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Kenya should generate skilled labour for a worldwide market

OPINION
By - | September 30th 2012

By Kilemi Mwiria

As guest speaker at the Meru Technical Training Institute’s third graduation last Friday, I shared with the congregation, the idea of exporting skilled labour. This is not to say there is no demand in Kenya or the region; there is, but only if the economic climate is made vibrant enough to create demand for such skills. We should take full advantage of what the Government is doing to strengthen technical and vocational education, including modernising the curriculum, rehabilitating exiting training institutes, establishing technical training institutes in every county, and partnering with the ministries of youth, education, women and gender to expand the range of available training opportunities.

Middle level skills have been found to have a high return. There is already a big demand for highly skilled labour in Kenya with the booming construction industry and the looming IT and telecom revolution that will drive creativity and innovation.

There is also huge potential in the regional and international markets of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, a market increasingly becoming open to Kenyans. But greater potential lies in Europe and North America because youth here are not keen on manual labour and because with declining birth rates, there will soon be too few of them to engage in skilled labour, yet a salary of a skilled worker can be as much as Sh600, 000.

Kenya should take advantage of these worldwide trends to provide that pool of young technocrats with an internationally acceptable qualification to allow for movement of skilled labour. Training programmes could involve a partnership with transnational corporations for sponsorship of students, internship and eventual employment. Courses on offer could include joinery, masonry, electrical fittings, motor mechanics, IT, plumbing, welding and steel fixing, African art, and care for the aged. New courses could be introduced after careful analysis of local and international market needs.

To prevent permanent immigration of employees, a body representing all skilled labour exporting institutions could prepare memoranda of understanding with potential employers overseas specifying: The period of employment after which the employee has to return home; a commitment of a portion of the salary in a local co-operative/project to motivate employees to return home; and, a clear provision in the work permit and entry visa on the maximum period an employee can work overseas. The co-ordinating body should guarantee return home for all those who secure employment outside Kenya.Already, export labour is booming in Asia from countries like Vietnam, India and Bangladesh that send workers to South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the UAE and Qatar, as guest workers who return home upon completion of their contracts and then wait for the next assignment.  It is only African countries that have not really seen the value of developing our human capital for blue color jobs that are in high demand in these other countries.   It would however, take the concerted effort of the Kenya government to network with employers, training institutes, and private companies to make this work well. We should learn from the experience of Vietnam where the Ministry of Social Services and Invalids, oversees all vocational training and overseas labour deployment by putting in place a system of recruitment that does not allow exploitation of workers by unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers.

The writer is MP for Tigania West and Assistant Minister Higher Education, Science and Technology

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