Third Eye

Why TVET system is key to youth empowerment

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 00:00 |
Jua Kali artisans.

 Ndung’u Kahihu       

The season of political madness is upon us. As we prepare to entertain all sorts of promises, let us be grateful that, this time at least, it seems, we will be fighting more about issues than tribes or political formations.

The issue of the season is the bottom-up economic development.

The need to adopt a ground up development focus makes a lot of sense. After all, this is how the Asian economies took off.

But how do we do this? I suggest as a starting point, providing skills to the majority of youth, whose energy and creativity we need to ignite development from the bottom.

Of the national population of 50 million, 14 million are aged between 18 and 35.

This youth cohort is a massive resource, one that we are unlikely ever to see again.

Unfortunately, a third of the youth are unemployed or under employed. They are not playing their full role in building the nation.

This waste of potential is unacceptable. It is like going to war and leaving behind one third of our strongest soldiers.

There is a solution to this problem. Give our youth the technical skills that the market needs or the business skills to help solve the myriad problems confronting them. Then let us support them to apply the skills to build the economy.

Research has shown that 40 per cent of businesses say they cannot find good workers.

We import Sh100 billion worth of food each year, mostly because our youth lack the skills and aptitude to grow it. There is a shortage of plumbers, masons and welders in Kenya.

The sector responsible to produce these market-ready skills is Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions.

Yet for many years, TVET system has failed us. It has been poorly funded by past governments.

Owing to wrong policy choices that prioritised academic learning over technical skills, TVET came to be seen as a dumping ground for failures.

There are signs the situation is changing. For instance, this year, it was reported that 15,500 students who had qualified to join university instead elected to join TVETs. 

To ensure inclusive growth, let us turn TVETs into efficient pipeline for channelling youthful energy and talent to grow the economy. Doing this was one of the secrets behind China’s economic miracle.

But how do we ensure our leaders do this? We can start by demanding a set of concrete commitments and then hold our leaders to them.

Any future government must commit to increase funding to TVET. Today, the sector receives about Sh60 billion annually.

This is just five per cent of the Education sector’s budget, much less than goes to universities.

This amount has to increase, and by a big margin, to make a difference. The aim should be to graduate a million youths annually with TVET skills.

Create a Ministry of TVET, to take skills training out of the shadow of the Ministry of Education behemoth.

Give TVET the recognition it deserves and give it the resources to conduct the largest mobilisation of skills for development in our history.

Put the Private sector in charge, first by creating a National Skills Council that will have the power to tell us what skills the economy needs and when.

The current silo system where government functionaries decide this question and the users of these skills are left out of the conversation, has to change.

While we are at it, get Private Sector TVET to play a bigger role in skills provision. They are more flexible, better adopters of new ideas, than government.

Let us turn TVET into a platform for innovation. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how innovative our youth can be.

Let our future government commit to provide the best innovation tool ever, broadband internet connection, extended to every college in Kenya. We will need this tool to deliver new skills and create new jobs.

Most importantly, we will need massive technology adoption to make our nation ready for an uncertain future of work.

Finally, let us change TVET from being a cost into a resource, for instance, by enjoining TVET colleges in the delivery of government infrastructure projects, as the workforce providers.

Get county governments to factor in TVET during design of development plans and their implementation.

In short, let us give to our youth, not just the skills, but also the chance to use them for all our good.

Can this be done? Yes, after all we already have, in devolution, the platform for delivering such a programme.

Our Constitution allocates most of TVET capacity to counties, for a good reason, as this is where the real bottom begins. — The writer is the executive director, CAP Youth Empowerment Institute

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