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Ideas & Debate

Revamp education to get right skills for manufacturing

Poor quality products decrease competiveness
Poor quality products decrease competiveness and hurt sector growth. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The focus on manufacturing as a key sector in Kenya’s economic growth plan is commendable. However, as the government makes every effort to invest in revamping this sector, one of the areas that cannot be overlooked is the preparedness of graduates coming to the workplace particularly to the manufacturing sector.

Without urgent and targeted action to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, the government will have to cope with an ever-growing unemployment and inequality gap as well as businesses with a shrinking consumer base.

According to the US Department of Labour report, 65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will eventually be employed in jobs that are yet to be created. While there is no doubt that repetitive tasks will decline, recent reports provide a more positive outlook for the workforce. The Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum shows that 75 million jobs will disappear and 133 million new jobs will be created by 2022 due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, across all geographies.

Most of the new jobs will be in more specialised areas such as computing, mathematics, architecture and engineering.

Rapid technological change is influencing the skill requirements for most jobs. Just as manufacturing saw a shift from 80 percent unskilled labour 30 years ago to 12 percent today, the next decade will see a shake out of unskilled jobs in nearly every industry.

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Governments and employers are being urged to re-train and re-skill workers to be prepared when “lights-off factories” arrive in which humans are no longer needed.

A recent study conducted by Syspro and Strathmore University on the state of manufacturing in Kenya highlighted a lack of skills to fully support development and the growth of manufacturing.

Close to 50 percent of manufacturing companies interviewed indicated that provision of qualified or trained personnel would be suitable for increasing Kenya’s manufacturing production.

A further 58percent identified government support for apprenticeship as a major initiative.

Workforce deficiencies can result in increased overtime and downtime which contributes to increased labour costs. Further, low skilled workers can also increase rejects or rework, drive production cycle times to be higher, impacting material inventory and product quality.

Poor quality products decrease competiveness and hurt sector growth.

To ease the shortage of skilled workers, manufacturing companies are often forced to invest more in training new personnel.

The significance of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in providing skilled manpower can, therefore, not be ignored.

Both the government and business entities have a role to play in the successful rollout of TVETs in this country.

Manufacturers need skilled technical expertise within the company and in the external ecosystem where technologies are purchased to have tailor-made, affordable solutions with local support. So, for manufacturing success in Kenya, skills are key.

The writer is managing director, Syspro Africa.

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