Better days ahead for artisans and technicians in East Africa

EAC flag. EAC Common Market Protocol emphasises free movement of labour. [Courtesy]

Countries in East Africa have commissioned major infrastructure development projects, including the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor, the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Development Projects, Standard Gauge Railway Projects the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam, among others.

With substantial investments running into billions of dollars, these projects present an opportunity to foster the region’s economic development while also increasing youth employment.

The World Bank, for instance, estimates that the LAPSSET project will create more than 200,000 jobs, the railway infrastructure projects in Ethiopia will need about 83,000 technical workers in addition to 1.5 million jobs required in the manufacturing sector by 2025. Regional demand for ICT skills is expected to increase 3.7 times over the next 10 years. This points to the growing demand for technical and vocational skills for industrial and infrastructure projects being undertaken in East Africa.

However, the region continues to face acute shortage of technicians and artisans. Most of the required skills cannot all be available in one country which necessitates free movement of skilled labour among countries in the region. This requires a regional approach to deal with the structural bottlenecks that have limited free movement of labour.

Countries in East Africa, through the World Bank-funded East Africa Skills for Transformation and Regional Integration Project (EASTRIP) are in advanced stages of developing a regional qualifications framework for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in what promises to unlock the region’s economic potential and meet the growing demand for a workforce with technical skills to participate infrastructure projects. The countries involved in this process include Ethiopia and the six-member states of EAC (Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda).

The East African Community (EAC) Common Market Protocol emphasises free movement of labour as one of the pillars for realising regional integration. However, with different qualifications offered by technical and vocational colleges in each of the countries, movement of labour with vocational skills has been a major challenge.

While universities under the auspices of the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) have developed a regional qualifications framework for higher education, absence of a similar regional policy document for TVET system means that technical and vocational colleges still rely on national qualification frameworks for reference which limits free movement of skilled labour.

The regional TVET qualifications will make it possible for TVET colleges and regulatory bodies to harmonise and mutually recognise TVET qualifications offered by each of the countries in the region.

Once concluded, it will be possible for technicians and artisans to practice their trade in any of the countries, thereby fulfilling the greater aspirations of the EAC integration process. This will further complement EASTRIP’s effort to develop regional flagship TVET institutes in selected growth sectors of the economy including manufacturing, agro-processing, transport and infrastructure, energy, and information and communication technology.

It will be possible for students to study at any of the regional flagship institutes and practice their trade in any of the countries. The regional flagship model also puts emphasis on collaborations between TVET institutes and industry to develop high quality and demand-driven TVET programmes.

The 16 flagship TVET institutes being supported by EASTRIP have so far developed 175 demand-driven programmes through close collaboration with industry and managed to collectively increase enrolment from 6,971 to 30,776 students in both short and long-term programmes over the last three years. Graduate employment rate within six months upon graduation has also increased from 47 per cent to 69 per cent in the last three years due to both students and teachers undertaking targeted industrial attachments.

Availability of labour with hands-on skills will make the region attractive for investment for foreign multinationals. It will also ensure that the burgeoning youthful demographic, which according to the East Africa Youth Survey Report, accounts for up to 80 per cent below the age of 35 years, will benefit from massive investment in regional infrastructure projects. 

Mr Muhwezi is a Communication Specialist at IUCEA. [email protected]