A fundamental change is sweeping across the government, workplaces and other sectors of the economy as leaders grapple with disruptive changes in technology, markets and society. The shifts are impacting employment.
But even as thousands of people, especially youth, struggle to get jobs, sustainable job creation will require an understanding of the new important dynamics in the global labour market. It is no longer about white-collar versus blue-collar jobs, but about the “new-collar” jobs that employers in many industries demand yet remain largely unfilled.
Equity Group, in conjunction with its partners; the German Government, through its implementing agency KfW, and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, recently launched a youth empowerment programme to assist nearly 3,000 Wings to Fly recipients, who sat their KCSE exam last year, to transition into technical and vocational education and training institutions. During the event, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i provided an analogy worth repeating. According to Dr Matiang’i, Kenya could not supply the artisans required to provide technical skills such as plumbing and welding for the standard gauge railway project despite having thousands of jobless university graduates. The lesson we should learn from this is the need to equip our youth with the relevant skills for growth in order to prosper.
Although joining university is the ultimate dream of many a Kenyan youth, tackling the inequality that results from the grades fallout is not about lowering university entry requirements. Rather, it’s about supporting those who did not attain the cut-off points to equally become productive members of the society. There are thousands of open positions for those equipped with the right technical skills, and if the new railway were to act as a precedent, there are job openings, including opportunities abroad.
Equity Group and its partners are supporting education in technical and vocational institutions because the nature of work is evolving, making it difficult to fill emergent positions. As industries, from manufacturing to agriculture, are reshaped by data science and other technical requirements, jobs are being created that demand new skills, which, in turn, require new approaches to education, training and recruiting.
The reality we are grappling with as a nation and employers is we are not producing enough graduates with the necessary skills for current and future jobs. Yet, rarely discussed are the academic and technical skills needed for today’s productive positions, and the pathways to them.
Many believe the solution is for more students to go to university. But the university-for-all movement, which has clouded our collective thinking as a nation and churned out thousands of degrees and skill-sets that are not aligned to driving growth and development, has reached its limit. This means that we need a radical shift in our training focus to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030.
Equity Group’s involvement in technical and vocational education and training is driven by the realisation that there is a need for an appropriate demand-driven and good quality system, which will equip more young women and men with skills to improve their employability and self-reliance in more productive and decent work. We support the restructuring of formal and non-formal education systems to ensure relevance of education and training in response to the changing patterns of employment, the needs of the labour market, and the rapid pace of change in technology and communications.
This year, we will ensure that the nearly 3,000 Wings to Fly scholars who sat the 2016 KCSE exam, whether headed for further education, employment, or entrepreneurial opportunities, gain life and employability exposure and skills by joining technical institutions.
At Equity Group University Internship programme (Equity Leadership Programme), we invite other organisations to partner with us to provide additional internships and jobs. Equipping youth with skills will greatly address these challenges. Instead of having too many people with university degrees that are not supportive of development, well-planned vocational training can provide a viable alternative that would produce the highly skilled technicians the country requires.
James Mwangi is chief executive officer, Equity Group and chairman, Vision 2030 Delivery Board.