Making a living off the beaten career path

While some individuals are lucky to pursue their dream careers, a few like Geoffrey Rono, end up doing something different from what they studied in school. Rono, a marketer by profession, is making locally modelled greenhouses where he makes close to Sh500,000 for designing and constructing a single greenhouse.

“I chose to make greenhouses to help in managing the effect of climate change using this popular technology to boost farming proceeds in spite of the fact that I did not do anything related to agribusiness in college,” Rono says.

 “I was marketing and selling fodder crops in 2016 when I bumped into a friend who was practicing tomato farming in simple wooden constructed greenhouses. I immediately noted a gap and resorted to merging my marketing background with my passion of creating things as a solution to the problem,” Rono says.

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For many years, there has been a notion that what students graduate in is what creates a job for them. However, with the global village calling on innovators to solve, Dr Arthur Onyuka of Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute says even little known courses are becoming more marketable, a scenario that is moving us away from the traditional safe fields.

Untapped in leather industry

“Courses in leather technology or agribusiness technology can be a good bet for students since they guarantee a livelihood for those who practice them,” Onyuka says.

Onyuka says that the Kenyan leather industry, for instance, lacks technical human resource. So dire is the lack of skilled labour that he is the only one in Kenya with a Doctorate in Leather Technology, while only three people have master’s degrees in the field.

According to a World Bank report titled Apparel and Textile Industry released in October 2015, Africa owns a fifth of the global livestock population. While Kenya is one of the leading producers of raw leather in the world with a sizeable population that consumes leather products, it is odd that when many students avoid courses related to this industry.

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Onyuka has been in the industry for the last 33 years, a journey that began when he enrolled in the University of Nairobi to acquire a certificate in leather technology.

“I worked in various districts as a hides inspector before I received a government scholarship to study for my Bachelor’s degree at the University of North Hampton,” Onyuka says.

He is among the few dons making it big in the market in a field where the need is dire for a technical workforce.

Innovators making it big

Other fields like the applied sciences departments in universities have all what the world needs in terms of producing new innovations from little known technology driven courses. Boniface Mutegi, a technician who is now working with Mount Kenya Bottlers in Nyeri is one of the many graduates who have made the best out of these courses. He took Technical Applied Physics at the Technical University of Kenya.

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Mutegi is ecstatic about his career choice and fascinated by the direction his career is taking. He chose the less travelled path close to four years ago. Despite the high flying university entry cut points that would have seen him being attracted to traditional careers, Mutegi chose a little known and newly created course. He is the proud innovator of a mobile phone detector that led to his employment at Coca Cola after his internship.

Mutegi’s mobile phone detector can be used to detect the presence of a phone in a room when strategically placed in an examination room. The detector is capable of detecting radio frequency transmission signal from an activated mobile phone, by sounding a beep alarm and the LED blinks. The alarm continues until the signal transmission ceases.

“We are living at a time when institutions of higher learning are striving to stop exam cheating and produce credible results. With this mobile phone detector, one can stop the vice,” Mutegi says.

The other student who is flying high with a little known course at the Technical University is Ombaso Benard Mirera, a fashion and textile design student, who has developed a collection dubbed Tear Drop collection. If it finds its way into the corporate board rooms soon, he will be the next ‘techno-preneur’ minting millions.

The Tear Drop can be used in boardroom meetings due to its capability to imitate the chairperson of a meeting and repeat his statements after the end of the meeting to bring laughter in the room to add a soft touch into discussions. “What the chair needs to do during the meeting is to only maintain eye contact with the parrot especially when emphasising on some phrases. The parrot will repeat the same,” he says.

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According to Technical University’s Prof Paul Shiundu, the institution’s deputy vice chancellor in charge of research and extension, colleges are now designing new technology driven courses that are meant to prepare graduates to meet the technology expectations out there.

He says, it is not prudent for parents to force their children to pursue the traditional safe fields where jobs are dwindling at the expense of their passions.

Need more technicians

Prof Shiundu argues that institutions, for instance, should be geared towards producing more technicians than engineers in the technical departments.

“An engineer is like a designer who after designing monitors the adherence to the script of the design he needs more technicians to help him do the job so the market is looking forward to have more technicians in return,” Shiundu says.

“Our economy needs more technicians pumped into the market than anyone else. At our level, we need one engineer for every 60 technicians churn out there if we are to achieve Developed Country status,” Shiundu says.

At the Technical University apart from a few little known departments that produce innovators, the very latest is the Bachelor of Technology degree programme in the institution. This newly designed course is producing many graduates who are doing great innovations out there.

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