Each year, Kenya’s education and training institutions churn out thousands of graduates who take up careers for which they were not trained. According to the 2010/11 National Manpower Survey Basic Report (NMS), there is sufficient evidence that graduates are studying the “wrong” subjects at the university.
This anomaly, described as a skills mismatch by labour economists, leads to wastage and impedes Kenya’s global competitiveness. It also leads to mass unemployment. It is not time to mourn how we got into this mess but more crucially, how to dig ourselves out of the hole.
A major factor behind this sorry situation is the fact that most lecturers are themselves academicians lacking practical experience in industries or sectors relevant to their skills.
For instance, some journalism lecturers have zero newsroom experience, and their accounting counterparts never worked in an audit firm or accounts departments. Similarly, some engineering dons are yet to soil their hands with dirty factory oil or design machines.
To start with, lecturers should familiarise themselves with practical work, solutions and challenges in their respective sectors. Also important is the matter of direct links between faculties and employers to address the issue of relevance.
University dons must come down from their ivory towers and listen to industry concerns over the skills gaps of graduates they churn out. As proposed by the FKE report, universities and colleges should urgently review curricula to introduce courses relevant to job markets.
They should impart sufficient skills and competencies to the students so that organisations do not spend much more time on training on these competencies.
Additionally, colleges should offer more practical skills to graduates and facilitate more attachment programmes. On their part, students ought to be ready for retraining to bring them to speed with labour market needs. Students should also research and consult widely before choosing courses. There is also need to learn soft and interpersonal skills.
To tackle the high unemployment rate, the government has to get involved in stakeholder discussions on closing this gap. It must also lead in offering internship opportunities and in facilitating training opportunities locally and abroad. Other countries are tackling similar challenges much more successful than we are, so, why not benchmark with them?