By Phyllis Wakiaga
The economic well being of any nation rests on the country’s ability the create sustainable jobs for all. The manufacturing sector in any country is the key driver of multiplier jobs created through value addition, which has extensive backward and forward linkages in comparison to other sectors of the economy, in turn, raises the economic empowerment for all citizens.
Kenya has the highest unemployment rate in East Africa at 39%. To mitigate this challenge, the Government seeks to create 1.3 million jobs by 2022 through the Manufacturing Pillar of the Big 4 Agenda.
Meanwhile, technical innovations under Industry 4.0 are driving the demand for new skills as more industries shift to automation and artificial intelligence. Manufacturers are now, more than ever, keeping abreast and adopting technical innovations that improve efficiency, in order to remain competitive in the global markets.
A 2015 report by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on labour market mismatch and labour productivities indicates that many companies are having trouble in acquiring the right talent, whereas many youths have raised concerns of being underqualified for jobs.
According to a McKinsey survey of young people and employers in the European Union, 60% of employees surveyed indicated that new graduates were not adequately prepared for work, adding that there were gaps in technical skills such as Science, Technical, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses and soft skills such as communications, attitude, work ethics – which Kenyan manufacturers have also raised.
The lack of skills needed to drive these innovations is resulting in high labour costs, slow adoption of technology, minimal knowledge transfer and ultimately, high unemployment levels, particularly for technology-intensive sectors, hence threatens the achievement of our economic agenda.
For us to realize the Manufacturing Pillar of the Big 4 Agenda, Kenya has to develop the talent it needs through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and by encouraging more women to take up STEM courses.
One of the ways to achieve this agenda is by looking at our education system and ensuring that it keeps up the pace with industry demands. This requires policies and actions that promote the development of skills that not only meet industry’s demands but also global standards.
The Government has already put in place measures to address issues of access, equity, transition rates, relevance, quality and efficiency in the management of the TVET sector. These reforms seek to drive demand-driven, flexible and competency-based training. The Government, through the support of GIZ, has introduced a dual training system that aims to have students spending more time in industries than institutions.
Secondly, partnerships between industry and academia to ensure that the curriculum is in line with industry-based demands and global trends.
The recently held Chancellors Career Fair highlighted the need to increase graduate employability in the job market. This is only achievable if graduates spend more time in industries than in the institutions to ensure that they get hands-on skills and exposure to a work environment.
To this end, Kenya Association of Manufacturers partnered with GIZ to improve access to technical and vocational and economic jobs for the youth through industrial internships and refresher course training to industrial employees.
This year, the project has moved a step further to promote competency-based education training where companies will be taking up trainees, who become part of the workforce, to acquire the occupational skills needed by the respective companies.
Industry 4.0 is setting global definitions of work, labour and production. As such, we need to be deliberate in thinking ahead towards the realization and achievement of our economic sustainability. Adapting new technological innovations and skills development have to go hand in hand if we are to realize the Big 4 Agenda.
The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.