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Skills youth need to cope with new Covid-19 normal

There’s little to celebrate. Jobs everywhere slipped away overnight, and millions of livelihoods are at extreme risk.
There’s little to celebrate. Jobs everywhere slipped away overnight, and millions of livelihoods are at extreme risk. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

On July 15, the United Nations led the world in celebrating the World Youth Skills day.

There’s little to celebrate. Jobs everywhere slipped away overnight, and millions of livelihoods are at extreme risk.

The future that we have been building for the youth has been dimmed at an unprecedented scale and speed. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures have led to the worldwide closure of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, threatening the continuity of skills development.

The UN estimates that nearly 70 per cent of the world’s learners are affected by school closures across education levels currently.

According to a survey of TVET institutions the UNESCO, ILO and the World Bank conducted, distance training has become the most common way of imparting skills, with considerable difficulties regarding, among others, curricula adaptation, trainee and trainer preparedness, connectivity, or assessment and certification processes.

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The gloom is deep-seated. Before the current crisis, young people aged 15-24 were three times more likely than adults to be unemployed and often faced a prolonged school-to-work transition period.

Therefore, as the youth are called upon to contribute to the post-Covid recovery efforts, they will need to be equipped with the skills to successfully manage evolving challenges and the resilience to adapt to future disruptions.

All sectors of the economy are gravely affected. But let me single out the construction sector, a large employer of skilled and unskilled labour. Before Covid-19, the local construction and real estate sector was growing at 5.3 per cent in 2019. It was an improvement up from a 4.1 per cent growth in 2018, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Economic Survey 2020.

Now, the cranes have stopped, and the concrete mixers have fallen silent.

Construction firms that are still active have to apply shorter working hours and adjust to a decline in the supply of construction materials due to supply disruptions, and the considerable drop in demand for housing occasioned by job losses.

While the exact figures are yet to be determined, the future is undoubtedly uncertain for construction workers as it is for other youth in other sectors.

We must find innovative ways of maintaining vocational training and ensuring the skilled workers continue with their trade.

If we expect the young people we are training to fill the vast gaps in the provision of skilled and well-refined labour, we should think hard about how to ensure that they arrive equipped in the market.

One of the critical lessons that KCB Foundation has learnt is that toolkits are a crucial differentiator in determining the success of the trained beneficiaries.

We are building resilience among the youth against the pandemic by providing beneficiaries trained in construction with toolkits in partnership with GIZ’s E4D/SOGA programme.

We have given out 301 toolkits and safety gear and sanitation consumables to the youth across the country to establish their businesses and boost their performance amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Every household needs a plumber, carpenter, electrician, or some maintenance specialist at one point.

Often, the quality of craft here in Kenya is found wanting, and we somehow come to live with the expectation that we cannot get the quality we ordered.

One reason for the unsatisfactory outcome is where a carpenter – due to economic pressures – feels the need to push themselves to do some plumbing or vice versa.

The other is those well-trained workers – and the youth often fall in this category – have not made enough money to purchase the tools of their trade and arrive for a job ill-equipped.

A skilled and well-equipped worker has more opportunities for expanding their range of capabilities and kick off their journey to building a sustainable vocation they so wish.

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