Why Kenyans should embrace Apprenticeship

By Gabriel Onyango

Kenya’s youthful population that has often been accused of being skill-less, needs a lifeline, and apprenticeship programs could be it. For instance, of the 615, 773 candidates who did their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (KCSE) in 2017, only 70,073 have qualified to join universities. Where do the rest go? The situation has been this way for a while but the recent outcry has people looking for solutions.

The world over, the gap between the skills available and those needed by the job market has been widening, locally our education system has received its fair share of the blame with graduates getting all types of labels; ‘half baked,’ and ‘full of theory’. However, a survey by Manpower Group, a US based human resource consultancy found that  40 percent of the 42,000 employers in the survey were experiencing difficulty in filling existing roles due to skills differences. The problem isn’t restricted to Kenya.

Perhaps it is not our education system that is faulty, but a missing link between the academia and industry, a problem experienced the world over. Apprenticeship can help bridge this gap; in America for example, President Trump has set a goal of creating 5 million apprenticeship opportunities in the next 5 years from 2017, an indication of the importance placed on apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeship is a type of arrangement between (most often) young members of the society and organizations or individuals, for a mentorship/training relationship that enables teaching and mastery of a certain skill. It has been a method of education for ages, gifting the world the likes of Benjamin Franklin (inventor of the lighting rod), Nicolai Tesla (AC Electricity), Andrew Carnegie (Commercialized Steel) the list goes on.

A formal apprenticeship program can complement an academic system quite well. For instance in Germany – a world leader in apprenticeship programs, about two thirds of high school graduates join vocational training programs  instead of University. Yet the country is still a world leader in technology and German-made is synonymous with quality. The world is a global village and Kenya, with our vision to industrialize the country by 2030 should not remain behind.

It is encouraging to note that apprenticeship programs are not foreign to Kenya, in 2014; Base Titanium, in collaboration with the Technical University of Mombasa, started a Technical Apprenticeship Program to provide practical training to engineering students. Those in the program would attend classes at the University and supplement with practical work at the factory. The Apprentices would get a mentor, make quarterly presentations to management and do practical tests to gauge their competencies.

Moreover in 2015, the Centre of Excellence for Food and Beverages Industry was formed, a collaboration between Nairobi Bottlers Ltd, Krones East Africa Ltd and Centurion Systems. The main aim was to impact practical skills to students in the technical field, who would go on to work in the factories with a less steep learning curve.

However, more organizations, even beyond technical and engineering fields should start apprenticeship programs. We should have more insurance, marketing, law, accounting apprentices; for they are, a huge part of those currently accused of being half-baked. I hope that a time will come when those with apprenticeship experience will litter our streets, for even if, they remain unemployed, it is better to have them skilled rather than have an unskilled unemployed population.


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