The Igbo apprenticeship system is a local entrepreneurship incubation system that is native to the South-Eastern part of Nigeria.
It is a structure that operates on formal and informal agreements between a trade master and a trade student. The family of the trade student allows their child/ward to go and “serve” the trade master for a certain period of time. After the time frame elapses, the trade student graduates and get established by the trade master to start his own business.
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Professor Ndubuisi Ekweke, an inventor, entrepreneur, and Harvard Business Review Writer defines the Igbo apprentice system as “… a business philosophy of shared prosperity where participants co-operatively participate to attain organic economic equilibrium where accumulated market leverageable factors are constantly weighted and calibrated out, via dilution and surrendering of market share, enabling social resilience and formation of livable clusters, engineered by major participants funding their competitors, with success measured on quantifiable support to stakeholders, and not by absolute market dominance.”
Further explaining the scheme, Iwara, Amaechi, & Netshandama in their article The Igba-boi apprenticeship approach: arsenal behind growing success of Igbo entrepreneurs in Nigeria, said;
“Within this approach, a parent of potential apprentice (mostly males) often bargains and negotiates with a successful entrepreneur on the possibility of handing over their kid to him (the successful entrepreneur). This is done with the hope that the kid would stay under him and acquire the basic skills of entrepreneurship. This approach is known as Igba-boi.”
The purpose of the Igbo apprentice system is to kindle the spirit of entrepreneurship, drive economic stability and growth for the Igbos, grow human resources, and make business financing easier.
Stages Of The Igbo Apprenticeship System
Stage One: Talent Identification
The Igbo Apprenticeship System is in three phases. The first is the talent identification stage. In this stage, the parents or guardians of a child identify the talent that a child has an affinity for.
After identifying a child’s talent, they proceed to find an entrepreneur that can help teach the child how to do business in the field they identify. If they find one, they move the child to the next stage of the apprenticeship system.
Stage Two: The Learning Stage
The second stage of the Igbo apprenticeship system is the learning stage. At this stage, the trade master teaches his mentee practical ways to do business. But, before a trade master proceeds with training, he makes sure that he tests the trade student in key areas. These include their willingness to learn, doggedness, tenacity, and trustworthiness.
Trustworthiness is a very key area that trade masters test. This is due to the fact that they will be handing over some trade secrets to the apprentice as time goes on. So, they need to know that those trade secrets will be safe.
Trade masters train the apprentices on key business strategies. Some of these include transaction negotiation, building customer relationships, how to source affordable goods, and pricing.
It is also important to note that during the learning phase, an apprentice lives with his master during the training phase. And it also follows that while living with your trade master, he expects you to do some minor work around the house.
Final Stage: Graduation And Settlement
The final stage of the Igbo apprenticeship system is the graduation and settlement stage. If an apprentice makes it to the full term of service under his trade master, he qualifies for a “settlement” from his erstwhile trade master.
You will most likely get settled in cash, but there’s an alternative for settling in kind depending on prior agreements. Cash settlement is a sort of startup fund that the trade master gives his mentee to start his own entrepreneurship journey. When a master settles a mentee in kind, it is common practice that the trade master helps the mentee get a premise, and fills it with goods for the mentee to start his entrepreneurship journey.
It is also expected that once you get settled, you should begin to innovate in terms of the goods you stock, where you source goods and customer relationships to grow your own business.
Advantages of the Igbo Apprenticeship System
Helps Build Business Ecosystems Using Cultural Models
One of the many problems of the Nigerian economy is that we import foreign economic models to use locally. These economic models usually suit other climes but they do not work here because they are not meant for the local terrain.
The Igbo apprenticeship system on the other hand offers a local strategy that helps build strong businesses in the face of harsh realities. And it pays attention to the socio-economic realities of the Igbos and indeed the nation if harnessed.
It Is A Form Of Startup Incubator
A startup incubator is a program that provides entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, and funding to help their business ideas succeed. The Igbo apprenticeship system is a form of startup incubator. It is successful because it allows entrepreneurs to learn directly from people that have huge experience with entrepreneurship.
The amazing aspect of the Igbo apprenticeship system is that the student entrepreneur gets to learn in real-life situations and environments. Business lessons, local opportunities, the dynamic of the local market, and how to source quality goods are some things they learn from the system.
It Is An Excellent Example Of Mentorship
Many successful entrepreneurs will advise you to get a mentor if you want to develop your capacity faster. Additionally, mentors help you make fewer mistakes. In that sense, mentors help you navigate your journey in entrepreneurship.
Mentors are often more experienced than you are. So, they advise you on the best decisions to take, and common pitfalls to avoid.
The Igbo apprenticeship model gives trade students access to mentors that can instruct them on practical issues. Key areas of focus may include negotiation techniques, pricing, customer relationship
It Helps Provide Funding For Business Startup
One of the problems with starting a business in Nigeria is that there are a few funding opportunities. Owing to that, many people do not engage in entrepreneurship, although, they have a passion for it. With the Igbo apprenticeship system, you get funding at the end of your learning with your trade master.
We already established that the trade master either settles the apprentice in cash or kind (stocking of the shop). With the settlement, most entrepreneurs go on to innovate and grow their businesses.
The System Is Efficient
It is a system that is very efficient. Your trade master teaches you on the field, where you’ll have direct access to the market, and what they need.
As a result of you participating in the apprentice system, you have access to raw market data. This data will help you define how you position your brand and the type of business model to adopt.
It Helps To Reduce Unemployment And Poverty
Many entrepreneurs have been created through the Igbo apprenticeship system. In fact, many people claim that the Igbo apprenticeship system delivered more millionaires than many business schools around the world.
Whether that is true or not is a matter for another day. What stands true is that the Igbo apprenticeship system has lifted many families out of poverty. Additionally, it has saved many from the enduring problem of unemployment in Nigeria.
It Helps Build An Entrepreneurship Mindset
There have been calls for people to stop depending on the government to provide employment and to take up entrepreneurship. However, due to the lack of funding opportunities, many people have not developed an entrepreneurial mindset.
Thankfully, the Igbo apprenticeship system has helped develop an entrepreneurial mindset in a nation that will otherwise depend on government.
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