Widening Skills Gap Threatens Nigeria’s $75.6 Billion Telecoms Sector-Omobayo Azeez

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A prominent telecoms policy expert, Mr. Omobayo Azeez, has issued a stern warning about the expanding skills gap crisis in Nigeria’s telecommunications sector, identifying it as a significant peril to the industry’s future, valued at a staggering $75.6 billion.

Azeez delivered this stark message during his keynote presentation titled ‘Bridging Skills Gap to Accelerate the Indigenous Telecoms Development’ at the recently concluded second edition of the Nigerian Telecommunications Indigenous Content Expo (NTICE 2023). The event was organized in Lagos by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

He emphasized that in order for the sector to remain robust and innovative, telecommunications companies urgently require professionals with expertise in diverse areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, wireless network engineering, software development, fiber optics engineering, IP networking skills, cloud computing, and VSAT engineering. Regrettably, these skills are currently in short supply.

“The existing skills gap places immense pressure on telecom firms, severely constraining their capacity to expand, innovate, enhance customer services, or develop new products,” Azeez cautioned.

According to the Convener of Policy Implementation Assisted Forum (PIAFo), while the telecom sector is experiencing rapid growth, the workforce essential for its daily operations and support is dwindling, a situation he described as a ticking time bomb.

He stated, “Global demand for tech-skilled workers, especially in the telecoms sector, is high. This is a cause for concern in a low-middle income country like Nigeria, as high-income economies continuously attract capable hands and talents away from here. This is already happening; in 2022 alone, operators in the sector reported losing over 2,000 trained telecoms personnel to other countries.”

Azeez also highlighted the challenges operators face in filling these gaps. Prospective applicants often lack the requisite knowledge and skill set, while trained workers are leaving for better opportunities elsewhere.

“This has hindered the pace at which operators recruit. For example, operators in various segments of the sector have only hired an additional 679 workers in the last three years, insufficient to meet the sector’s demands, especially with the discussions around 5G, edge infrastructure, the internet of things (IoT), and smart city initiatives, all of which require more skilled professionals to innovate and undertake crucial tasks,” he explained.

In his address, Azeez, who also serves as the Team Lead for Business Metrics Limited, identified the root causes of the current skills gap in the sector. These include flawed educational systems, inadequate training programs, poor remuneration, the “japa syndrome” (where Nigerians seek employment opportunities abroad), global high demand for tech-skilled workers, government policies, and rapid technological advancements.

He urged industry stakeholders to leverage the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector (NPPIC) and other local content policies to cultivate local talents with globally competitive skill sets.

“Effective collaboration is essential between the government, operators, and educational, research, and training institutions to bridge these gaps, starting with operators establishing training and internship programs within their organizations to meet immediate needs. Operators must also review employee remuneration and welfare packages to retain already groomed talents before they are enticed by better offers in foreign markets, as labor tends to follow better compensation packages. Additionally, expatriate quota requirements and succession plans must be adhered to,” he emphasized.

Azeez underscored the importance of investing in employee training and capacity building to maximize the available talents, urging that investments in the workforce be given the same priority as capital expenditure (CAPEX).

He concluded by acknowledging the ingenuity, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit of young Nigerians but stressed that the current skills gap identified in the ICT and telecoms sector must not be ignored. He called for a concerted effort to groom and retain talents to attract more investments and secure the digital future of the country.

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