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How to fill the widening skills gap in job market

A job interview. Filling the skills gap is costly and engaging. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A job interview. Filling the skills gap is costly and engaging. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Lack of technical skills and job experience are major problems for many countries across the globe.

The problems are felt most by emerging economies which have to rely on expatriates to build capacity, spur economic growth and pioneer new sectors. Companies employing expatriate labour do not do so out of choice, it is an expensive option and often exposes them to criticism.

A 2013 World Bank report titled The Job Challenge shows that it has become difficult for most graduates to get jobs within their specific disciplines.

Surprisingly, the main issue is not because there are too many graduates chasing few jobs, but because most graduates lack the necessary skills and experience that the job market requires.

According to McKinsey, 40 per cent of employers report skills gaps in entry level vacancies, hence showing that this is a significant issue to both employers and the unemployed. 

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This trend is exacerbated by technological advancements which are rapidly replacing manual jobs, leaving millions of young people unprepared to participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.

So how do employers and job-seekers fill this gap today? Several remedies have been recommended in the past. Here in Kenya, a method that has worked well is the graduate trainee programme where fresh graduates are absorbed into companies.

They are taken through rigorous on the job training after which they are either hired or let to go explore opportunities elsewhere.

The model is used by various global companies including Procter and Gamble, PwC and Deloitte. Graduate training programmes act as a means of transferring skills and experience to workforce entrants and allow organisations to attract and identify talent.

Securing technically talented and experienced staff in an emerging economy like Kenya can be difficult, particularly in newly established sectors such as the extractives sector.

How have companies managed to build and develop talent locally while saving costs on expatriates?

One good example of this is mining company Base Titanium. The firm has initiated various programmes to build capacity. Its programmes include a three month internship, an 18-month graduate trainee programme, an apprenticeship programme, community training, and the frontline management programme.

The frontline management programme identifies outstanding employees who are trained for higher level technical or management positions.

The training covers businesses operations, allowing them to gain insight and experience in and beyond their respective disciplines.

This enables them to have a more holistic understanding of the company’s operations, a key requirement for management.

I will focus on two of Base Titanium’s training programmes; the apprentice and the community trainee programmes.

These represent practical initiatives that benefit Kenya’s youth, local communities and the company. They can also be easily adopted and rolled out across any sector.

The Community Technical Training Programme was launched in December 2016 and is fully facilitated by Base Titanium.

It focuses on enrolling trainees from local communities and is designed to provide basic life and computer skills, emergency response knowledge, workshop practice, first aid and occupational health and safety training.

Trainees specialise in two trades; electrical wiring and arc welders. This training links academic learning to industrial needs.

The trainees are later sponsored for the National Industrial Training Authority (Nita) grade exams for national certification. The trainees, about 15 by now, are Form Four graduates who were unable to proceed with their education.

Base Titanium, through a partnership with Mombasa Industrial Training Centre (MITC), provides an opportunity for community members to enhance their skills at both institutions after which they sit for Nita exams. If they so wish, the trainees can proceed to the diploma level.

This equips them with core skills to enter the job market. It also ensures that Base Titanium has a skilled labour pool should they expand their mining activities.

On the other hand, Base Titanium’s diploma apprentices programme takes three years and targets Form Four leavers admitted in a technical training institution. The programme is meant to provide real life, on the job skills transfer during their college period.

Apprentices are embedded as employees and assigned to a mentor in a given discipline depending on their course.

Each intake comprises of 20 apprentices who learn the requirements of their jobs to eventually work with minimal supervision.

Apprentices also attended classes at the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM).

Base Titanium works closely with TUM to coordinate training. The programme is endorsed by Nita.

In spite of these efforts, a lot still needs to be done to provide necessary skills to youth to ensure that they are ready for the job market.
Filling the skills gap is costly and engaging.

However, the private sector can impart skills that contribute to Kenya’s economic transformation through partnerships with the government and institutions such as Nita and TUM.

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