Help youths transition from school to work

Monday June 22 2020

A tutor during a practical lesson at Mpeketoni Vocational Training Centre in Lamu. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROU


Last week, I had the privilege of giving a talk to 40 youths who graduated from high school in 2019. None of them is going to University.

The majority was part of the 563,479 who qualified for Technical and Vocational Training Institutions.

A few were from the 125,449 that qualified to join universities but have no faith in degree courses anymore.

An additional 10,817 failed the national exam and their fate is unknown.

This was the first meeting ever for them to discuss career options. In high school, it was assumed that all were destined for university. Most couldn’t remember which tertiary courses they picked. They told me that what they did in high school is all irrelevant now.

They were never prepared on how to search for work or even what they would expect. In some other countries, the process of students transitioning from school to work is an elaborate exercise that begins when the student is still in school and planning either to start working or looking for a job.  


A Unicef study that was conducted in 2019 says that School-to-work transition (SWT) is a process that enables young people aged 15−24 to move easily from initial education to productive and decent work. Focusing on the process of preparing young people for the transition helps in the process of making the actual transition.

Further, the Unicef study emphasises that SWT is embedded within an integrated lifelong learning and employability framework. Although there is no clear agreement whether this is possible, given the numbers of students, there is a clear need to make arrangements for SWT.


More precisely, it is time to employ counsellors who understand the foundational development of young people and can help them understand the world of work, and take them through career awareness. This can be achieved through allowing them to explore emerging jobs instead of focusing on traditional courses like nursing and teaching. They should be supported to achieve self-awareness by allowing them to think deeply into the future and develop their own talent.

Other key areas are provision of internship opportunities to expose them to the actual world of work. Unfortunately, in our part of the world, these critical steps in the youths’ development are often missing largely due to lack of resources. As a result, some of the youth have no faith in systems. They mistrust governments as well as private sector entities, both of which, I their view, as not being transparent.

Joshua, one of the participants later contacted me in my LinkedIn to ask if it was possible in Kenya to have even a fraction of what is expected to prepare young graduates for the world of work.

My response was “yes we can”. After a couple of exchanges, he wrote this, “I had lost trust in our governments and praying daily that one day it will rapture. That is when some of us will get justice.”

What do you mean with the word rapture? I asked. “Something like 2008 post-election violence! Although I was very young, I still remember that it was bad for rich people.” He said. I corrected him that many people suffered but not the rich only. God knows how many youths praying for social disruption so that they can take advantage of the eventuality.

In my view, this was a warning shot. We must find ways of giving developing skills for work to these youths. Some donor organisations such as include the World Bank and the Mastercard Foundation have been working around SWT in East Africa with little impact.

Some work that has already been done includes the identification of a skills framework that is already under implementation in Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda before it can be scaled up to other East African countries. We simply need to closely partner with these organisations and roll our skills for work.

The Mastercard Foundation framework identifies components for youth-centric skills development, suggesting that it must entail scale (innovative partnerships/financing models; leveraging technology), quality and relevance (industry partnerships; standards; curriculum design/pedagogy) and employability (workplace-based training/ apprenticeships; internships; focus on cross-cutting skills).


The foundation of all these, a study by the World Bank says, is the successive transition that will require the following: foundational skills or core skills (literacy and numeracy), technical skills (enables the performance of a specific job) and transferable skills (cross-cutting, ‘soft skills’, ‘socio-emotional skills’ or ‘non-cognitive skills’).

Other key components of the Mastercard framework include the aspirations (such as gender, inclusion, access, equity, resilience and mobility) and institutions (lower and middle schools, tertiary, technical training institutions, polytechnics, private vocational institutions, workplace-based training apprenticeship and informal apprenticeship with master craftsmen). There is a Master craftsman program with German agencies that if need be the Government could pay for to create a productive youth program.

Developing skills for work is not enough without understanding the underlying causes that affect availability of quality jobs.  Research identifies a number of issues including: a weak entrepreneurship eco-system that limits innovation and growth in lower and middle-income countries as a major problem in creating better jobs. 

Other studies, especially by Unicef, also identify some key dimensions needed to support an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. These include: people with entrepreneurial motivation, mind set and skills; access to finance; access and adoption of technology and innovation; enabling regulatory frameworks; business linkages; favourable market dynamics; and access to networks, and social and cultural support.

This is perhaps why we must embrace entrepreneurship as a prerequisite in preparing youth for employment. It must be at the centre of training in all institutions.

School-to-work transition could help defuse the frustration young people are going through. Donor organisations have shown the way. The national and county governments need to show interest and provide leadership.

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.