The Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) is a brainchild of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with a clear mandate to train and prepare Nigerians for the challenges of the fast evolving digital economy. It sprouted from the stub of the old NITEL training school and it has developed into a knowledge island for the grooming and training of first-grade ICT nerds to fill the skills gap in the industry. In this interview with THE COMMUNICATOR, its Administrator, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, explains the transformations of the Institute into a world-class digital knowledge foundry.

Bridging the skills gap in ICT

We are in an ICT age and today one of the critical requirements for any economy that wants to grow is that its citizens must be digitally literate. To that extent we find out that Nigeria being a developing country has its skills gap in virtually every sector of the economy (public and private). The gap is more pronounced in the public sector where there’s no conscious effort at filling the skills gap, unlike the private sector that knows that the future of every company depends on how much it’s doing to make investments in technology to drive its business operations and so we see this gap in education, health, transport etc. It is something that we’re aware exists in our system and as an ICT capacity building institute we’re working hard to bridging the gap.

The board and management of DBI conceived the institute in 2004; recognising that, being a growing economy and with a growing telecommunications sector, that the manpower gaps are wide and need to be filled. So we were required to help to bridge that gap and to ensure this. In everything we align our activities and focus towards enabling people to acquire skills in ICT.

The biggest contributors to economic growth today are found in the ICT sector in most of the large economies like India, China, Americas etc. These economies are growing today essentially because of their ICT sectors as driver of virtually all other sectors. ICT is also needed in the small scale industries sector of the economy and even in entrepreneurship, where young people will come and innovate, create and develop their economies. These are the reasons that we think the skills gap that we have in our system need to be filled.

There’s this thinking that because we have universities of technology, computer science departments spread across the country that we’re actually working to fill the skills gap. Though it does help, but an institute like the DBI plays a role far much different from what the universities do; they churn out graduates from computer science departments, engineering etc., but today’s digital economy requires more than just a degree in computer science, which is why we identify those critical skills gap that the industry requires to enable you acquire some of those skills even when you leave the university and even for people who are employed to remain relevant in the digital age because you need to continue to build your skills.

Some of the applications (e.g. Internet of Things) that we teach are not addressed in the universities and since technology is fast changing, and the university curriculum cannot change that fast, it is professional institutes like the DBI that are able to develop and respond with short courses and intermediate programmes to address those skills gap. We provide professional capacity development for our young graduates who want to acquire certification in any area of ICT. Our course offerings address those professional skill areas to enable people acquire skills that the industry requires.

Looking beyond the academic degree

The idea of having an ICT University is a government policy because the government thought it wise that at this point in time we’re ripe to have an ICT University which I think is not a bad idea. But the University cannot supplant the role of the DBI. The DBI fills a particular role in the continuous professional development in ICT; we don’t produce graduates with doctorates, post graduates etc.; what we do is produce professionals in ICT and help those who are digitally backward to acquire some skill. We teach you what the modern digital economy requires.

Like you know, today there are no organisations that work without Microsoft or office productivity tools and all you need to use them is just being literate enough which is why DBI helps organisations and individuals to acquire these skills. Today, a lot of technologies are not being used optimally and so at DBI we make sure that the investments that the government and private sector are making are well optimised.

Strategy for excellence

DBI has existed for over a decade now and there have been conscious efforts to position the institute not just in Nigeria, but internationally, to be a respectable, reputable ICT service provider and capacity building institute. We are a centre of excellence and one of the six centres in Africa under the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, academy network of centres of excellence. We’re also an ICT sector member of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, CTO.

We’re a CISCO academy, Microsoft Academy and we have signed some strategic alliances with Huawei, GSMA etc. These partnerships and alliances are meant to strengthen our brand and to position us as the preferred brand for capacity building in ICT. We have very standard labs for ICT training and we have some of the best faculties that you can have for continuous professional development in ICT drawn from the academia in the industry.

DBI and local content development

Nearly 100 per cent of our lecturers are indigenous faculty members. We’re also doing a lot in terms of trying to make sure that we develop software. We have a software lab and within our curriculum, there are software programmes and courses that one can take and this is geared towards making sure that we develop indigenous capacities in these areas. Though we have not yet produced a graduate that has produced software that can be marketed in the industry, but DBI has made very strong contributions in the area of software.

The Computer-Aided Software Engineering, CASE, that was used during the last election, we worked devotedly with the Musa Yar’Adua Centre to develop. What this software does is that it gets election results online, real time. It was done by a team of young engineers from our software unit. This is a clear example of one of the things I can say we have done. We also have people who have taken our courses and graduated, working within the industry over the years.

On Kano DBI matriculation

The National Innovation Diploma Programme is a specialised programme approved by the National Board for Technical Education and the Federal Ministry of Education. It is not a typical academic programme like you find in other levels of tertiary education. The NID is designed to build and develop critical level manpower of people who when they leave they’re able to work on their own or go into the industry. The NID programme focuses on 5 major areas: Software engineering, Computer hardware engineering, Telecommunications technology, Networking, Computer networking and systems security and multimedia technology; some of which you don’t find in any university.

The content of the programmes are designed in such a way that it is 70 per cent hands-on and 30 per cent classroom work. The goal is that when you graduate after 2 years of the programme you should be able to do something on your own and if you also want to pursue a higher degree programme in either a polytechnic or the university, the opportunities are there. The NID is equivalent to an Ordinary National Diploma, OND, and we’re hoping that within the next academic year we’ll be able to graduate the first batch of students.

This year, we matriculated 20 students who are the first intakes, but the Kano State government has graciously approved scholarship for 100 additional students who joined the same programme in the 2016/2017 academic session. So we can say we currently have 120 students from both campuses for this programme.