Commencement Address by Honorable Joseph N. Boakai, Sr.Former Vice President Of The Republic Of Liberia And Standard Bearer, Unity Party (UP) Delivered At The Emmanuel Dahn Foundation D-7 Skills Training Center Newport Street, Monrovia, Liberia Sunday, March 6, 2013

Mr. Emmanuel Dahn, Founder, The Emmanuel Dahn Foundation;

Board of Advisors;

Mrs. Teta B. Sumo, Administrator, and Other Administrative Staff

Faculty, and Student Body of the D-7 Skills Training Center

Parents, Guardians, and Well-Wishers,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am always honored, even excited, when invited to address our young people who have worked hard and completed their curricula of studies and are about to graduate.  I do because I have long held the strong disposition that education is the best legacy any country can give to its citizens.

To this graduating class, I therefore extend my warmest felicitations and heartfelt congratulations!

Let me also thank the Founder of the Emmanuel Dahn Foundation, and the administrators of the D-7 Skills Training Center for its First Cycle Graduation; also, the parents and guardians for all they have done to make this graduation exercise possible today.  For these graduates are our future leaders who have been prepared to be able to serve our country.

Today, 497 of you are graduating after completion of curricula in the discipline of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in the following skill areas: Basic Computer Studies, Cosmetology, Event Decoration, Journalism, Pastry, Tailoring, and Soap Science.

Hence, let me convey to you, our beaming graduates, my deep pride in you for your academic sojourn and achievements.  Graduating from this privately-run institution tells me that, on your own initiatives, you have empowered yourselves (without the help of government) and thus have taken ownership of your future well-being.

I cannot even underestimate what it costs per student to acquire technical education and vocational training in Liberia, considering the financial outlays for the various materials needed for such training.

Such costs-and-benefits analysis should be uppermost on our mind as we participate in this graduation program because there is no doubt in my mind that Liberia needs technically competent workers to truly develop our country.

However, I am bewildered by the fact that our TVET programs lack both the funding and practical environment needed to take these graduates to the next level.

I therefore wish to address you on the topic: “TVET Education for Youth Employment and Empowerment.”

There are several reasons why it is important to educate our youth vocationally, among which are: young people are big consumers economically, and they help build the economy when they are a major part of production and consumption. Our economies do not expand nor grow because of the low economic power of our youths. Also, we cannot build a strong economy if our youths remain underprepared to earn a decent livelihood.

I have personally empowered many youths to acquire vocational and technical education, the kind of investments have yielded tremendously in the computer knowledge, carpentry, auto mechanic and other technical arears. Our youths have the talents and capabilities and are only waiting for an opportunity to be trained and exposed. For years now, I have depended on young Liberians to maintain my vehicles, electric generators, plumbing work and the maintenance of my air-conditioners, refrigerators, etc. Many of the technicians are understudies, with organized technical vocational institutions, we can give them life careers.

I need not tell you about the dreadful situation of unemployment among the young people in our country, but the situation, I believe, needs to be highlighted or emphasized as we are experiencing presently poor economic growth.

Liberian youth know this situation very well.  In fact, in 2017, they flagged the situation in their YOUTH MANIFESTO, in its priority #3 (Employment and Empowerment).

Priority #3 emphasizes or talks about building skills to create employment and to provide the young people with decent jobs. Here the youth feel and say that they “are not benefiting from growth amidst 81.86% poverty rate and about 85% youth unemployment. A growing and changing economy that is youth-based could secure our future and sustain our peace. Majority of Liberian youth are unemployed or found in the informal sector.”

One solution proposed for these horrible statistics to be reversed was that youth needed support for development of life skills in order to be marketable in terms of employment and/or to build entrepreneurial skills to create employment or jobs for themselves.  That was in 2017, but since then such support has not been forthcoming or is so minimal that the same menace of youth unemployment continues to exist, if not even worst.

Today, overall statistics about unemployment are appallingly high, especially among the youth, and have adversely affected the growth and development of the nation’s economy, subjecting many citizens to abject poverty.  Dishearteningly, our youth are especially affected by these dreadful statistics.

In most developing countries like Liberia, TVET Education has been identified as one of the most important tools for addressing the pervasive youth unemployment problem. Our country has also taken note of this solution, but the problem continues due to serious shortcomings in terms of access and equity, governance, and funding.

Given the poor economic growth we are experiencing today and the dire need to increase employment, especially of our youth, I urge the doubling of funding and resources to TVET education in order to increase and expand both formal and informal skills training centers around the country.

A recent report has demonstrated the need for such an expansion as most TVET institutions and training centers were identified as disproportionately located in Monrovia.  For example, it is noted that “Training providers are concentrated in Montserrado around the capital, where 70 percent are based. There are also clusters of training providers in Grand Bassa (7 percent), Margibi (5.5 percent) and Nimba (6 percent).”

It cannot be overemphasized that skills acquisition by our Liberian youth will generally provide them with employable skills which majority are lacking and are thus ill-equipped to access economic opportunities in the labor market. Acquiring technical and vocational skills is vital for an economy like ours to compete and grow, particularly in an era of economic integration, transformation and technological change.

I am therefore impressed by this large number of graduates and must appreciate the Emmanuel Dahn Foundation for giving access to these graduates to acquire skills training and for the gender equity represented in this graduating class, that of the 497 graduates, 371 are female. In most TVET institutions in Liberia, male graduates are almost always in the majority.

You cannot ignore the training and building capacity of your youths and expect economic growth and development. Take a look at the building you are in, look out in the streets, restaurants, and entertainment centers, they all exist because of persons with technical skills and competence. It is the technically trained people that create a truly civilized world. They create the tools for the world in which we live. We can all conceive, but they make things happen.

I sat a few days ago and just wrote on a pad that I would love to see a corps of technically trained Liberians who can make Liberia a BETTER place for all Liberians. We can do it; we have the talents all around us. The streets vendors we disperse, the young men and women in our streets, and the ones who sell Chinese-made things we buy, are all potential entrepreneurs if we just give them a chance to be trained and equipped. What they lack is the opportunity and the enabling learning environment.

There is a great concern about the governance and management of TVET institutions in Liberia.  While TVET institutions should build their credibility by effectively training their students for employment and career development, most of these institutions and training centers are focused on just rolling out training programs. Because of this, the challenge of unemployment, or the attaining of jobs for their graduates, continues to exist in most cases.

Where graduates are not able to find employment, should we blame these institutions, or the government? I would venture to say both.

In the interest of the students, these institutions should identify the kind of skills needed by the market/labor force, or in other words, they should develop market linkages for job placement of their graduates. The infrastructure and training systems for TVET education cannot be static. It has been said that market requirements are changing with such great pace that the TVET Institutions should revisit or revise their training curricula and update their infrastructure and trainers’ skills.

The government is blamable in three areas: (1) the poor regulation of TVET institutions, (2) the inadequate financing of TVET education, and (3) the lack of incentives for the involvement of the private sector.

While the country has a TVET policy, and the Ministry of Youth and Sports is supposedly in charge, the government has not been able to regulate the proliferation of TVET programs within other government agencies, NGOs, and for-profit institutions.  The funding of TVET programs is also inadequate, especially with the overdependence of waiting for donors’ funds to undertake programs.

There is also the disconnect between government and enterprises in the private sector when it comes to developing TVET programs, especially to create jobs to help alleviate our chronic unemployment situation.  For example, in the latter case, the government’s inability to convince and engage employers and enterprises (private sector) to be significant players in TVET development.

In my estimation, TVET Education should be considered as a ‘national priority.’  Our nation needs technically and vocationally competent workers for its economic growth, and our young people should be targeted to acquire the necessary technical skills that will position them to become active participants in our national development efforts.

It is with this belief that over the years I have supported the training of young people in areas of TVET skills so that they may be prepared to focus on practical applications they can use to develop a Better Liberia for their improved livelihoods.

As I speak to this graduating class, I want you to use the various skills you have acquired to be of service to your country.  Your technical and vocational education and training has prepared you to meet the needs of your community, employers, and our general citizenry.

In closing, let me join you in thanking your parents and sponsors who have helped in supporting you through this program. Congratulations and best wishes in your future endeavors.


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