Ceramics industry can employ 1.2 million, if… – Oaikhinan

Patrick Eguakhide Oaikhinan

Professor Patrick Eguakhide Oaikhinan, chief executive officer of Epina Technologies, has a strong passion for the development of the ceramics industry in Nigeria. In this interview with Ifeoma Onuoha, the Ceramics Engineering professor discusses how the ceramics industry could tackle unemployment in Nigeria as it has the capacity to generate over 1.2 million jobs among other benefits. Excerpts:

How would you assess the Ceramic Industry in Nigeria?

Ceramics is classified as inorganic non-metallic solid comprising metal or non-metal compounds that have been prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Indeed, we are surrounded by products made from ceramics, but we hardly realize it. Ceramics is used in aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, household, and medical applications among others.

The ceramic industry encompasses the small-scale craftsman selling clay pots and the international corporation that supplies a line of semi-conductors. Over the years, ceramics has played an important role in economy and in the production of arts, food storage, and even early currency. Globally, ceramics has become a captive industry, with its market projected to reach $408 billion by 2018. Unfortunately, there is no appropriate strategy in place for the development of the industry in Nigeria. The surviving ceramics manufacturing businesses in Nigeria are not more than five.

The industry in Nigeria has been experiencing economic downturn in employment, global market, increasing foreign competition, among others. The impact of rural drift on the ability to fill ceramics positions and training availability has influenced the percentage of workers seeking employment in ceramics professions. The ability of the surviving companies in the industry to find qualified workers over the past decades has become more difficult as current ceramics workforce has aged. There is also the perception from parents, educators and students that ceramics manufacturing operates in “dark and dirty environment”.

How can the industry actualise its full potential in Nigeria?

There is lack of professionals with appropriate skills in the ceramics manufacturing business in Nigeria. There is also no avenue for people interested in ceramics as a career choice to pursue their ambitions, as there is no university or higher institution in Nigeria that offers training in Ceramics Science, Ceramics Technology, and Ceramics Engineering, hence the gap in skills is a big blow to the industry.

The absence of skilled manpower and industries to process raw materials needed for the production of ceramics in Nigeria has prevented its growth. The importation of substandard ceramics from Asia and Europe has impacted negatively on local industries involved in ceramics manufacturing business in the past. The quality of locally produced ceramics is poor because local manufacturers are struggling to process their own raw materials without the knowledge of the chemical and mineralogical compositions as well as the mechanical properties of these raw materials. Nigerian ceramics manufacturers now travel all over the world for training on how to improve the quality of their products.

There is an urgent need to deliver quality ceramics training through a network of partners with the purpose of producing highly skilled ceramics scientists and technologists. There is also the need for a legislative support for the establishment of Ceramics Development Council with the mandate to boost ceramics manufacturing businesses in Nigeria.

The country is weighed down by high unemployment rate, what potential does the Ceramics Industry possess in terms of creating jobs?

Today, many graduates from universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education find it difficult to secure jobs. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment in Nigeria is 24 percent. Worldwide, ceramics industry is creating the future for nations in the areas of socio-economic transformation and job creation. In India for example, 5.5 million people are directly and indirectly employed by the ceramics tile industry. In the same country, the informal sector has approximately 250 firms that are producing ceramic sanitary wares with a market size of €350 million. With such figures, we can see the huge potential that neglected in Nigeria.

In Britain, the number of functioning ceramics industries is 1,200. The size, population and available mineral resources in Britain are far less than Nigeria’s. If we are able to develop the ceramics industry to a level where local manufacturers can attract investors, the industry can employ 1.2 million Nigerians.

Ceramics manufacturing business can empower people to develop their own capabilities, increase their assets, and eliminate poverty.  The ceramics industry of the 21st century is very dynamic and progressive and makes good use of cutting edge technology and processes.

How can these jobs be made possible in the industry?

We need to support long-term ceramics development in Nigeria which will lead to potential breakthrough in all areas of ceramics manufacturing business. This support will be in three key areas, – the setting up of raw materials processing plants to provide the ceramics industry with basic processed raw materials; ceramics manufacturing plants, and a central testing and quality control laboratory. These three key industries are major employers of labour.

What is your organisation doing to promote ceramics development in the country?

The lack of skilled manpower and industries to process raw materials needed for the production of ceramics in Nigeria has prevented the growth of the $465.2 million industry and forestalled an estimated 1.2 million jobs that could be created from local manufacturing. Nigeria is currently the 9th among the top 18 emerging economies for ceramics trade, and is also the only country in the world without ceramics export.

Most of the ceramics in Nigeria are imported from Asia and Europe, as several local companies in the industry have stopped operations due to policy somersaults, smuggling, influx of substandard products, absence of skilled personnel and lack of raw materials. Nigeria spent over $600 million as ceramics trade and customs duty in 2012.

To set a new paradigm for the local ceramics industry, we organised an international conference and training workshop on how to set up small scale ceramics manufacturing business in Lagos last year.  Epina Technologies Limited is hosting the 1st International Ceramics Trade Fair from August 27th to 29th, 2014 at Sheraton Hotel Ikeja, Lagos. We are excited to host for the first time in Nigeria, a trade fair of this size (approximately 400 attendees) to discuss issues of interest relating to ceramics manufacturing business. The fair is endorsed by the Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA). World leaders in the manufacturing of machines and equipment for the ceramics industry are interested in the fair. Similarly, exhibitors of ceramics products are coming from all over the world.

The fair is expected to provide entrepreneurs, investors and the unemployed, particularly youths with a clear and up-to-date understanding of the competitiveness of the ceramics sector, the opportunity to converge and, thereafter, pave the way for the federal government to engage the sector in the development of horizontal and vertical policies. It will also support the government in its effort to diversify the nation’s economy. Participants will learn how to utilize Nigeria’s solid minerals (non-oil resources) endowments for ceramics manufacturing businesses that would generate employment and create new wealth.  It will equally create a platform to promote steady growth of small and medium ceramics manufacturing enterprises and facilitate contacts between suppliers and buyers of ceramic machines and products. Finally, it will create a new paradigm that will help the local industries to reinforce their visibility and internationalize their ceramics manufacturing business.

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