Employers taking over training to bridge skills gap

'Graduate trainees'
Many corporates are now establishing academies to train fresh graduates. According to the 2018 Skills Mismatch Report, employers are spending an average of Sh20,000 to train new employees. We speak to employers who are providing skills outside the classroom to boost employability.

Allan Juma was an IT student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKuat) when he landed an Android engineer job at Twiga Foods. Juma had concurrently enrolled for additional skills training in software development at an international IT firm headquartered in Nairobi. A friend had casually requested him to apply for the second phase of Andela Learning Community (ALC) programme. Then a flagship project in Kenya, the opportunity was offered by the software development company in partnership with Google and Microsoft to provide learning and mentorship in web and mobile development.

Juma emerged the best coding student and was among the few Kenyans who were endorsed for a Google African Scholarship. After he graduated from the advanced coding course, Google certified him. Just after a one-year stint at TwigaFoods, the 24-year-old who is yet to graduate from JKuat was poached by D’Light where he was offered a six-figure salary for a lead mobile engineer job at the solar company. In May, Juma will be attending a fully-paid annual developers’ conference in California courtesy of Andela, Microsoft and Google.

He says augmenting his university course has presented him with countless opportunities.

“The certification by Google has worked wonders on my résumé. The fact that I underwent advanced software development training and volunteered at Andela Learning Community to train others in the field has opened many opportunities for me,” he says.

Allan’s case is not isolated. Corporate organisations are increasingly opting to condition youth who join the industry to their specification. There has been a significant shift in employers who establish training wings to equip graduates with relevant skills.

Stakeholders argued, during the fifth edition of Standard PLC Transform Kenya initiative, which focused on issues affecting higher education, that employers had taken up the role of training graduates who came out of universities without relevant skills.

“There are many gaps that exist in university education because of the challenges that our universities are facing. That is why many corporates are establishing their own academies to fill in the gaps,” said Muiga Ruara, lecturer at JKuat who attended the debate.

Federation of Kenyan Employers (FKE) in a survey dubbed 2018 Skills Mismatch Report indicated that employers were spending a lot of money to retrain graduates who came out of school. Hashtag samples some employers in different fields who are running different programmes to train fresh graduates.

Standard Media Academy

About two months ago, Standard Group PLC called for applications for a training programme that seeks to nurture talent for the media house. More than 900 jobseekers applied and out of these, 20 successful applicants will be picked to undergo a nine-month rigorous training both in The Standard newsroom and at Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications.

At the graduate school, the trainees who have a background in media will be attached to mentors who will take them through the emerging challenges in media as they try to fit in the growing digital space.

Standard Group PLC Human Resource Director Nicholas Siwatom says there was a problem of irrelevant training.

 “We have a serious problem of joblessness in the country. For each position we advertise, 90 per cent of those who apply are jobless. Many of them apply for any position they come across even when they don’t have relevant background in it,” says Siwatom.

We trimmed the applicants to 600 who are then subjected to aptitude tests to ascertain their strengths and to further sieve out those who only look good only on paper. Some 200 applicants qualify for the next selection stage that includes writing essays and oral interviews. The recruitment is however not isolated to journalism graduates. According to Mr Siwatom, graduates in technical fields who are good in writing are good for the newsroom.

“We go out looking for young people with good communication skills and those who can write well. The newsroom requires people who can understand large amounts of communication and write well. These may be people with any field of education,” says Siwatom.

He adds, “We look for people with a deep understanding of technical fields. We can, for instance, easily pick an accountant who can analyse and poke holes in books of accounts in a way that can be understood by our diverse audiences.”

Oral interviews and essays narrows the applicants down to 20 who proceed to the media school where they are exposed to a modern media lab for three days in a week. The other two days are spent in the newsroom where they complete assignments under supervision of their mentors.

Upon graduation, the trainees are absorbed in print, television and the digital desk according to their strengths. Media schools, according to Mr Siwatom, are not exposing learners to practical skills.

