Get ‘jua kali’ sector back on track to increase job opportunities

With the end of national examinations by the end of November, all schools will close for the December holidays.

Both primary and secondary school finalists will be anxiously waiting for their exam results. The latter will affect both their academic and career ambitions. Inevitably, thousands of young men and women will drop out.

Consequently, they will join the ever-increasing number of unemployed youth in the country. This will definitely increase the number of dependants on parents and guardians, many of whom have retired either by attaining retirement age, or through the perennial layoffs afflicting Kenya’s labour market.

However, the situation is just as desperate as we like it to be. While we are still biased towards white collar jobs, a whole new world awaits those who are ready to fold up their sleeves and get down to manual work.

This is where the informal sector, popularly known as ‘jua kali’ - under the hot sun - comes in.

The role of this sector in making Kenya a newly industrialised country by 2030 cannot be overemphasized.

The jua kali sector has contributed greatly to the development of a pool of skilled and semi-skilled workers, who form the cornerstone of industrialisation.

This is the cadre that can help us transform from an agricultural based, to an industrial based economy.

While over 100,000 jobs are created each year in the small scale sector, the sector is still plagued by various problems like poor management skills, low capacity, credit crunch, and a non-supportive legal and regulatory framework.

There is need for an attitude change in order to mainstream the jua kali sector in the country’s economic development. The sector is still seen as the preserve of those who have failed elsewhere, rather than as a legitimate occupation.

Still, today there is some light. The establishment of Kenya’s strategy of promoting the uptake of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), has gained momentum in recent years.

Indeed, several development partners are currently helping the Kenyan Government build a modern vocational skills training system anchored on TVET. For instance, the model of excellence at the Kenya Teachers Technical Training in Nairobi is working towards providing state of the art turnkey solutions and systems for sectors in engineering, science and technology, training and industrial environments.

The task involves providing professional skills in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, automotive maintenance, mechatronics technology, welding, refrigeration, agricultural value addition, hospitality management, civil engineering, and agricultural machinery in 134 colleges and universities in the country.

TVET is opening doors for an increasing number of young high school graduates, by giving them an invaluable opportunity to acquire invaluable practical skills for employment.

It is hoped that this initiative will meet the demands of the labour market in the industrial sector, helping Kenya achieve her economic and social development goals as contained in Vision 2030, the country’s economic blueprint.

Lately, Kenya has developed the Big Four Agenda in the medium term, with manufacturing forming the backbone of the country’s social and economic development. But the government cannot do this alone. As one of the main beneficiaries of TVET graduates, Kenya’s private sector must be more aggressive in offering the necessary support.

This is one of the ways the country can also leverage her geopolitical position in the East Africa region to excel in trade and commerce.

Coupled with the President’s agenda, this three-pronged collaboration could accelerate the transformation of our country into a newly industrialised and globally competitive nation.

County governments should also establish advisory committees with the aim of coordinating and harmonising jua kali initiatives within their jurisdiction.

To further entrench this sector, there should also be more cooperation between the Central government, counties, development partners, and the sector’s associations. With globalisation threatening the economies of developing countries, the government must protect the sector from market liberalisation and dumping.

The fallacies in this country will never end. According to some media reports, cabinet secretaries put off a cabinet meeting last week in order to supervise and guard the integrity of the national examinations which kicked off last week.

Now, are we talking of the same CSs, some of whose reputation is tainted with sleaze? If you have done psychology, then you know that children follow the maxim, ‘monkey see, monkey do’!

The writer, Stephen Ndegwa, is an author, communication specialist, and public policy analyst.

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