Former Minister Abel Chambeshi has an interesting Op'ed that calls for increased skills training through introduction of a training levy. The idea had allegedly been tried and opposed in the past, but the renewed quest to tackle unemployment may see the idea back on the table. Unfortunately, the article does not explore the downside of such an approach, including being a de-facto taxes on business. That said, the idea of a sustainable fund for skills and training is attractive, though the benefits to contributing businesses themselves are somewhat overstated. The idea is better coined from a national angle rather than trying to justify that this is in the interests of the businesses.
It is so refreshing to hear His Excellency Mr Michael Sata include Skills training and self employment for young Entrepreneurs, as primary tasks that will occupy the attention of his administration during his term of office.
This is as it should be, considering the fact that at present, only 3% of the population are in formal employment. It means that 97%of our people are either in informal employment or are simply idle, unemployed.Many find it difficult to understand why there should be such a high level of idle hands in a country renowned for plentiful natural resources: copper, forests, water bodies, agriculture land, other minerals etc.Such a contradiction has characterised many developing nations since their Independence from colonial rule. The continuation of such contradiction has fuelled instability in he Government of third world nations and it has spawned debate on various kinds of alleged solutions.Some of the proposals for solving these contradictions came from the ex- Colonial Masters themselves under the guise of international NGOs and through various programmes aligned with their ministries of foreign affairs.Sadly, rarely have the affected countries themselves found the courage to try out self tailored solutions.This is partly because external assistance tended to come with reward for good studentship, thereby creating a climate of custom and habit: ”Do what the teacher instructs, and you will be rewarded with more help,” that is more soft loans, more technical experts, more aid.For some strange reason, it did not appear ridiculous to us as indigenous technocrats that even rich countries like Zambia should have for many years to queue up for foreign aid to finance many of our developmental efforts.We quickly forgot what Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia warned us against in the 1960s when he said: “Those who seek independence must be prepared to fight for it rather than accept it (on a silver platter), and having won it, to stand on their own feet without dependence or without favours…” of course as time progressed, world Governance systems changed: United Nations programmes have slowly replaced donor- tailored bilateral Aid schemes (Cf.the millennium Development Goals).Of the UN-initiated or UN funded programmes themselves cannot be expected to be fail –proof; a better approach,i.e local or home grow-grown programmes, stand a better chance of success because of the aspect “ownership” in the operation of such programmes .It was against this background that in the year 2000 the top management of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Vocational Training, were alarmed at being informed by the then minister of Finance that (SAP) funding to vocational training would progressively be reduced and that henceforth, the burden of funding skills training would fall on the shoulders of parents and the end -users of the training product.Admittedly, skills’ training is expensive; Training centres require professionally trained instructors, they require imported training aides/equipment, and sometimes an internationally accredited examination system.If you are catering for hundreds of training centres scattered all over a big country like Zambia, the cost of doing so could run in to billions of kwacha, annually.And for the output of quality graduates to make an impact on the economy of a (middle income!) country, one would require massive funding, on a rolling basis, year- in year out.Training, being a long term investment, can take years to show fruits in form of quality manufactured goods and services. So, which average investor can agree to wait say five years before receiving the fruits of the investment?Cases abound where individual employers after spending millions of kwacha training technicians, end up losing such scarce assets to other employers as the staff leave to look for greener pastures.Evidently therefore, such investment need to be undertaken jointly, Government together with other stakeholders –including the trainees themselves.This is how the ministry of science and technology arrived at the solution of a training fund.The ministry asked TEVETA to popularize the idea of a contributory training fund, so that trainees, employees, as well as all employers employing a labour force of above 20 could all contribute minimum amounts each month to a training fund.The World bank graciously promised seed money amounting to $10 million and learning trips to Malaysia by staff of the ministry, and many useful lessons were learnt on how Malaysia built up an enviable reserve of artisans, technicians and technologists, how that country developed its manufacturing capacity, and how it declared (vision 2030)….that by the year 2030 Malaysia could catch up with the rest of the developed countries!Their training fund is now probably the richest single repository of people’s savings in its class in the Far East.When we came back home to Zambia we tried and sell the idea of a contributory training fund, many stake holders were up in arms.At a sensitasation meeting held at Mulungushi conference centre, one manufacturers’ representative (a naturalised Zambian) said they had enough taxes, the application of which was corrupt and off target.The labour unions themselves were un-enthusiastic about the proposed training levy and teamed up with employers to kill the proposal.Today, some nine years down the road President Sata is talking about the need to turn all ZNS centres in to centres for skills training. This is an excellent idea, but when we come down to discussing how to fund these centres, let us not get stuck in to the quagmire of the pros and cons of training levy, if indeed a general levy will be the best route by which a large scale skills training effort can be financed. Good things don’t come cheap!It will not be ZNS centres alone requiring additional funding; it will be all the traditional skills training centres, the likes of NORTEC, ZIBSIP, Nkumbi international college, Monze College of agriculture,etc,-both public and private. And the punch line is that it can be done! If they did it, why cant we….!I pity my elder brother President Sata –old as he is, he has come in to the Presidency at a historic moment when, through his enthusiasm and characteristic taunting and challenging vibes, he has awaken an age- old monster within the hearts of poor citizenry.In Zambia though, the skills training our leaders are talking about is one cutting across all the class of society, not just the marginalised and disadvantaged.This therefore is the time for all Zambians to show their patriotism: support PF’s skills training plan, Aluta, continua!