Vocational skills not for unemployed alone, says Gazzelle boss, Onuzo

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Muna Onuzo is the founder of Gazzelle Academy, an institution which focuses on training people and creating opportunities for unemployed youths.

The lady, whose recent nomination as one of the 2016 Most Influential Young Nigerians in the Social Enterprise and Philantrophy category, by Avance Media, was no surprise, has over the years, demonstrated the desire to impact on and be of greater values to the society.

Having a skill is very important, because certificate alone does not mean anything in today’s environment. There must be something else to survive with and it is beyond educational certificate

Through her vocational institution, Gazzelle, she has provided people with skills, while preparing them for the challenges ahead in a competitive economy.

She has been doing this since 2007, and the company is certified and accredited by the Industrial Training Fund.

“We give our students the ability to stand and build their businesses. We start by teaching them the skills of the trade and then empower their minds, so that the inner disabilities will not stop them from actualising their true potential.

We also teach them how to run a business that is clean, sustainable and viable. We offer trainings in fashion design and tailoring; spa and beauty; catering and baking; carpentry; among others,” Onuzo told The Point.

For her, vocational institutions bring hope to the youth of a nation. She understands that the government on its own can do little o r nothing, so she hopes to partner with the government to actualise its social enterprise vision.

“We are accredited and certified by the Federal Government as a vocational training institution and we hope that corporate organisations would see credibility in that to partner with us in delivering their suitability projects,” she added.

One thing that changed her life forever was her experience during the compulsory oneyear National Youths Service Corps, which she did in Lagos.

She explained, “The idea of having an academy actually started when I came to Lagos for my NYSC. I grew up in the East. But for the skill that I had at a time, I would have found it hard to survive in Lagos in 2004.

“From there, I got a job and I started my own business. Having a skill is very important, because certificate alone does not mean anything in today’s environment.

There must be something else to survive with and it is beyond educational certificate.” On what it takes to be her student, Onuzo maintained that her academy always encouraged students to complete secondary school before taking them in.

But inasmuch as they believe that secondary school education is key, an individual who wants to join them must have a strong desire to learn.

“Though we appreciate students with at least WASSC and encourage them on that, our training has no restrictions, provided you desire to learn. You must have the desire to have a better life, a desire to learn more and the desire to be financially independent.

Depending on the skill, we have  three and nine months’ training. Some trainings also last for a year or two years,” she noted.

Onuzo’s long-time plans is to extend her works to the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. She believed that what she does should not be restricted to Lagos, because empowerment was for all.

“We are not just focusing on Lagos State alone; we have done empowerment projects in some states in the East and the North. We are coordinated and we know where we are going,” she said.

Interestingly, to her, vocational skills are not meant for the unemployed alone. She added that some of her students work and it is always a tug of war to even find time to attend trainings.

“Though the working class community is not our primary focus, we also realised that people who are employed are looking for ways to improve themselves,” she added.

A major challenge for the academy is that most people cannot afford the fees. Inasmuch as they are willing to help more people to be self independent, they do not want to run at a lost, since they have staff members who draw salary and also money to put facilities in place.

She said, “We desire to accommodate more people, but we could be out of business if we reduce the cost of the training to a certain level. The government needs to breach the gap between vocational institutions and the public by supporting us.

We are trying to promote a culture and corporate organisations can also help. I know companies say they give books to schools and a host of other things, but there has to be what I call a sustainable community development.

Organisations have to take interest in it to develop the people in their environment. I also strongly feel vocational training should be in part of our educational system.”

The mother of two twin-girls wants to be seen as a woman who preaches and practices self empowerment, as she believed that in every individual, there is something that makes him or her special.

A former broadcaster, she said she only took a sabbatical from the profession because “I also wanted to break that cliché of beautiful women and no brains. People see broadcasters as just riding on their beauty, but that is untrue.

Deviating from broadcasting for the past 11 years has been fantastic. But I am currently working on a project; I hope to launch my comeback into the media with it.

The media was my first love, there is no way I would completely neglect it.” She believed former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration did a lot for women, unlike the present administration, adding that though she was not a beneficiary, she knew one or two people who got the grant of the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria.

To make the society better for women, she advocated for a system to be put in place to support working women. She said, “For instance, in Japan, the government has plans to set up over 250 daycare centers so that their women can go to work.

“The main problem here in Nigeria is who takes care of the children if both parents are working. If our daycare centers were affordable and secure, I would prefer to send my kids there. With that, I would have more free time to concentrate on other things.”