Last week, Labour secretary Ukur Yattani alluded to the fact that a shortage of workers with technical skills has forced many foreign firms, particularly those undertaking big infrastructure projects, to import workers.
A quick peep into the mega projects confirms that Chinese firms and other foreign contractors have indeed been importing foreign labour in the construction of the standard gauge railway, Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport, power, ports and highway construction projects. It goes without saying the importation of foreign labour is robbing thousands of Kenyans jobs.
When this scenario is mirrored against President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda that seeks to address inclusive growth and opportunities through job creation, then something must be done to stem it.
Over the years, for job creation has remained a mirage in Kenya despite elaborate plans put in place for employment opportunities.
For example, according to the second Medium Term Plan (2013-2017) of the Vision 2030, 5.17 million new jobs should have been created by now, translating to an annual average of one million jobs.
So where did the rain start beating us? In the minister’s own admission, demand for expertise in blue collar jobs in refrigeration, electrical, plumbing and masonry, among others, is high but we lack the capacity to provide the required personnel to match the skills set.
This calls for an urgent relook at how re-skilling can be done without delay and creation of workable interventions that will establish job centres in the counties.
Ideally, the hubs should have the mandate to match job seekers, skills set, training institutions, employers, entrepreneurs, career services guidance and labour market information all rolled into one.
For this to work, devolved units need not re-invent the wheel. Using the Huduma Centre model, they should set up one-stop centres in each county headquarters to provide information on employment and labour trends. In so doing, realistic development of labour requirements can be harnessed and relevant policies developed and upscaled.
The next step would be to develop an innovation hub at the county level to explore the use of technology to seek jobs and prepare the labour market for the future.
A case to point is the mouthwatering opportunities that will be created by the Konza technocity once it comes into being.
Imagine the talent that will be needed to fill thousands of skilled jobs expected to be created after the completion of the $5 billion (Sh515 trillion) project which is part of Vision 2030. It is expected that the technocity will attract top technology companies to set up shop.
In light of the existing and future job opportunities, there is an urgent need for the devolved units to allocate funds for re-skilling of staff and job transition. This can create pathways for human capital in emerging industries in collaboration with employers and training institutions and guide policymakers on the emerging new world of work.
Though this reads like a huge mountain to climb, counties can start with a simple and realistic guide towards turning this dream into reality.
The next stage would be map training institutions within the private sector, national and county governments for potential collaboration areas and stakeholder engagement.
Finally, pilot job centres can be set up and incubated for a period of one year where gaps can be identified and rectified, resources can be mobilised effectively alongside a long-term sustainability plan.
With this small step, a journey of a thousand miles can begin with the potential to bequeath Kenya inclusive growth and economic advancement through job creation with an eye to the future needs of the global economy.
This will firmly place Kenya on the list of nations that are already making significant changes in the labour landscape. As a nation, we will be able to continuously forecast and anticipate future labour needs for an ever-changing global economy.
Robert Ndwiga via email.