At the Malindi jua kali sheds in Kilifi County, we find Islam Katana Yaa, a mechanic with over 30 years of experience, but who lacks any academic certificates to show for his skills.
Mr Yaa says there is no car engine he cannot fix. He is, however, aware that his experience counts for nothing if he were to apply for a job in a car manufacturing company.
Yaa is among thousands in the informal sector who did not get an opportunity to study their trade in a learning institution, but acquired skills on the job as an apprentice.
“I learnt this trade in a garage here in Malindi when I was 20 years old. There are many people who have passed through my hands and are now working,” he says.
Yaa says he has never set foot in a technical institution and this has left him in the hands of middlemen who source for contracts worth millions, then sub-contract him at a low fee.
“I have missed out on professional job opportunities because I lack papers,” he says.
Like Yaa, Patrick Katana Chengo is another mechanic in Malindi town with 14 years of experience in electrical mechanics, but who says he misses out on many opportunities despite his expertise in the trade.
Katana says after sitting his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), he was not able to proceed to secondary school and started going from garage to garage seeking apprenticeship.
“Many of my friends and I cannot secure meaningful employment in corporations such as Toyota Kenya because we don’t have academic certificates,” says Katana.
“But if the government recognises our efforts, then we will be able to get certificates that we can use in securing jobs and also use them to champion for better pay from our employers,” he adds.
Thousands of artisans across the country lack academic certificates and this makes them vulnerable to exploitation by middlemen who do not have work experience, but have certificates.
Informal enterprises like mechanics, palm-wine tapping, dressmaking and hairdressing, among others, employ thousands of Kenyans.
According to the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), 99 per cent of seven million informal businesses in Kenya are unlicensed micro-enterprises and employ workers without academic papers.
Paul Mutuku, chairman of the Malindi Juakali Artisans Association, admits that there is a huge disconnect between Kenya’s education curriculum and the reality in the job market. He says there are many skills practiced in the job market but which are not recognised in the technical education system.
“There are many jua kali knowledge and skills that are not in the curriculum, such as making jikos, and they contribute immensely to the economy, yet they are not recognised.” he says.
“An example is when the government issued tenders to make school desks; those who won the tenders had no work experience, so they came back to us and they paid us peanuts to make the desks,” he adds.
Famau Mohamed Famau, chairman of the Malindi Micro and Small Enterprise Association says thousands of artisans have missed out on opportunities worth millions due to lack of recognition.
“Our main challenge has been certification which has robbed us of opportunities in government such as tenders and we end up getting exploited by people who have certificates but do not have the job experience. We request the government to recognise our efforts,” says Mohamed.
However, all this is set to change as the government, through the Micro and Small Enterprise Authority (MSEA), is in the process of initiating a system to recognise skills in the informal sector through the issuance of certifications to experienced artisans.
According to MSEA director of Infrastructure Development, Technology, and Innovation, Engineer Edward Karani, the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme will assess and issue certificates to artisans with industry experience, thus enabling them to access more opportunities that they could previously not access.
“As a government, we put into recognition the challenges that the jua kali sector face, and one of them is that they can work, but lack recognition of their skills and can’t express and show what they can do,” he said.