By Theresa Kef Sesay
An ambitious USD 4.3 million vocational training programme implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) this month registered its 940th participant, almost halfway towards the goal of preparing 2,000 unemployed young men and women to meet the domestic demand for skilled jobs.
Almost 60 per cent of young people in Sierra Leone are unemployed, driving their urge to seek work abroad, usually via irregular migration.
Yet in an economy still struggling after the ravages of a decade-long civil war, there’s also strong, unmet demand for skilled labour—including repairing and operating farming, road construction and mining machinery. By expanding a year-long effort to bring greater skills training here, IOM, the Government of Sierra Leone, foreign partners and Sierra Leone’s private sector are together creating jobs that will curb irregular migration.
This month, 200 people are engaged in a tractor and grader training programme funded by the Government of Japan. Up to now, such training has been so scarce in Sierra Leone. Companies have had to import skilled migrants from other African countries to do machinery repair.
The initiative grew out of an encounter two years ago at the Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD 7), where IOM representatives met with executives of Sierra Tropical Sierra Leone Ltd. (STL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Dole Asia Holdings and one of the country’s leaders in agribusiness.
IOM was encouraged by the company’s recent investments in pineapple cultivation, especially a fruit processing factory designed to employ locals. IOM had already conducted skills training sessions for 189 youths attached to Sierra Tropical LTD in the Sumbuya, Bo district.
“The knowledge and skills this programme bring will enable young people to have gainful employment that will provide them with income to support themselves and their families,” said Dr James Bagonza, the acting Head of Office for IOM Sierra Leone.
“It is good for young people to acquire the necessary skills and be employed in the country, rather than risking their lives to embark on desperate back way journeys.”
At an event last month, launching IOM’s Grader and Tractor Programme, Mohamed Orman Bangura, Minister of Youth Affairs, promised: “Those of you going through this training are assured of getting jobs upon graduation. It is no doubt that with our youths championing agriculture, the country will become food sufficient.”
Another 240 youths have received entrepreneurship training and mentorship—that is, learning to launch their own businesses—and almost 300 received training for jobs in fisheries.
IOM also collaborated with the Freetown City Council to train 220 youth on sustainable waste management, equipping them with 20 motorized tricycles and other waste collection gear.
These projects all are part of IOM’s larger scale youth empowerment project targeting 2,000 young job seekers by April 2022.