Dr Kevit Desai joined the public sector in 2018. For more than 20 years, he has been involved in reforms in higher education.
He was part of the team that drafted and oversaw the implementation of the competency-based education and training.
He tells us why the focus on education is fast shifting from academics to technical training.
There has been deliberate emphasis by the government to promote and invest in TVETs in recent years.
What opportunities exist in this domain?
The government’s development agenda, mainly the functions of the Big Four agenda, are based on human capital development, competitiveness and enterprise creation.
All these are directly related to TVETS. The outcome of TVETs is skills development, upskilling, technology transfer and incubation.
This is, therefore, one of the most exciting times for the youth in Kenya, a time when there is lots of flexibility and options.
Young people can now pursue their desires by acquiring several skills and competencies to mix and match them for a unique combination that the job market demands.
This will ultimately promote the highest standard of living in the country.
How different is technical training from academic training?
Technical training focuses more on education and training to achieve very specific standards that are required in the work environment.
If you want to study several levels in welding, for instance, you would go through training that is hands-on, and the evaluation to verify that you have attained the relevant standards will be a practical assessment.
Technical training works within a well-structured system that is highly inclusive.
We have partners from the private, training and social sectors who provide information regarding access, quality and relevance.
In what ways will the shift to technical skills change the Kenyan job market in future?
Our training system will be responsive, dynamic, flexible and angled to the needs of social and economic development.
It also addresses one of the national concerns of equity. People who have been locked out of education due to poverty are able to pursue a certificate course and gain work experience.
With time, they can go back to school for additional certificates to create a vertical pathway from an artisan to craftsman to master craftsman to technician to technologist.
Should the person then decide to go into an academic field, they will be able to pursue a horizontal pathway. All the credits they have accumulated along the way count.
Most millennials prefer regular courses to technical training. How do you plan to attract more young people to TVETs?
Like any developing modern economy, the government targets at least 10 percent of the population to enrol in TVETs.
We need more craftspeople than we need managers and supervisors. Any country relies on the ingenuity and creativity of its skilled population to drive the economy forward.
The government has made TVETs accessible, and, as part of the education reforms, we have reduced the unit cost for training from Sh97,000 to Sh57,000.
The government has also set up bursaries, as such, enrolment in TVETs has increased by 130 percent to 190,000 students in the last one year.
We hope to enrol one million students every year.
What lessons can the TVET industry in Kenya borrow from elsewhere in the world?
In the 1970S, China and Korea were at our level, but while they went the TVET direction, we focused on academics.
Skipping this phase was a costly error. Today, these countries are among the top 10 economies in the world. Manufacturing is the main pillar of their economy.
With the realisation that only a small proportion of the population goes all the way to college, we must empower our people by developing their skills within high standards through TVETs.
This way, we will plug the skills gap and promote living standards.
Technology and market needs keep changing. Are skills acquired in this sphere likely to become obsolete in future?
We are following an approach where students are able to regularly upskill.
A sector skills advisory committee comprised of professionals in the given areas will ensure that new and emerging technology is introduced in both the occupational standards and the curricula developed.
We are departing from a fixed curricula and moving into a dynamic training system based on international standards to allow the trainees to be mobile suited to work anywhere.
What is the place of young people in the government’s development agenda?
The greatest national resource we have is our youth. The ability to cultivate their curiosity, creativity and resourcefulness is a worthwhile investment.
The world is and will always be dynamic. As a young person, how do you deal with the changes?
You must cultivate skills on the go because training and skills development is a lifelong undertaking. The more skills you have, the more you earn and the greater value you have to the economy.
What career advice would you give to young Kenyans based on your vast experience?
Follow your heart. If you are good in academics, follow that. If you are more at home and happier in the technical space, then you are destined for an occupation in TVET.
Vocational skills are uplifting. The more you create, the happier you become.
Ultimately, always seize the opportunity to develop a new skill and to hone your already acquired skills.