Skill-based training necessary to curb shortage of employable youth in Kenya

NAIROBI, KENYA: The shortage of skilled workers in the informal sector is a growing concern for a country such as Kenya, with 77 per cent of her workforce employed in the informal sector.

It may have come as a shock to many when it was reported that a skilled welder for the SGR project could not be found.

At least half a million youth graduate from Kenyan universities annually and a majority of these do not make it to the job market owing to a lack of the skills needed for meaningful employment.

At the same time, according to a study by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, over 86 percent of Kenyan youth aged between 15 and 24 years believe that the education is the ultimate path to a successful life. Slightly below 25 per cent of the respondents cited a lack of quality education as their main challenge in life.

Only 21 per cent of the respondents confessed to have college or university education, many of them for financial or other reasons, not because they lack the capability.

With such a huge demographic divide, the question remains:  how can we leverage resources to fill existing gaps in the market? Kenyan youth play an integral role in our economy’s growth and can do even more.

Yet, in practice, many youths face an uphill task to participate meaningfully in a way that not only changes their lives but also has an impact on the economy.

Unlike other developing regions, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is becoming more youthful, and there has been a clear need to invest in Africa’s youth as Africa has the most youthful population and is the fastest growing region in the world.

According to a report by UNDP, by 2055 the continent’s youth population (aged 15 – 24) is expected to be more than 452 million.

In response, there has been a strong focus on technological skills that can prepare young adults for future careers that involve augmented intelligence. At the same time, there is still a need to address the existing lack of basic skills.

Recognizing this, technical institutions have shifted towards vocational training globally. This has created a global shift towards vocational training through technical institutions.

Industrialised countries such India, Japan, China, and Germany have heavily invested in their technical institutions to provide technical skills to their youth, which is a necessary ingredient to any economy that wants to maintain an upward trajectory. Kenya has also followed suit, as well as other African countries.

However, according to World Economic Forum’s Africa Skills Initiative Report for 2017, economies across Sub-Saharan Africa have not fully leveraged the opportunities offered by TVETs, with enrolment standing at only 6 per cent of total secondary and post-secondary enrolment across the region.

In parallel with improving the job relevance of formal TVET instruction, WEF recommends upgrading Africa’s more widespread practice of offering informal apprenticeships. Several workforce initiatives have been introduced by the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

Through their resources and capacities, these initiatives are providing a platform for the youth to achieve their dreams. Generation is one of these initiatives.

The career readiness initiative is currently operational across 20 counties in Kenya, providing youth with an opportunity to acquire the right skills in various fields including finance and manufacturing.

The programme, funded by McKinsey & Company, USAID, Swedish International Development Agency and Safaricom Foundation, gives the opportunity to any youth in Kenya with as low as a KCPE certificate to gain the requisite skills that will enable them to build meaningful careers, preparing them for the job market.

After an evaluation of the local labour market to identify entry-level jobs that feature either high scarcity or high turnover, Generation creates 4-8-week programmes that offer specific technical and behavioural skills and support services.

The programme has graduated more than 13,000 youth and placed 84 per cent of these into meaningful employment with, among others, financial institutions and manufacturing entities.

70 per cent of these youth have a KCSE grade C and below, and 57 per cent of them are women. A number of these graduates have been trained in TVET institutions, in partnership with the Nairobi County Government and several institutions in the government of Kenya.

The efforts of the Generation programme complement those of the government of Kenya, whose focus on skills training in line with the Big Four agenda towards a sustainable economy has ensured our TVET institutions are supported.

Beyond channeling resources to these TVET institutions, the Government has been running campaigns in a bid to influence the public’s perception of vocational training and encourage youth to enroll in these institutions.

This effort to improve vocational education’s attractiveness promotes investment in skills training and encourages youth to join our TVET institutions, thus increasing youth labour participation.

Public, private and civil society partnerships can create more sustained and effective results. When employers collaborate with training institutions to provide practical training that focuses on demand-driven skills, this increases our pool of skilled workers and creates opportunities for improved productivity and economic growth.

This also benefits employers, as Generation has proven - through a reduction in required interview hours, better-trained professionals, increased individual employee performance, and employees who stay on the job longer. This mutually beneficial engagement allows both employers and training institutions to actively and effectively play a role in solving the youth unemployment problem as they raise youth labour participation.

Ramakrishnan Hariharan is the CEO of Generation Kenya, a youth education to employment programme.