Jasper who holds a diploma in Institutional Management from a university in Nairobi recently sent me his resume. Upon asking him what kind of job he was looking for, his “I am open to anything” response took me by surprise. I still don’t know how to assist him since I am unclear on the specific competencies that his diploma accorded him.
More than ever before, Kenyans are attending tertiary institutions and obtaining diplomas, degrees and other advanced qualifications with a sole dream of securing formal employment.
However, even after “intensive skilling” from these academic institutions, most of the students face the stark reality of scant employment prospects after graduation.
We need to investigate whether the training Kenyans are seeking or receiving is congruent with the needs of the job market. Are people obtaining qualifications simply because they are trendy or supposedly “marketable”?
Given that of all jobs created only 16.9 per cent are in the formal sector, could it be that people are focusing on formal employment driven skills yet most of the opportunities exist in the informal sector?
After all, how many lawyers, accountants, procurement officers or MBAs can an economy such as Kenya’s sustain?
On the other hand, how many technical, vocational, and practical occupations remain understaffed because of a lack of specially trained personnel needed to man them? Doesn’t an emerging economy such as ours need more mechanics, plumbers, electricians, agronomists, machinists and medical technicians than it does political scientists?
The resolution to this observation, then, lies in researching and finding proper labour market information to help project labour demands and address them accordingly. This will assist in developing, updating, or upgrading relevant skills to bring them in line with emerging opportunities and sectors.
Juxtapose Jasper’s dilemma with a conversation I recently held with a senior director at Tullow Oil, a major oil exploratory company in Turkana. According to him, there are many employment opportunities in energy, oil & gas, and mineral extraction industry. The Kenya oil sector alone is projected to create 6,000 to15,000 new jobs and support between 43,000 and 101,000 jobs locally over the next 10 years.
East Africa, for example, needs more than 5,000 precision welders for the new oil pipeline that will traverse it and transport its petroleum products from source to ship.
If these precision welders – specialised technicians that can earn a fortune for their very specific expertise – are not found or trained locally, they would have to be “imported” from far-flung countries such as China or the Philippines, leading to inevitable outrage from – and the professional and economic detriment of – the locals, including Jasper.
It, therefore, behoves the government and other stakeholders, even as they seek to expand vocational and technical education opportunities for the youth, to ensure a comprehensive, demand-driven training approach.
Recently, the Ministry of Education announced that it would increase the number of TVETs from the current 3,780 to 5,780 and to have 10,000 of these institutions within the next five years.
This is a praiseworthy development. However, there are questions to be asked. Which needs will these institutions serve and how have they been arrived at? What key sectors will the students be trained in? And has sufficient research been undertaken to understand the country’s current and future vocational needs?
Strengthening the weak linkages between training institutions and industry demands will ensure that graduates enter the market ready to contribute not just to the current Big Four agenda, but to the attainment of the Vision 2030.
—The writer is the former Principal secretary, Planning & Statistics