Lack of technical skills and on the job experience is a major problem for many countries across the globe. More specifically, this problem is felt most by emerging economies that have to rely on expatriates to build capacity, spur economic growth and pioneer new sectors. Companies employing expatriate labor do not do so out of choice, it is an expensive option and often exposes them to criticism, but rather out of necessity.
A 2013 World Bank report titled The Job Challenge showed that it has become difficult for most graduates to get jobs within their specific disciplines. Surprisingly, the main issue is not because there are too many graduates chasing few jobs, but because most graduates lack the necessary work-ready skills and experience that the job market requires.
According to McKinsey (Social Initiative 2015), 40% of employers report skills gaps in entry-level vacancies, hence showing that this is a significant issue to both employers and the unemployed. This trend is exacerbated by technological advancements which are rapidly replacing manual jobs, leaving millions of young people unprepared to participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.
So how do employers and job-seekers fill this gap today? Several remedies have been recommended in the past. Here in Kenya, a method that has worked well is the Graduate Trainee Programme where fresh graduates are absorbed into companies just after they graduate. The graduates are taken through rigorous on the job training after which they are either absorbed into the company or let to go explore opportunities elsewhere.
The graduate trainee model is used by various global companies including Procter and Gamble, PwC, Deloitte among others. Graduate training programs act as means of transferring skills and experience to new workforce entrants and allow organizations to attract and identify talent.
Securing technically talented and experienced human resources in an emerging economy like Kenya can be difficult, particularly in newly established sectors, like the extractives sector. How have companies managed to build and develop talent locally while saving costs on expatriates?
The best example of this in Kenya is the country’s most prominent mining company, Base Titanium. The company has initiated various programs to build capacity in the Kenyan mining sector. The programs include; 3-month internships, 18-month graduate trainee programs, apprenticeship programs, community training and the frontline management program.
The Frontline management program identifies existing employees within the organization who have been identified as possessing the capability to progress to higher level technical or management positions.
Participants are provided with training that covers the entirety of the businesses operations, allowing them to gain insight and experience in and beyond their respective disciplines. This enables a more holistic understanding of the company’s operations, a key requirement for management.
I will focus on two of Base Titanium’s training programs, the apprentice program and the community trainee program. These represented practical initiatives that benefit Kenya’s youth, local communities and the company. They can also be easily adopted and rolled out across any sector.
The Community Technical Training Program is fully facilitated by Base Titanium and was launched in December 2016. It focuses on enrolling trainees from the surrounding communities and is designed to provide, for example, basic life skills, computer skills, emergency response knowledge, workshop practice, First Aid and occupational health and safety training. In the current intake, trainees specialized in hands-on training under two trades; electrical wiremen & arc welders. This training links academic learning to industrial needs.
The trainees are later on sponsored for National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) Grade Test exams for National certification. Most of the trainees, approximately 15 in number, were form four leavers who were not able to proceed to the next level. Base Titanium through a partnership with Mombasa Industrial Training Centre (MITC) has provided an opportunity for the community trainees to undertake classes at both institutions after which they sit for NITA exams and are awarded certificates. If they so wish, the community trainees can proceed to the diploma level. This equips them with core skills that they can enter the job market with and venture independently and competitively. This also ensures that Base Titanium has a ready and skilled labor pool should they expand their mining activities.
Secondly, Base Titanium’s Diploma apprentices program is a three-year program that targets recent form -four leavers that have been accepted into a technical training institution to begin their courses. This is in order to provide real life, on the job skills transfer during their college period. Apprentices are embedded as employees but assigned to a mentor in a given discipline depending on their course. Throughout the three-year program, 20 apprentices learn the requirements of their jobs and eventually work with minimal supervision. While participating in the program, apprentices also attended classes at the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) in order to gain a recognized qualification. Base Titanium not only works closely with TUM to coordinate training and curriculum but the program has been endorsed by the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA).
Despite these steps in the right direction, a lot still needs to be done in creating innovative ways to provide the necessary skills to youth to ensure they are ready for the job market. Indeed, filling the skills gap will be costly and engaging, however, partnerships with government through institutions such as NITA and Technical University of Mombasa, the private sector will impart skills that will contribute to Kenya’s economic transformation.
This article was written by Prof. Laila Abubakar, the acting Vice Chancellor of the Technical University of Mombasa.