“We see the gap in university training when we receive applications from graduates who are not exposed to any form of practical media. It is not uncommon to bump into print media graduate who has never has never contributed to any publication. Not all universities have TVs and radios where students can get practical exposure,” says Mr Siwatom.

We train web developers with no background in IT

Any young person with an interest in mobile and web development can apply to the Andela Learning Community (ALC), a web-learning platform that has attracted many IT students and professionals in Africa. Mercy Cheruto, ALC Programme Lead in Kenya says the traineeship positions are open to anyone with a passion in software development.

“We never specify academic or experience qualifications when we advertise the positions. We accept any adult who is passionate about coding. We, for example, have a chef with no background in IT who enrolled at ALC as a trainee software developer,” says Cheruto.

In Kenya, the lessons are offered online free, with bi-monthly meet-ups at Andela headquarters in Nairobi and at satellite centres in Eldoret, Mombasa and Nyeri. Cheruto says the aim of the program is to impart individuals with top-notch skills in software development. Andela collaborates with Microsoft and Google to provide curriculum development, scholarship opportunities and certifications on completion of training. During the physical meet-ups, learners interact with volunteer IT professionals who mentor them in the programme that is provided in two phases.

At the end of first six-month phase where trainees are mainly introduced to basics of coding, best performing learners are sponsored by Google through rigorous training where they complete challenging projects. In the last intake that attracted 30, 000 applicants, out of which 15, 000 were selected for the programme, Google sponsored some 500 trainees who also became mentors to junior developers. The rest were job ready, according to Cheruto.

In the next recruitment slotted for end month, Andela projects 60,000 applications out of which 30,000 applicants will be selected to go through the programme. Of these, 7, 500 will be Kenyans. The programme was launched in Kenya in 2017 with 435 learners. The number increased to 3,142 learners in 2018 during the second intake.

Cheruto says ALC Nigeria provides most of the candidates.

“Nigerian youth are very aggressive when presented with learning opportunities. It is in Nigeria that most of our volunteers in the programme come from,” she says.

She insists on the importance IT schools working together with the industry to equip learners with relevant skills for the job market.

“There is a way the industry can work together with universities to develop the curriculum. But the biggest initiative in bridging the existing gap should come from educationists and other policy makers in the education sector,” says the Andela Kenya boss.

Insurance firm’s trainee programme prepares actuarial science graduates

Liberty Life Assurance has partnered with the University of Nairobi to equip Actuarial Science students with relevant skills in insurance. The actuary programme, started in 2017 has seen UoN recommend ten top performing third year students every year, who are reviewed by the company. The insurance company picks five   nominees who are expected to demonstrate agility, positive attitude and good progress in terms of actuarial professional development. General Manager, Marketing and Communications at Liberty Life Assurance Mercy Kabangi, says the programme aims to help actuarial students appreciate the professional work environment.

“The programme is in line with the company’s talent management strategy where it builds a ready talent pool for entry-level positions. Trainees go on rotation within the various departments to get an understanding of the operations of a life insurance company,” says Ms Kabangi.

Those who succefully complete the programme are employed at the insurance firm.

Unilever programme offers all-round mentorship

Unilever future leaders programme is a three-year traineeship program that targets graduates who have had either internship experience or have had at least one-year working experience.  Salome Nderitu, HR Director Unilever East Africa says that most fresh graduates are skilled only on theory, prompting employers to prepare them for the job.

“Having studied for a degree and successfully graduated, graduates are very motivated in terms of knowing where they want to be. The gap then comes in applying what they have learnt in school,” says Ms Nderitu.

The programme focuses on youth employability and leadership development among graduates. Nderitu says the industry is increasingly questioning theories previously relied on. She urges more industries to work with universities in developing the curriculum to bridge the skills gap.

“Working with industry gives a practical outlook on the theory and hence application comes naturally. Organisations should stand up to develop the students earlier and not wait to hire them as management trainees to start the development because ultimately there are only so many management trainees an organisation can hire. Developing students before prepares them for so many other opportunities that go beyond our organisation,” she says.

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