Colleges must introduce avenues where students showcase skills


John Muchene a plumbing student at Waithaka Technical and Vocational Centre shows how to prepare materials for plumbing to Dr. John Mugo Executive Director Zizi Afrique,Safaricom Foundation Trustee Steve Chege and Dagoreti South M.P John Kiarie during handover of Waithaka Technical and Vocational Centre as a Centre Of Excellence and TVET Dissemination Forum.[Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

Sometimes called vocational education and training (VET) or career and technical education, vocational training provides hands-on, job-specific instructions, and can lead to certification, a diploma or even an associate’s degree. Students typically require vocational training to prepare for a wide spectrum of trades including, but not limited to: carpentry, photography, masonry, plumbing, auto mechanics, cosmetology, culinary arts, graphic design, fashion design/dressmaking and welding, just to scratch the surface.

Relevant and quality VET can provide a people, and especially youth, with the knowledge, skills and competencies required for the jobs of today or tomorrow. Providing relevant job skills can therefore be a robust means of empowering people to seize employment opportunities or equip them for self-employment.

Better skills training can help support decent work, more equitable and inclusive growth and be the bridge between education and the labour market, supporting the transition from youth into adulthood. The world’s population is younger than ever, with 1.2 billion people aged 16-24. Therefore, providing pathways into the world of work for young people is one of the greatest development challenges of our era. Recognizing the pivotal role of skills training, especially for young people, to increase their chances for employment and entrepreneurship, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set a number of ambitious targets under sustainable development on quality education, decent work and economic growth.

So, how can vocational training be energized in Kenya? The emphasis placed on vocational skills by countries such as China, Japan and Korea ensures they export more than import, thus creating more jobs, lifting their people from poverty, and exponentially boosting their economies. The reason Kenya is importing such ‘banal’ and basic stuff as dresses, shoes, watches, furniture, watching foreign movies and sports, is because those countries exporting such products placed premium in investing in their artisans and artists, and sound vocational training systems.

Net importers

The reason there are extremely limited ‘Made in Kenya’ products in our supermarket shelves is because we are net importers. And importation is akin to exporting jobs. Furthermore, it places undue strain on the currency, neither of which is good for the economy. We produce very little, and whatever we produce is expensive because not only are our main factors of production expensive, the bureaucracy and the wanton and unbridled corruption to set up businesses/factories chokes any efforts from investors–foreign or local. Policy makers have their work cut out in this regard. Law makers, too. Part of it needs mere policy shift and/or pronouncements, and the other a favourable legal framework.

Let’s take notes from Japan: As of May last year, close to 2,800 professional training colleges that offer vocational training were in operation in Japan. Professional training colleges in Japan run for two years and more, and offer quality technical education directly connected to specific professions. While university is by far the most prestigious form of education in Japan, many Japanese students choose to attend colleges of technology as an alternative route. These schools allow them to gain job skills without the intense pressure of the university admissions process. Many students attend specifically to get professional certifications and then proceed to enter the workforce afterwards.

This system of vocational institutions was founded in 1961, and they have enjoyed increased popularity as an alternative route besides the traditional path of going to university. Graduates of technical schools have been successful in navigating Japan’s high-tech labor market, as they have been swamped with job offers. Graduates of trade and technical schools are awarded associate degrees or diplomas, which are respected by employers but are below bachelor’s degrees in terms of prestige. Nevertheless, technical graduates usually find employment immediately upon graduation. Technical education in the skilled trades continues to be a solid option for students who enjoy working with their hands and have no plans of attending university. This is definitely the silver bullet to the obsession with degrees, especially those incongruent with the demands of the modern world, as is the case here at home.  

A 2004 white paper from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology indicated that the colleges of technology are leaders in the use of apprenticeships and internships, with more than 90% of institutions offering this opportunity compared to 46% of universities and 24% of junior colleges. As of 2008, 23.1% of high school graduates study at colleges of technology with 99.6% being employed after graduation. Despite this advanced numbers being from almost two decades ago, this shows just how much premium is placed on vocational education training in advanced countries.

Kenya, as of today (2021), is yet to make significant and substantive advancements in the vocational training field. We are yet to ensure the chain of production holds in high regard superior training, or maximizes the utilization of the skills. We are yet to ensure that artists and artisans procure decent profits for their work input. Industrial development is necessary for achieving economic growth, dialing down on importation, focusing on utilizing the skills, creating more jobs and increase production of goods for both local consumption and exportation. Perhaps the event of Worldskills competition should be giving us lessons, what to do with our own personnel; the bulging youth population. We can be creating such events, to enhance vocational training, testing the skills acquired from our institutions and promoting local production.

New labour market

We need to impress upon our young ones the need to acquire a skill set in this day and age; the need to master the said skill set and the imperatives of it. And then we should make it possible and reasonably easy and effective. We ought to make vocational training more attractive, prestigious and profitable than a stupid, outdated degree course.

We need to restructure VET, which requires simplifying VET fields and increasing the share of general and versatile skills to increase the life-long employability and entrepreneurship in response to the new labour market and the needs of the modern world.

Therefore, in order to meet the demands of new labour market and provide solutions to the problems of our generation, restructuring of VET, in such a way that will expose students to broader skills relevant to their occupations, allow students to make flexible transitions between occupations, and motivate them to gain general skills, will empower and make more resilient graduates and increase their life-long employability and, even more importantly, their problem-solving capabilities, which are the surest ways of earning a decent living, earning respect and find purpose in today’s world.

Kenya needs to join this league of highly productive, highly innovative and highly educated countries to ensure decent livelihoods for her people, wealth creation and, consequently, an increase in GDP. All relevant stakeholders need to have a meeting of minds to make this possible.

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