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Labour market suffers job-skills mismatch

James Momanyi @jamomanyi

From Base Titanium in Kwale to Tullow Oil in Turkana County, the extractive sector in Kenya is booming and the future even looks brighter than ever.

However, there is a missing link between the labour market and skills in the market to take the sector to the next level.

The workforce driving the revolution in oil and mining sectors is predominantly expatriates, especially where technical, exploration and production skills are needed. Kenyans are left to merely scour for menial jobs and low-end managerial positions.

That there are not enough Kenyans even to fill for labour intensive jobs as welding, pipe fitting, and drilling, and even drive and repair some of the heavy machinery in the extractive, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors is a big indictment on the Kenyan education system.

For instance during the construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is said to have brought to the country some 2,500 expatriates to build the 609 kilometre railway line supported by hundreds of Kenyans, largely doing clerical, supervisorial and unskilled work.

There is a huge mismatch between the skills held by most Kenyans and those required in emerging sectors like upstream petroleum operations (exploration). There are few Kenyans with technical skills for complex works like pipe fitting, welding, drilling and repair of heavy equipment in the energy and mining sectors.

According to a report tabled at the World Economic Forum in 2015, in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon and Angola there is minimal higher education provision to produce the required skills needed by the extractive sector.

According to Perminus Wainaina, a human resource consultant and managing partner at Corporate Staffing Services, there is a gap in practical knowledge and understanding of technical roles by graduates due to lack of comprehensive practical training in institutions.

“Teaching is more theoretical hence creating ill equipped graduates who are released into the job market every year. Employers hire these graduates only to realise the knowledge they have acquired either obsolete or irrelevant to the role,” Wainaina told People Daily.

Where did the rain start beating us considering that there are several universities and tertiary institutions offering technical and vocational training?

In April, Education Cabinet Secretary, Amina Mohamed said there is a worrying crisis in the country as a large number of students graduating from universities and middle-level colleges lack employable skills.

“We have a big challenge in our institutions of higher learning because most students produced are unemployable and this must be dealt with urgently by ensuring that institutions provide skills that are required by employers,” said Mohamed.

This is not accidental. Labour statistics in Kenya are shocking. According to World Bank figures, Kenya leads the East African Community region in the number of young people out of work at 20 per cent in 2016 up from 17.4 per cent in 2014.

It gets even worse. At present, one million young people enter the labour market every year ranging from Standard Eight and Form Four-leavers and graduates from tertiary and universities.

This means the country should generate at least one million jobs annually for the next 10 years both in the formal and informal sectors to cater for the ballooning youth population.

But therein rests the danger because according to government data, it is further estimated that of these new entrants into the job market, only one in five is likely to find a job in the formal sector.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, last year, the economy generated 897,000 new jobs which was a 7.6 per cent increase compared to 832,900 new jobs created in 2016. The informal sector accounted for most of these new jobs, generating 747,000 jobs, which was, however, lower than the 747,300 new informal sector jobs created in 2016.

Over the past five years, the formal job market has been able to add 400,000 new positions. This is in stark comparison to the more than three million students graduating from technical and vocational education training centres around the country. 

“While this is good progress towards achieving the one million target, much more remains to be done. These statistics indicate that we still have a deficit in job creation. They also indicate that the formal sector is unable to absorb the huge number of job seekers,” Education CS Amina Mohamed told university students last week.

“Foremost, is the need to enhance youth employability by addressing the skills mismatch between education and labour market needs. This will involve provision of training and work experience relevant to market needs both in the formal and informal sectors,” Amina added.

Many studies including the World Bank assessment indicates that the causes of unemployment in Africa, rests largely on disconnect between education and labour market needs.

This view has been corroborated by employers many of whom have cited the lack of technical skills, experience, and job readiness among graduates as a real recruitment challenge.

Even university trainers are in agreement that the training is one of the major causes of unemployment.

According to Technical University of Kenya Vice Chancellor, Prof Francis Aduol, the challenge is that what the market is looking for in most cases are not the basic skills which the universities are providing.

“Our approach is still very traditional where you find that universities are training people to get academic qualifications. But there is a small difference that needs to be added to this and that is how to prepare students to be able to work. Even if we have given you the academic training, say even in the engineering course, you still need practical skills to be able to appreciate what happens in the industry,” Oduol told People Daily.

The government has started to address this mismatch by trying to provide a link between what the students are learning with what the industry is looking for.

Principal Secretary in State Department for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), Dr Kevit Desai, whose department’s budget has almost been tripled to Sh16 billion in the next financial year so as to give the youths relevant technical and vocational skills, says that the provision of skills and competencies are critical for the development of hands-on workers and a skilled workforce for national development.

“TVET will be the biggest game changer in addressing unemployment in the country through the provision of knowledge, skills and innovation at various levels. We are introducing competency-based curriculum. Learners will be competent after skills have been transferred to them,” the PS told People Daily.

“Besides, lecturers will also have to make contact with the private sector for the promotion of effective linkages with the industry. Each trainer will have at least 10 contact hours with the private sector to nourish the needs of his students,” he added.

In the last few years, the government has put in place the legal framework and also established a number of agencies to streamline the sector.

According to Dr Kipkirui Langat, the Director General of Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority, an agency mandated to coordinate and regulate the TVET sector, in the past TVET institutions used to offer low-level artisan skills but currently those skills are declining.

“For a long time we have been having supply-driven skills. We had schools training anything without consulting the industry or the providers and consumers of the skills. But now we are looking at what is needed now and in future and we are training the youth in those areas so as to end the mismatch,” Langat told People Daily.

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