When Kenya announced the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in March 2020, many people went into panic mode. Business owners and employers immediately began re-strategising in a bid to remain afloat in case of an economic meltdown.
Unfortunately, in the process of cost cutting, many organisations resorted to laying off employees while sending others on unpaid leave to await better days. A few months into the global pandemic, many small-scale businesses and big corporations were struggling to meet the daily operation costs, leave alone turn a profit.
The loss of jobs across many sectors of the Kenyan economy revealed the critical need for an individual’s ability to quickly adapt to new realities. Skill transferability became the thin line between survival and death, literally. Many hitherto white-collar workers were using their knowledge and skills outside of their comfort zones to sustain themselves and their families.
Social media platforms were suddenly awash with images of high-end vehicles packed on roadsides, their boots filled with green groceries and other merchandise as their owners took off their white collars and rolled up sleeves to feed their families.
While skill transferability has always been a factor to consider when choosing a career, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore how imperative a factor it indeed is. Many people across the world have found themselves jobless and have had to transfer their skills – soft or otherwise – from the corporate environments to different contexts ‘on the streets’ in a bid to survive the harsh economic times that the global pandemic has presented.
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From having to utilise one’s excellent people skills to make a sale, to fixing electrical appliances door-to-door, many Kenyans have had to use the skills acquired both in school and at work to make a living in ways they may never have imagined.
So what are transferable skills? Simply put, this is an ability or expertise that can be applied in a variety of situations. It can be ‘transported’ from one context to another. Good communication skills, for example listening, speaking and writing can help one easily become a team player within a corporate setting, but can also enable one to attract and retain customers for a private small-scale business.
Many career guidance experts recommend that in choosing a career, one should consider many factors including one’s passion and qualifications, personality as well as the ability to apply the skills learnt in school to develop oneself outside of the traditional job environments.
In Kenya, Covid-19 presents the opportunity for curriculum development experts across various tertiary learning institutions to review the various courses offered to ensure that learners acquire hands-on skills to prepare them for different work environments.
While theoretical illustrations are critical in laying a foundation for the understanding of different concepts within different fields of study, it is important for every trainer to identify and expose students to real hands-on skills in each course in order to prepare them for the rapidly changing work environment after school. For example, the concept of entrepreneurship should be deeply entrenched in each learner.
Every learner should be exposed to the option of applying the knowledge and skills learnt in class to engage in gainful self-employment if they so choose. They should be encouraged to explore the various types of businesses they could possibly start within their relevant industries.
This early exposure to the available options will enable learners to carve their niche and work towards fulfilling their career goals in whatever context they prefer. Thankfully, the Competency Based Curriculum has already provided the learner-centred, skill-based learning at the primary level of education.
As the world adapts to the ‘new-normal’, it is likely that the world economy will not fully stabilise any time soon. This means that as we await better days post Covid-19, many of the previously employed people will have to look to other ways of utilising their acquired skills to sustain themselves.
They will have to transfer their skills to contexts outside of their familiar environments. With the Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely that only individuals with relevant versatile skills will be able to transition from employment to, for example, owning businesses.
Dr Kalangi is a communications lecturer and trainer, Kenyatta University