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Apprenticeship key to creating jobs for youth

Cyntia Allela
Cyntia Allela, who won a competition for apprentices in shoe design at Bata. The practice givess young people the skills needed in the job market. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Youth apprenticeship, which is often overlooked, is emerging as a strategic opportunity for creating sustainable employment for young Kenyans, a regional forum for transforming evidence-based knowledge for policy uptake has said.

Utafiti Sera says if harnessed, apprenticeship could boost the impetus for the youth agenda in the country.

Approximately 1 million youth join the labour force annually, about 300,000 of whom do not get jobs.

“In other countries where the system has been successfully employed, indications are that it has proved successful,” says Dr Hannington Odame, the executive director, Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE) and the East Africa regional hub-coordinator for Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA).

Dr Odame points out that agriculture presents many opportunities for the youth, such as diversification along the value chain, investing in new markets, climate-smart agriculture, preventing postharvest loss by using science and technology, among others.

However, if they don't get the appropriate apprenticeship, they cannot venture into the sector.

Youth apprenticeship is linked to high worker-retention rates and an increased capacity for innovation among young employees.

However, it remains largely underused in relation to the country's challenge of unemployed youth.

CABE, together with Partnership for Social and Governance Research (PASGR), an organisation that seeks to increase the capacity of African academic institutions and researchers to conduct research that can inform social policy and governance, is facilitating a research policy for engaging the youth in agriculture and agro-processing in Kenya.

The programme has identified six priority areas for policy response in creating jobs for the youth in these sectors. These are skills and training; access to finance; markets; research and extension; science, technology and innovation; and institutions and policy as areas that require action to push the youth agenda.

These issues, Utafiti says, are in line with the Youth Agribusiness Strategy 2017-2021, and Kenya's Vision 2030.

A United Nations Human Development Index (UNHDI) report released in 2017 shows that Kenya’s unemployment rate stands at 39.1 per cent, with a remarkably high youth unemployment rate, due to a harsh economic environment. As at 2016, an estimated 67 per cent of Kenya’s youth were unemployed or under-employed.

One way for the government to address this is by tapping into the potential of the underexploited agriculture and agro-processing sectors, the report says.

“Youth are pivotal players in agricultural transformation through agri-preneurship programmes. Their engagement in the programmes is, however, limited and requires reactions on policy interventions and research,” says Dr Odame.

In 2017, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, in its economic survey, reported that non-farm and urban sectors cannot absorb the unemployed youth, yet agricultural potential remains largely unexploited.

To save the situation, policy makers and development partners have started supporting policies and programmes that support job creation for the youth in agriculture and agro-processing, Dr Odame says, adding that apprenticeship will play a key role if harnessed.

Among the ways to tackle the unemployment issue specifically among youth, who make up 50 per cent of the country's total working-age population, is through incorporation of the apprenticeship policy framework in a bid to bring more youngsters into agriculture and agro-processing.

This framework has four key pillars including; improving access, attractiveness, good governance and financing, which are essential to building a quality apprenticeship framework that brings on board different stakeholders at different levels, and that includes the heterogonous youth in the country, according to Ms Mercy Nduati of CABE.

While the country boasts different policies on youth, there is no defined policy for apprenticeship, apart from the Kenya National Training Authority Act Apprenticeship and Internship.

“This Act emphases more on formal sector employment rather than the informal, yet doesn’t give assurance for job placement or support towards sole-proprietorship,” says Ms Nduati.

The apprenticeship system, in contrast, integrates structural, attitudinal and cultural processes, creating a heterogeneity of young women, youth abled differently, uneducated rural youth, youth in arid and semi-arid areas and vulnerable youth.

It aims at creating a uniform, inclusive employment opportunity that provides decent incomes, quality work and the growth of entrepreneurial capabilities and enabling the youth to gain authority, capacity and confidence, to be innovative as well as competitive in agriculture and agro-processing.

It is essentially aligned to the national youth employment strategies as well as the agricultural policies to enhance food security, irrigation, commercialisation and intensification, in order to increase productivity and incomes.

For the youth to build on their life skills, there is a need to bridge the gap between the available jobs and the needed skills, which require more training and mentoring.

This calls for linking the gap between skills, needs, and vocational training, and reforming the curriculum.

The apprenticeship system can help address these issues and enable the country to reap multiple benefits from its productive agriculture sector, Ms Nduati says.

A policy framework for enhancing formal and informal (jua kali) apprenticeship systems is what is needed to facilitate this youth engagement in agriculture and agro-processing and, therefore, help tackle unemployment among them.

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