Skills development is key for economic transformation

By Phyllis Wakiaga,

Globally, quality skills development has been directly linked to youth employment and sustainable economic development. In fact, relevant skills and competencies and access to jobs can help accelerate the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, resulting in economic empowerment for all.

Industry remains a big contributor to job creation, which is a major driver for economic development and realization of Kenya Vision 2030 and the Government’s Big 4 Agenda. For this to be a reality, there is increasing and significant demand for skilled workers in industries in Kenya and also a demand for improved quality of goods and services that meet both local and International standards.

This entails having the right skills set needed by industry in the job market. Central to this is access to education, vocational and lifelong learning for skills development and enhancement.

Whilst Kenya is keen on realizing the Big 4 Agenda aspirations, the lack of adequate skills is hampering labour productivity. According to a 2018 World Economic Forum Report, 30% of Kenyan workforce have inadequate skills, a situation that is negatively affecting labour productivity. Furthermore, the report indicates that 3 out of 10 Kenyans lack the required skills thereby reducing productivity and increasing the cost of doing business in the country. This is a clear indication that it is time that we developed and implemented industry-led skills policies that will ensure that human skills development connects effectively to labour market needs.

Skills development is paramount because it not only stimulates the creation of a sustainable development system, but it also contributes towards transitioning the informal to the formal economy. Furthermore, continuous skills development is essential to address the opportunities and challenges to meet new demands of changing economies and new technologies under the 4th Industrial revolution, which is critical in ensuring industries remain competitive in the global market.

According to a 2013 report by UNESCO, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is well placed to address skills mismatch, which has made it difficult for youth to find decent jobs or become self – employed. The report however notes that TVET institutions will need to undergo major transformation in the wake of the rapid technological change and globalization.

At present, the TVET system is primarily supply-oriented and the local workforce cannot match the required skills for the labour market. However, the need to be connected to broader growth, employment and development strategies is crucial.

The Government of Kenya has been keen on promoting skills development. This is demonstrated by the TVET reforms as well as the provision of legal support needed to enact these reforms through the enactment of the TVET Act No 29 of 2013.

However, there is an urgent need for all stakeholders to come together in setting standards, participating in designing training curricula and contributing to a more practical and less theoretical approach to training. This means that the Government has to work hand in hand with social partners, build policies that link skills development to today’s labour market and technology, and promote trade and investment to generate more jobs for our youth.

Kenya Association of Manufacturers promotes the development and implementation of industry-led skills policies, to be drawn proactively in conjunction with training institutions since the future prosperity of the manufacturing sector will depend ultimately on the number of persons in employment and how productive they are. Critical to the Association is innovative and strategic policies that will enhance partnerships among key stakeholders for technological and skills transfer.

Part of this initiative is a partnership with the Government and development partners to promote TVET program in Kenya with the aim to improve access to technical jobs and economic opportunities for youth. Additionally, we also engage manufacturers through the Sector Skills Advisory Councils to advise on skills gaps and development of Occupation Standards, which highlight the minimum best practice on knowledge, skills and attitudes required for effective workplace performance.

Investing in TVET is not just about providing a few opportunities for some, TVETs are the only sure way to secure the future of this country, guaranteeing long term productivity, economic sustainability and inclusive growth.

The Writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at

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