YEKEPA, Nimba – ArcelorMittal has opened a new vocational training center in Yekepa to provide vocational skills to Liberian youth at no cost. The training center offers training for electricians, heavy duty mechanics, and mechanical fitting.
Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor cut the ribbon to open the center on Friday, September 21. The center is an initiative of Arcelor Mittal Liberia to provide quality vocation skills for Liberian youths at no cost.
Delivering a keynote address, Howard-Taylor praised ArcelorMittal for being farsighted in helping to create a workforce for economic development that would lead to a prosperous Liberia. She said the dedication of the center is a testament that the decision of the legislature, where she served as a senator, to speedily pass the ArcelorMittal concession agreement nearly ten years ago was for the good of the country and its people.
“What is happening today has taken about nine years, because it started last year. At the beginning, it seemed that we were just signing papers, but you are an example of what those agreements mean, and the intent of the government of ensuring that the resources we have in our country are not just exploited, but that they are transformed and provide opportunity to our young people,” she said.
She also praised the company for continuing to invest in the country, even when other companies were leaving the country during the period of the Ebola outbreak and the price of iron ore reduced on the world market.
Liberia’s first technical vocational education training agenda was launched by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration in 2015, along with a five-year operational plan. Howard-Taylor said, as a government of continuity, the current administration would ensure full implementation of the policy.
She called on stakeholders in all sectors to encourage young people to take advantage of the ArcelorMittal Vocational Training Center as a means of reducing the high rate of unemployment.
She said the center would provide young people with a unique opportunity to take hold of their future and make it what they want it to be.
“The processes are laid down, and the benefits are quite clear. But the choice is ultimately yours. You can use it as a stepping stone for your secured future, or you can pass by the opportunity and remain where you are. Only you can make this critical decision. I can only urge you to take hold of it with all of your might and rise to your full potential,” she said.
Howard-Taylor encouraged ArcelorMittal to recruit more females into the training program. For now, 47 students are currently enrolled in the company’s training program, but less than 20 percent are females.
The manager and trainer of the training center, Dawie Loots, described the history of the center as an incredible journey, amid the challenges caused by Ebola and the reduction in the price of iron ore on the world market.
“We all remember vividly how the Ebola crisis negatively impacted our lives and our operations,” Loots said. “And while we were still struggling to recover, the collapse of the iron ore price almost gave us a final blow. Two projects [were] canceled. [There was] low production at Tokadeh mine. ArcelorMittal management scrambled into action. ArcelorMittal Liberia went into survival mode. Many workers were redundant and were retrenched. Many contracts were canceled, benefits and leave changed, budgets were cut to the bone, and at the same time the expectation of government was dashed.”
Despite the challenges, he said, ArcelorMittal remains focused with its programs in Liberia, including the training center, as the company kept on strategizing and discussing possible ways to keep the hope of Liberians, especially young people through the opening of the vocational training program.
He also praised the current batch of apprentices for working throughout with him and the training officers to set up the workshops without any additional benefit.
“No contractors, no consultants were involved in setting up these workshops. We did it all by ourselves,” he noted.
A member of the first cohort of trainees at the center, Sam Dehmie, also hailed ArcelorMittal for the opportunity afforded him and his colleagues to acquire technical skills. Dehmie said they are hopeful to meaningfully contribute to the development of the communities through the skills they are working to gain.
“Today, we apprentices are pleased to say that the [vocational training center] has transmitted to my comrades and me,” he said. “As an electrical apprentice, I have dealt [with] and experimented with serial and parallel circuits, the generation of voltage as regards to the concept of electromagnetism, and I have learned how power is generated from the power station, transmitted over high transmission lines to our factory, to our towns and made suitable for use in our homes.”
ArcelorMittal’s head of mines operations, Gustavo Gomes, hailed the government and people of Liberia for the warm reception and continuous enabling environment for investment.
Gomes disclosed that because of the efforts and coordination between the government and its operation in the country, Liberia now hosts the fifth largest of its 25 mining operations worldwide, despite previous challenges.
“But it’s not enough because what we’re doing together with the government, working in partnership, we are about to complete a study to transform Liberia into the number two. It will be a little bit behind Canada because our Canada base is very large, but Liberia could become [our] number two operation globally,” he said.
Local and political leaders of Nimba attended the program, including the county’s superintendent, Dorr Coper.
Nimba’s third district representative, Joseph Somwarbi, expressed delight that Liberia is poised to host the second largest operations of ArcelorMittal but noted that the elevation must be commensurate with the benefits for workers and host communities.
Somwarbi frowned on Liberians being placed on long-term contracts instead of being provided with employment status and called on the company to change the status quo. He said although the development of the company is welcoming, such must reflect on the livelihood of citizens working for them.
Representatives from the ministries of Education, Youth and Sports, and Lands, Mines and Energy were also in attendance.
Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah