a shop where he does printing, design and related jobs for people.

“These are the skills he acquired in school and then had some little money to set up the business. He is doing good quality printing jobs and I have given him jobs to do for me. If he expands on that, and God willing, he gets the necessary resources you can see that the guy will become a full entrepreneur.

“Apart from the theory of entrepreneurship which we teach students on how to set up business, how to raise funds and manage finances and so on, we also do practical work: and for those that are serious, I think they can learn out of it. We also know that students do Industrial Training (IT). And when they do IT, they do some practical work.

“Some of them, after that IT they acquire skills which they use after graduation. There is this final year microbiology student who said she wants to go into food microbiology, an area that many people are not paying attention to. The student said she is even planning to learn how to make cake, cook, event management and all that; and that is her thinking.

“How did she get that idea? It is because of what they are learning in that area. So, if she comes out and develops it , she might become an employer of labour tomorrow. So this thing depends on, not only the teaching that we are doing but on the student themselves: to acquire the knowledge and do something with it.
“ Some people believe that once you finish first degree there is no need for technical skills; they wait for bank and other white collar jobs, but you know the economy is no longer like that. That’s why I tell people that we should begin to de-emphasize this certificate thing and begin to train people on skills that will help them develop their own businesses.

“The reason is because when you have various micro businesses, you will grow the economy. If you look at the Asian Tigers, take Japan for instance, over 60 percent of their Gross Domestic Product come from micro businesses. So we can learn from them to grow our economy”, Prof.Onuchukwu summed.