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How up-skilling can make youth more employable

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Kartik Jayaram | July 26th 2016
By Kartik Jayaram | July 26th 2016
FINANCIAL STANDARD

As Africa prepares for economic takeoff, its young people have a critical role to play. They are a key ingredient in unlocking the continent’s potential.

However, more needs to be done to prepare these young people, including those in Kenya, to take up opportunities. This involves a full spectrum of activities, including equipping them with skills, connecting them to employment, and setting them on the path towards a fulfilling career and life.

Kenya is a youthful society, with more than half the population estimated to be aged under 25. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of these youth are unemployed — 17 per cent, almost double the 9.2 per cent global average.

Ultimately, we need more than just employment opportunities for youth; we need youth who are qualified and skilled to take up these opportunities.

Thus, the challenge for Kenya, and indeed the rest of the continent, is harnessing the contribution of the youth to enable them to contribute towards economic development.

Global concern

The skills gap facing young people is a matter of global concern. It is estimated that more than 73 million young people are unemployed, and perhaps three times more are under-employed. It is no wonder that during the recent UN World Youth Skills Day, the focus was on skills development to improve youth employment.

Many young people leave the formal education system with a variety of qualifications, but a common complaint from employers is that these young graduates are not qualified to fill even entry-level positions. Surely, there must be a way to resolve this mismatch.

This was the motivation behind the founding of Generation by McKinsey Social Initiative, an independent non-profit, in 2015. So far, Generation operates in 16 cities in Kenya, India, Spain, Mexico and the US. In each country we operate in, Generation evaluates the local labour market to identify entry-level jobs that feature either high scarcity or high turnover.

Based on this, short programmes (four to 12 weeks long) are developed to offer specific technical and behavioural skills, and support services (such as stipends and mentorship). Our goal is to build a systematic programme that can offer young people the skills that will enable them to find satisfying work.

In Kenya, Generation is funded by McKinsey & Company and USAid, and works with a range of local companies and community organisations.

So far, more than 1,000 young people aged between 20 and 29 have completed the programme, and 98 per cent of them have been placed in jobs. By the end of 2016, we expect to have got more than 3,000 young Kenyans into the labour market. There are a number of important lessons we have taken away from our work thus far.

First, employers need to be involved in defining the programme and curriculum. This way, young people learn the skills that are most important for the job, and employers gain confidence in the programme.

Second, technical and ‘soft’ skill training should be integrated to prepare young people for jobs in a holistic way.

Economic benefits

Third, employers need to interview for skills, not CVs. When young people are tested on skills, and not simply their history, they can better demonstrate their abilities and employers can be sure they are finding the right candidates.

Lastly, employment and training organisations need to collect and use data effectively. By monitoring young people’s progress from the day they apply for a programme to the workplace and beyond, we can identify what works and what needs improving.

Equip young people with skills and connect them to employment opportunities, and not only do their lives improve, but the economy benefits as well. The dividend that comes from a gainfully engaged youth population is huge, with access to a quality workforce an important factor in making Kenya attractive for investment.

Our youth have an important contribution to make in building a better future for themselves and for their country. They, however, need to be empowered and their creativity encouraged through skills development.

The writer is programme director, Generation Kenya.

[email protected]

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