Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions are instrumental in Kenya’s quest to be an industrial economy by 2030.
According to the Ministry of Education, the goal of TVET is to provide relevant and adequate skills and competencies in strategic disciplines to promote the country’s industrial and economic development.
Underline the words ‘relevant’ and ‘adequate’ since it is not enough to produce graduates but also ensure they have the right skill-sets for the job market.
Additionally, the Kenya Vision 2030 envisages practical skills training as a cornerstone of industrialisation.
Practical skills are those that graduates can apply either as employees or entrepreneurs once they complete training. Imparting relevant, adequate and practical skills is therefore imperative if Kenya is to attain industrial economy status.
This calls for linkages between training institutions (both technical colleges and universities) and the manufacturing sector. In fact, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has identified such linkages as a driver of an advanced industrial manpower base.
However, even as we strive to mainstream TVETs in our industrialisation agenda, this must be in tandem with the needs of a modern economy underpinned by rapid changes in technology and consumer trends.
This implies that we must equip trainees with both the technical and commercial skills that are relevant in the emerging market. We must also go a step further by forging stronger collaboration by government, industry and academia, or what is referred to as the Triple Helix Model.
Fortunately, the government has invested heavily in TVETs in recent years.
The Triple Helix Model evolved out of the growing recognition that universities have to work closely with government and industry so as to enhance knowledge development in the technical sector.
In this case, the university acts as a point of disseminating academic knowledge while industry provides practical experiences based on customer and market trends. The government comes in to set the standards and formulate policies for technical and vocational training in tertiary learning institutions.
Essentially, the overriding goal of this model is to improve the quality of technical training by making it more holistic and relevant through a combination of theory and practical, hands-on exposure to the intricate workings of industry and the market.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has been at the forefront advancing this agenda. The KAM Manifesto 2022-2027 articulates, among other things, research, mentorship and training as core features of such partnerships.
Many local manufacturing firms, including the one I work for, have invested in joint programmes to this end.
For instance, Pwani Oil, has partnered with the Technical University of Mombasa to undertake joint research, training, mentorship, knowledge exchange and community outreach activities, as part of a collaboration to improve the quality of technical education in Kenya. The partnership is also geared to preparing beneficiaries to work in the industrial environment.
Besides practical industrial exposure, students are introduced to critical aspects of modern industry such as innovation and consumer research. Nurturing entrepreneurial skills is also a vital ingredient in developing a smart industrial workforce of the future.
Private sector comes in to provide the mechanism by which learners can gain first-hand experience on the workings of industry from both a commercial and technical perspective. Such programmes should, however, not be restricted to universities.
Instead, they should be cascaded down to technical colleges offering diploma and certificate courses. This will significantly help in training non-degree graduates with marketable professional skills beyond the expected technical competence for the job.
These include communication skills, people management, consumer focus, critical thinking and problem solving. Ability to work with the latest technology like automation is also crucial.
As Ong Ye Kung, who once served as minister for education in Singapore, said: “Degrees do not define us, individually or as a society…. Our society needs to evolve, such that all occupations, crafts and trades, whether the skills are acquired through a degree education or not, are respected and recognised.”
Government should consider providing tax and other incentives for manufacturers that actively promote practical training programmes to improve the quality of the country’s industrial human capital.
In addition, counties should spearhead the integration of TVET into the modern factory environment.
A good example is Nakuru County which last month initiated a partnership with the private sector to equip learners with hands-on skills through industry exposure.