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Strengthening skills training key in tackling unemployment

OPINION
By Lorreen Ajiambo | July 19th 2021

In Kenya, about one in every three people under 35 is unable to find a job despite actively seeking work. This challenge is exacerbated by the 1.7 million jobs estimated to be lost as a result of lockdowns and restrictions put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Youth unemployment and underemployment have been majors issue in Kenya. Policymakers and stakeholders have invested in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions, anticipating that the increase in skill acquisition will result in access to gainful employment. Unfortunately, a recent literature review found that only three out of nine rigorous evaluations of TVET programmes show some positive effect on employment outcomes. This research shows that on average, skills training programmes increase employment by only 2.6 per cent – a much lower result than the 10x- or higher rates that policymakers expected.

Okello Kevin, from Nairobi Technical Training Institute, explains how his Automatic Engine Locking System innovation for drunken drivers incorporating a distance monitoring unit operates, during Nairobi Technical Training Institute TVET Fair in 2018. [David Njaaga, Standard]

So how can we tackle youth unemployment? Evidence shows that providing technical skills training alone is not enough to empower young people to find and create jobs. More can be done to prepare young people to enter and excel in the labour market such as equipping them with wholesome skills, basing policies on available evidence and conducting robust communications activities to change attitudes towards TVET careers.

Increased funding, enhanced regulations and robust communication campaigns by the government have resulted in TVET enrollment growing by nearly 300 per cent since 2013. This is attributed to, among others, the reforms in the sector that arose from the implementation of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Act of 2013. The establishment of a regulatory body: the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA), and the Curriculum Development Assessment and Certification Council to oversee curriculum development, assessment and certification of programmes. These efforts have led to the development of more relevant, market-driven technical courses that aim to equip young people with employable skills. With a TVET institution in every constituency, and the Sh30,000 capitation grant per student (covering about 30 per cent of annual training costs), there has been a remarkable increase in the number of young people enrolling into TVET institutions. There is, however, no evidence yet that these investments have resulted in increased employment opportunities.

Investments and policy reforms have certainly resulted in higher student enrollment in TVET institutions. However, for enrollment to lead to employment, these institutions must have connections to employers and offer high-demand skills needed in the job market. There are a few opportunities that policymakers and other stakeholders might consider to fully prepare young people for the labour market. Recommended areas of focus include a holistic approach to training.

Often purely academic training isn’t sufficient for finding and sustaining a job. TVET programmes can incorporate Whole Youth Development skills such as entrepreneurship, communication, problem solving, relational skills and time management. Much of the current TVET curriculum prioritises students developing technical skills over soft skills – both in instruction and assessment. Institutional leadership can place more emphasis on soft skills, especially ensuring that instructor training curriculum covers soft skills sufficiently. Without this, some evidence shows that these factors can impede the development of essential soft skills among Kenyan youth, inhibiting their success in the job market.

Two, policymakers and other TVET stakeholders need to use evidence to inform decision-making around TVET reform and improvement. A number of organisations have conducted research around TVETs. TVETA took over the publication of the Kenya Journal of TVET from Rift Valley Technical Training Institute. The journal acts as a platform to disseminate the latest innovations and knowledge in TVET education and training.

Moreover, more research into the barriers to accessing technical and vocational training among Kenyan youth is necessary so that policymakers can put appropriate strategies in place. Existing evidence needs to be made available and accessible to decision-makers to encourage evidence-based programmes, efforts and strategies for the enhancement and improvement of TVET programmes. Tracer studies on student outcomes after completing training programmes could further inform future policy and investment decisions.

Three, a report by the Unesco-Unevoc International Centre for Technical and Vocational Training reported evidence of negative attitudes towards careers in technical and vocational fields across many communities in Kenya. A communication strategy led by TVETA and county governments targeting the public and addressing the misconceptions around TVETs can reduce the information gap that exists and increase TVET enrollment and employment outcomes thereafter. While there have been efforts to rebrand TVET and improve attitudes towards vocational training, the research shows communities still look down on these occupations. More efforts to address social attitudes about TVET institutions could result in higher enrollment, and consequently, more young people prepared for jobs that require these skills.  

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