Ideas & Debate

Linkages that bridge industry skills gap

youth pic

A mechanical engineering student operates a lathe machine during a practical session at Kisumu National Polytechnic. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Youth comprise 14 million or 29 percent of Kenya’s total population, according to the 2019 national census. Kenya, like many countries is experiencing a youth bulge, defined as a situation where more than 20 percent of a country’s population is young people.

It is estimated that 800,000 young Kenyans enter the labour market each year. But unemployment among youth is high at 35 percent compared to 10 percent nationally. The situation is compounded by a surge in the number of young people completing secondary education.

This year alone, over 1.5 million learners will sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examination in March and December. Of these, only around 20 percent will be lucky to join universities to pursue a degree course.

The rest will be competing for slots in Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions to study non-degree courses.

Despite the crucial role they play in equipping young people with technical skills to secure livelihood opportunities, there is a perception among many Kenyans that non-degree courses offered by TVETs are inferior. We must dispel such notions. This emphasis on degrees and white-collar jobs perhaps explains the high unemployment rates among youth given the limited opportunities in the formal job market.

Investing in technical, vocational, and professional courses at non-degree level is critical in not only helping Kenya transform into an industrial economy but also, bridging the huge gap in much sought-after skillsets in the industry.

Unfortunately, youth from underprivileged communities are likely to be locked out of opportunities to acquire skills that would enable them build sustainable livelihoods. Hence the need for concerted partnerships geared to empowering underprivileged youth to break the cycle of poverty through achieving sustainable livelihoods.

We must tear down barriers that prevent young people from becoming successful in life by unlocking opportunities for them. This entails equipping our youth with quality technical, professional, and entrepreneurial training through creativity and innovation to pursue sustainable livelihoods. In addition, we must provide opportunities for mentorship of our young people.

Most importantly, we need to empower the youth with skills and value to secure a productive future. Given the skilling gap in the industry, more so, technical skills, partnerships are pivotal in bridging the shortfall in well-trained manpower. However, we also need to change the mindset of our youth from job seekers to job-creators, by imparting entrepreneurial skills for them to launch their own businesses and employ others.

To address this issue, Simba Foundation, Old Mutual and Faulu Foundation have partnered to support young people access automotive training and financial education in Kenya.

Anchored on Competency-Based Training, the beneficiaries learn skills that are much sought after in the industry. They also earn as they learn to enable them to meet their basic needs while acquiring skills to help them build their future careers.

One of the TVET institutions involved in the initiative is the Christian Industrial Training Centre (CITC) in Mombasa where students also receive financial education and mentorship training. CITC is a Christian-based institution established to provide technical, industrial, vocational, and entrepreneurial training to the youth so they can compete in the job market. Others are St. Kizito Vocational Training Institute in Nairobi.

Forty students have so far completed Grade 3 training in Nairobi and Mombasa. This year, another 36 students will complete the Grade 2 course in Nairobi and Mombasa. A cohort of 30 students is expected to start Grade 3 in Kisumu this year.

A key learning is that apart from technical skills, it is important to impart life skills to our youth. The World Health Organisation defines life skills as “competencies and interpersonal skills that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and build healthy relationships with other people while managing their lives in a productive manner.”

Young people need guidance on managing stress in life, handling disputes, and cultivating resilience and the ability to bounce back from adversity. Mentorship offers a good platform for developing life skills among youth.

Creating well-rounded individuals ensures that our youth have both technical skills to earn a living and the ability to be self-reliant and productive in their lives.

Mr Popat is Chairman Simba Foundation and Mr Njoroge is Managing Director Faulu Microfinance Bank