Connections that bridge the industry’s skills gap

Ideas & Debate

Connections that bridge the industry’s skills gap

A mechanical engineering student uses a lathe during a practical session at the Kisumu National Polytechnic. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Young people make up 14 million people, or 29% of Kenya’s total population, according to the 2019 national census. Kenya, like many countries, is experiencing a youth bulge, defined as a situation where more than 20% of the population of a country are young people.

It is estimated that 800,000 young Kenyans enter the labor market every year. But youth unemployment is high at 35% compared to 10% nationally. The situation is aggravated by an increase in the number of young people graduating from high school.

This year alone, more than 1.5 million learners will take the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam in March and December. Of these, only about 20% will have the chance to join universities to pursue higher education.

Others will compete for places in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions to take non-degree courses.

Despite the crucial role they play in equipping young people with technical skills to secure livelihood opportunities, many Kenyans feel that the non-degree courses offered by TVET are inferior. We need to dispel these notions. This focus on degrees and white-collar jobs may explain the high youth unemployment rates given the limited opportunities in the formal labor market.

Investing in technical, vocational and vocational courses at non-degree level is essential not only to help Kenya transform into an industrial economy, but also to bridge the huge skills gap in high demand in industry.

Unfortunately, young people from disadvantaged communities are likely to be denied opportunities to learn skills that would enable them to build sustainable livelihoods. Hence the need for concerted partnerships aimed at empowering disadvantaged youth to break the cycle of poverty by achieving sustainable livelihoods.

We must break down the barriers that prevent young people from succeeding in life by opening up opportunities for them. This involves equipping our young people with quality technical, vocational and entrepreneurial training through creativity and innovation to pursue sustainable livelihoods. In addition, we need to provide mentoring opportunities for our young people.

Most importantly, we need to empower young people with the skills and value to secure a productive future. Given the skills gap in the industry, and even more so in technical skills, partnerships are key to filling the gap in well-educated manpower. However, we also need to change the mindset of our young people from job seekers to job creators, equipping them with entrepreneurial skills to start their own businesses and employ others.

To address this issue, the Simba Foundation, Old Mutual and the Faulu Foundation have teamed up to help young people access car training and financial education in Kenya.

Anchored in skills-based training, recipients learn skills that are highly sought after in the industry. They also earn as they learn to enable them to meet their basic needs while learning skills that will help them build their future careers.

One of the TVET institutions involved in the initiative is the Christian Industrial Training Center (CITC) in Mombasa, where students also receive financial education and mentorship training. The CITC is a Christian institution created to provide technical, industrial, vocational and entrepreneurial training to young people so that they can be competitive in the job market. Others are St. Kizito Vocational Institute in Nairobi.

Forty students have so far completed their Level 3 training in Nairobi and Mombasa. This year another 36 students will attend the Grade 2 course in Nairobi and Mombasa. A cohort of 30 students is expected to start Grade 3 in Kisumu this year.

A key learning is that apart from technical skills, it is important to impart life skills to our young people. The World Health Organization defines life skills as “interpersonal skills and abilities that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and build healthy relationships with others while managing their lives productively”.

Young people need guidance to manage stress in life, manage conflict, and cultivate resilience and the ability to bounce back from adversity. Mentoring provides a good platform for developing life skills in young people.

Creating well-rounded individuals ensures that our young people have both technical skills to earn a living and the ability to be self-reliant and productive in their lives.

Mr. Popat is Chairman of Simba Foundation and Mr. Njoroge is Managing Director of Faulu Microfinance Bank