[Column] Pankaj Bedi: Transform Kenyan human capital for sustainable growth
For any business, one of the most critical components of enhancing productivity and giving the company a competitive edge is a skilled and highly efficient workforce. The most industrialized nations attribute their development to a highly skilled workforce, among other factors.
This is why it is important to develop policies to strengthen the capacity of workers to be agile in an ever-changing world, and harness opportunities that come with innovation and increased investments, technology and green growth.
In Kenya, Government has made significant strides towards nurturing a skilled workforce, for instance, enhancing access to education. It is also worth noting that the increased focus on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) was a much-needed boost for local industry, which had been grappling with skills gaps and mismatch.
One of the benefits of investing in the country is that we have a highly skilled human resource. This, combined with a well-established private sector, infrastructure, and strategic location (gateway to East and Central Africa), makes Kenya a regional investment hub. Most recently, during Labour Day celebrations, His Excellency the President broke tradition and maintained the status quo on minimum wage. This is truly laudable and demonstrates Government’s commitment to supporting the business community by making strides to ensure stability and predictability in the business environment.
Unfortunately, our productivity and skill set ranks lower in comparison to global standards with countries such as China, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. If Kenya is to take on global competition and penetrate the export and domestic markets, there is a need to upskill the country’s human capital to meet global competitiveness rankings. It is crucial to recognize that different industries require different skill sets, necessitating the development of sector-specific talents and productivity.
One of the challenges affecting our competitiveness and productivity lies in our biggest resource – human capital. First, is the lack of a Labour Policy, second, absence of a Workers’ Welfare Council and third, insufficient skills and productivity enhancement.
Kenya needs to finalize the Labour Policy, which if concluded and implemented, shall scale up healthy employer- employee dialogues; enable us to adopt emerging trends in the future of work; create linkages between labour and initiatives such as improving the ease of doing business and country competitiveness index; promote the employment creation agenda; and give guidelines on productivity-based remuneration, and workers’ welfare.
Kenya’s Textile and Apparel Sector is one of the biggest creators of jobs, in the manufacturing sector. It is one of Government’s priority value chains, in its economic development agenda. Specifically, the EPZ Textile and Apparel Sector is a key player in the economy, with 145 companies as of 2021, employing 66,654. To remedy the labour challenges facing the EPZ Textile and Apparel Sector, we call on the Government to set up platforms to support stakeholder dialogues on working conditions, workers’ welfare, occupational health and safety, remuneration, pooled services, and healthy labour relations. Specifically, we recommend the setting up of Workers Welfare Councils to take care of the specific needs of the apparels exports industry.
Kenya Association of Manufacturers promotes the development and implementation of industry-led skills policies, to be drawn proactively in conjunction with training institutions. This is because, the 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 the TVET program in Kenya with the aim of improving access to technical jobs and economic opportunities. Another initiative is our partnership with IDH Kenya on the Sustainability for Competitiveness Project to drive the competitiveness of the Textile and Apparel Industry in Kenya. The Project focuses on good governance; job creation; environmental conservation and restoration; inclusivity and sustainability as well as skills development.
As I conclude, it is critical that Government focuses on reducing the cost of living for the benefit of all, including workers. Currently, the price of essential commodities is ever-increasing, thus reducing citizens’ purchasing power, which is key in driving the growth of various sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and the service sector. If this goes on unchecked, our competitiveness will be significantly hampered.
Equipping the workforce of today for the jobs of tomorrow needs to be a key area of focus, as the world quickly transitions to technology-driven production and automation. New occupations are emerging, whereas others are being replaced entirely. With this revolution, skills and competencies are evolving. Therefore, it is important that we ensure that our education system and general business environment is able to adapt to these trends.