Why we must involve the youth in our country’s development

By Phyllis Wakiaga

We have a great advantage as a nation of young, vibrant and highly creative youth. They account for about 75% of Kenya’s population, according to the World Bank. However, they are not adequately enabled to participate in our country’s social, economic and political development.

There are many reasons for this, some are unemployment, under-employment, lack of skills, and lack of necessary institutional support to bring their ideas to fruition.

As we focus on realizing our development goals including Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must outline the role of the youth in realizing these goals and deliberately engage them. This resonates with this year’s International Youth Day themed, “Youth Engagement for Global Action,” that is anchored on SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Engaging young people enriches institutions and processes, and the current dynamic global situation emphasizes this. If we take just one critical aspect of empowering the youth such as skills development, we not only engage them in creating sustainable economic solutions for themselves and their dependants, but we also elevate our competitiveness and productivity as a country.

Let us take the case of the manufacturing sector. The changing nature of the workplace and the increasing number of industries embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution calls for tech-savviness and innovation, which the youth are leaders in. As such, we need to upskill young people in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) to build their capacity to create and sustain productive jobs.

Locally, the government has recognized the need for a strong linkage between training institutions and industry to become industrialized. Vision 2030 proposed interventions under the Youth Skills Development Flagship, some of which include the establishment of youth development centres, development of creative industry hubs, the establishment of Biashara Kenya Enterprise Parks and development of an incentive framework for employers who hire fresh graduates and have internship programs for college students.

At Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), we are keen on encouraging young people to stand out and identify opportunities that will shape today and the future, including through technology-based solutions, innovation that supports economic recovery and promoting sustainable environmental solutions such as clean energy, green economy and circular economy for sustainability.

Since 2017, we have partnered with GIZ to implement the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Project, to promote youth employment through skills development.  Additionally, we have piloted a cooperative vocational training (CVT) model that offers a holistic approach to the skills agenda by encouraging stronger collaboration between training institutions and industry to influence curriculum development.

Through these programs, we have seen more than 1023 youth take up internships in various industries, with more than 40% being employed permanently. We have also seen young graduates gain hands-on experience, where they have gained relevant competencies through our work readiness trainings that equip them with both work and life skills.

Our TVET programme has also encouraged more young women to take up STEM courses and venture into manufacturing-related jobs, inspired by seasoned professionals in the sector. Previously, the number of young women venturing into this sector was small, compared to their male counterparts.

The Association also established the KAM SME Hub to nurture entrepreneurs, the majority of whom are young people. The Hub provides strategic leadership and support to Manufacturing SMEs towards inclusivity and global competitiveness. It seeks to address the challenges affecting SMEs in the country including unfriendly policies and regulatory regime, tedious and lengthy process in quality standards and certifications, access to markets, access to affordable finance and poor governance structures.

Our vision is to see young people access quality skills, decent work and entrepreneurship opportunities through technical and vocational training. This is because the youth are and will always be strategic players in our growth and development. We must, therefore, empower them to be part and parcel of our goals as we look to ensure the sustainability of industry in the country.

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Kenya Chapter Board Chair. She can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke.

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