Across Liberia, when it comes to finding a job and encouraging emerging professionals to excel in their new career path, making sure that graduates have the skills they need for the position that make essential their roles in society, opportunities are grossly limited. Youths who do not have the necessary skills quickly find themselves struggling in communities and some may soon start to lose hope begin feeling uncertain of the future.
Companies with the potential to hire Liberian youths with technical skills often feel frustrated as they lose money and time and would consequently find themselves hiring foreigners because of low or inadequate skills set.
But, in the Liberian mining town of Yekepa, Nimba County, ArcelorMittal, the global steel and mining giant is revolutionizing opportunities for acquiring technical and vocational skills, to advert this sad reality, with its internationally competitive three year apprenticeship training program.
The company’s state of the arts vocational training center at interval recruits and trains new breed and unskilled young Liberians with no or Limited opportunities to entering the Liberian workforce.
AML Vocational facility is providing young people, especially those from Nimba, Grand Bassa and Bong Counties with globally recognized and certified professional training for roles such as diesel mechanics, electricians, mechanical fitters, etc.
After an intensive recruitment process, the excited and anxious apprentices participate in the most innovative and well-structured vocational and technical program, facilitated by a full academic and boarding scholarships: tuition, housing, three meals a day, and a monthly stipend. This fully supported training model is intended to ensure that the students fully committed to their studies and practice to ensure excellence.
In the electrical workshop, Aaron Siahway one of the beneficiaries hailing from Nimba county told journalists on a reporting tour on Thursday that he cannot measure his level of happiness for the opportunity afforded him by ArcelorMittal Liberia.
Attired in orange reflectors laden jumpsuit, protective hand and eye gears, he speaks bold that after the recruitment process he has discovered that this is the mosts comfortable place to be, and that Arcelormittal is a blessing to Liberia.
Said Siahway “I have been here free, comfortable, eat three times a day and they teach me very well, especially we do the things with hands, we see them practical and not just read. It is real all the time”.
“How can you describe this opportunity, given you and other,” one reporter asked
“For me, it is a life-changing opportunity and I can’t describe it any further because nothing like this I ever thought would have happened to me”.
In the Diesel workshop, Eliezer Wilson narrated the story of how he was recruited, trained, and is now employed as a trainer.
“I come from Lofa County” he introduced himself and went further. “ArcelorMittal Vocational Training “has completely changed my life”
“These kinds of opportunities don’t come too often,” he said adding that most time “it is one in a lifetime that you see such opportunity”
Wilson says he feels proud to be associated with AML’s training program and that nothing for him is more important than seeing himself as a young man impacting lives though the opportunity given him by the global steel giant.
Globally, women are largely underrepresented in Science Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) – related fields, and Liberia is not an acceptation of this under-representation which is especially prevalent in Africa where women
represent less than 20% of the workforce in these fields.
Regardless of this lack of representation in STEM-related work, there are few female engineers from across Liberia who have broken the status quo and stereotype to venture into engineering, especially with the strong policy of ArcelorMittal to minimizing gender disparity in its workforce.
In the Structural Pillar Welding session of AML Training Academy, we found a young woman recruited from Grand Bassa County standing out as the only female in that section.
Interestingly, she finds herself in a department heavily involved with manufacturing equipment for ArcelorMittal mining operation.
“I was schooling in Bassa when I overheard about the recruitment and I decided to apply,” said Ruthenia Topka.
“When I was small I use to admire this work (Welding). I use to go to the welding shop, sit there, and developed a passion for this job because it is creative. The more you do things, people admire you, praise you and they like it a lot” she told the reporters smiling”.
She added that she has been taught how to draw, design, and manufacture different parts of heavy and light-duty machines to be used up the mine.
“I thank ArcelorMittal Liberia for this opportunity because for us women when we get into this field, we challenge men because the men believe that we women are just supposed to be in the kitchen and cook but this training is helping us to change that”
Tokpa has a big dream and she vows to keep pushing until she is a full-grown engineer with some technical knowledge from outside of Liberia.
Among 15 men Christine Dielin is also the only female in the “fitting workshop” section of the training academy.
Here, they are involved with doing alignments, basic maintenance and producing of gearboxes and spare parts for other essential machine
Recruited from Thinway Town in Buchanan, Christine stands behind the alignment machine and tells the story of how she was a practicing journalist with Radio Jubilee in Buchanan but had to switch profession to engineering, given how “life changing” the AML training is.
For her, the basic way the government of Liberia can solve youth unemployment is to focus on vocation training opportunities like the one offered by ArcelorMittal. She suggested that the Arcelormittal model can be used.
“The government of Liberia must follow a good example of what ArcelorMiottal is doing” she explained, adding “we need to get young people, the zogo off the street and provide this kind of training for them”.
But unlike Christine and her friends, how many young Liberians will have access to such opportunity to enroll in a state of the art academy with some of the finest instructors and facilitators drawn from Liberia and South Africa?
The manager of ArcelorMittal Technical Program Dawie Loots for his part said this new TVET initiative supports the company’s sustainable development objective of identifying and grooming local talents for future employment at the company and to fast track Liberia’s economic development.
The Vocational education and training offered by AML according to him would affect phase two of the company’s expansion project and allow students to gain practical experience in their chosen career path before they even graduate.
“The recruitment program is tough and the training is hard and we advertise quite broadly” and “students who finish those rigorous programs, have the credentials and training they need to get started right away in their chosen career path”
Dawie Loots said for a recruitment cycle about 50 students are recruited and that the first 45 recruits who were trained have all been employed by the ArcelorMittal Liberia.
Loots expressed joy over the output of Liberian students and encouraged more females across the country to enroll.