Politics and policy

Local graduates lack key skills for job market

Graduants at a past ceremony. Local universities have been blamed for not preparing students for leadership, decision making and critical thinking. FILE
Graduants at a past ceremony. Local universities have been blamed for not preparing students for leadership, decision making and critical thinking. FILE 

Graduates from Kenyan universities are less competitive in the job market due to gaps between their training and the skills employers want, a new study has shown.

The report by Washington-based Results for Development Institute (R4D) says local tertiary institutions need to impart graduates with skills such as communication, leadership, decision making and critical thinking to stay ahead of the dynamic career race.

The think-tank also called on African institutions to link with employers and industry to bridge the skills gap.

“Non-cognitive skills are becoming increasingly important as economies change,” reads the report released in Nairobi last week.

“Theoretical knowledge acquired in the classroom is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and it is insufficient by itself.”

The findings say soft skills are crucial for economies like Kenya where the informal sector generates about 80 per cent of jobs.

“Non-cognitive skills may be even more important in the informal than in the formal economy—most informal workers are self-employed and thus need to be able to work along the entire value chain, running their own businesses,” it says.

R4D argues that the jua kali and SME sectors require players with entrepreneurial and business skills such as financial management, market research and marketing.

“Informal economy workers need to be more self-reliant than formal economy ones.”

The findings come in the wake of disagreements between universities and professional associations over the quality of graduates as many of them fail to meet expectations at the work place necessitating that employers conduct on-the-job training.

It also partly explains the continued appetite for foreign universities, which focus on developing more rounded graduates.

“We must pay closer attention to what students are learning and how they are learning so we can determine how to prepare them for employment in an increasingly interconnected global economy,” said Nicholas Burnett, managing director at R4D.

The American institution says 21st century work places need graduates with a mix of life skills, cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

Interestingly, Kenya does not have a national manpower strategy — a policy document that should define and catalogue the country’s human resource and align it to the labour market.

Furthermore, most universities do not have mandatory career counselling programmes, job placement centres to coordinate internships and trainings with industry or exchange programmes with foreign universities.

(READ: Foreign varsities step up recruitment in Kenya)

A survey by the Kenya ICT Board dubbed ‘Julisha’ released in November 2011 revealed that innovative thinking, problem solving and project management and implementation were the top three skills that locally trained IT professionals lacked.

“Roughly a quarter of companies are not satisfied with the quality of IT professionals from educational institutions in Kenya; a third of companies have contracted or plan to contract external providers to manage the skills shortages,” says the Julisha report.

Universities need to review their curricula to infuse core subjects with career skills such as flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility. The R4D report also emphasises computer literacy and technology skills.

The student population in local colleges has tripled to 240,551 in the last five years, but most institutions have not matched the growth with number of lecturers and infrastructure.

Last year, the Engineers Registration Board declined to recognise graduates from Kenyatta, Egerton and Masinde Muliro universities over the depth of some of the modules they offer.

The report argues that schooling should deliver the fundamental skills for employability to youth, so that employers can then conduct on-the-job training that is specific to their needs.

The clamour for closer university-industry tries has seen institutions such as Strathmore University, Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology sign partnerships with companies.

The Safaricom Academy at Strathmore, for example, offers postgraduate courses in mobile telecommunications and innovation in fostering techpreneurs.

Safaricom learning and development manager Peter Njioka says: “Theoretical knowledge and technical training is important, but at Safaricom we place a premium on skills like innovation and creative thinking - that is what drives our brand.”

hdavid@ke.nationmedia.com