[Column] Phyllis Wakiaga: Nurture technical skills to revolutionize manufacturing
08-03-2021 11:04:00 | by: Bob Koigi | hits: 3739 | Tags:

Countries all over the world have prioritized manufacturing in their economic rebound strategies, following the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These countries recognize that a vibrant manufacturing sector culminates into job and wealth creation – and the undeniable ripple effect this has on other sectors of the economy. For instance, it shall improve living standards and increase citizens’ disposable income, hence they are able to afford a variety of services.

Kenya has not been left behind. The government has announced an Economic Recovery Strategy to build on the gains of last year’s Stimulus Program. Part of the strategy entails a conducive business environment, by maintaining macroeconomic stability, promoting competitiveness and transforming economic sectors for broad-based sustainable economic growth.

It is without a doubt that last year, the manufacturing sector saw rapid transformation. What had not been achieved in years, happened in a few months, due to COVID-19. Measures to mitigate the spread of the virus forced manufacturers to quickly embrace automation in their factories, in order to adapt to the changing times.

This exposed a skills gap, where manufacturers had machines, but insufficient expertise to run them because some were forced to acquire new machinery whilst others had to change production lines. In addition, Africa is undergoing an industrial revolution, with countries ramping up the manufacture of various goods to take advantage of emerging market opportunities, such as the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Countries in the continent are also building major infrastructure projects – with Kenya focusing on a well-connected road, rail, water and air transport and logistics system. For example, encouraging the use of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to transport goods from the port of Mombasa to the Inland Container Depot (ICD) and construction of major roads across the country.

This calls on us, as a country, to ensure that we put in place systems and mechanisms to sustain the industrial revolution that is currently unfolding. One of the ways of doing this is through Technical Vocation Education and Training (TVET).

To kick off economic rebound using industrial development, one needs a skilled labour force. A secure future for the manufacturing sector, and the economy at large, starts with today’s students and workforce. Emerging technologies and the ever-changing market demands require us to stay ahead of the curve to bridge the current and upcoming skills gap, to enable us to utilize new tools and technologies for advanced manufacturing processes.

This calls on stronger collaboration between governments, institutions of learning and the private sector to bolster human capital development. This partnership shall ensure that governments put in place policies and measures to encourage young people to take up technical courses, in order to venture into manufacturing-related jobs. Additionally, the development of a curriculum that is up to date with manufacturing trends, that includes on-the-job training is vital to revolutionize industry.

The manufacturing sector, on the other hand, needs to be involved in curriculum development, so that training institutions offer courses that commensurate with the current job market needs. This also warrants companies, to offer training opportunities for students undertaking TVET courses.

Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), in partnership with the German Development Corporation seeks to augment this training model in Kenya, through the Employment and Skills for Development in Africa (E4D) programme being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. The project, run together with technical training institutions and government, entails placing TVET students on internships in manufacturing plants, and offering work-readiness trainings to prepare them to venture into the job market.

This model is part of the Competence-Based Education and Training (CBET) approach, where students learn both in class and at the workplace. The model is keen on ensuring that the learners are competent for the jobs at the end of the training, and that industry standards are adhered to.

As we focus on economic diversification geared towards mitigating over-dependence on one sector for economic stability and reduce our susceptibility to headwinds, we must create a resilient and sustainable manufacturing sector.  The onus is on all stakeholders, to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Technical skills development is central to this and establishing industry as the backbone of our economy.

Phyllis Wakiaga is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network  Kenya Chapter Board Chair