Why we should retool workforce to meet needs of the 21st century

Contractors refill part of a road in Kitale town. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

In December 2018, a senior government official from the Ministry of Transport visited Lamu Port and revealed some disturbing information. He said that out of the 1,200 youth who had already been employed as casual laborers at the Port, only 50 were from Lamu. Many Lamu youth were unwilling to work as casual laborers, citing low pay and long working hours. The Government Official proceeded to challenge parents to ensure that their children attained skills that would make them employable once the port became fully operational.

The industrialisation that we seek to achieve coupled with the ongoing green revolution will create new jobs that require new skills. That’s why our curriculum, all the way from primary to university must be responsive to emerging opportunities in the marketplace. Regardless of the dissenting voices and teething challenges, we must laud the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) for designing the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) that was launched in 2017.

CBC emphasises skills development and application of these skills to real life situations. In line with this, colleges and universities need to revamp their courses and make them relevant to today’s marketplace. According to a 2018 employer survey, 30 per cent of employers blamed a poorly skilled workforce for their growth struggles.

In 2021, the Kenya Youth Policy Development Report vindicated the 2018 survey findings. The report revealed that a glaring skills mismatch was keeping youth out of jobs. This mismatch stems from a weak link between education and industry. To address this, I suggest that we build strong bridges between education and industry. Our young people cannot walk out of high school into university courses that may not secure for them jobs. The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service is a State organ that is charged with the responsibility of providing career guidance and selecting students for admission into institutions of higher learning. I suggest that they enhance their ability to gather intelligence about marketable skills in today’s economy. For instance, what skills are going to power Kenya’s industrialisation? What skills are particularly relevant for the digital age that we are living? With all the talk of Web 3.0, should blockchain technology become a central part of our ICT courses?

The answers to such questions must be unearthed from an elaborate multi-stakeholder process. Additionally, we must also retool the skills of those who are already working. This is what upskilling entails. In a jobs marketplace whose needs and opportunities are changing at breakneck speed, it is important to upskill our workforce so that they can work optimally for maximum benefits.

The Economic Survey 2021 revealed that eight out of ten teachers didn’t have necessary skills for teaching CBC. This deficiency can be fixed through upskilling. Similarly, we need to conduct a skills audit in other sectors of our economy so that we can suitably realise upskilling. That way, we will not have a workforce whose skills are lagging behind marketplace needs.

The Covid pandemic has turned many of these marketplace needs upside down. As a case in point, many of the jobs that were lost in the hospitality sector may not be coming back anytime soon. Nairobi’s Prestigious hotels like Intercontinental and Radisson Blu remain closed. Thousands of hospitality workers in Kenya who lost their jobs should be reskilled through relevant market-oriented training.  Skills are often not exclusive to only one job. They can be refashioned and utilised in other sectors. Waiters who lost their jobs can easily be reskilled for careers in customer service. After all, they are highly experienced in dealing with people. In order to make the most of the skills in our country, human resource departments should analyse skill sets, not just experience and academic papers. At a macro level, there is need for policies that prioritise a skills-based approach of building our economy. Further to that, the Government should invest funds for relevant skills development.

Think green, act green!