The world over, employment programmes and labour market reforms have tended to focus only on the supply side of the labour market equation – training young people. In Mombasa, largely due to structural deficiencies the local economy is simply unable to experience growth rates that would create sufficient job opportunities, particularly in the formal sector. At the same time, the education system is experiencing a fast influx of students at all levels, though the public vocational training sector is under-prioritized and remains under-developed with weak linkages between education/skills training institutions and employers, particularly at County level. This results in a labour market flooded with young people with nowhere to go; or with skills that do not meet the existing needs of the local labour market.
Delivering customised training that meets demand
Kuza found its niche in Mombasa’s thin and struggling economy, mapping and identifying sectors and industry partners that required an immediate pool of local skilled labour, and meeting that demand through customised short soft and hard technical trainings. In close partnership with the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) – a public TVET – Kuza worked with Toolkit Training Institute a private training company to deliver tailor made courses within their campus. Courses broadly followed NITA curriculums, but created the space for market actors to facilitate training modules incorporating the most up-to-date tools and technologies and imparting the knowledge on how to use modern products currently trending in the sector. For a plumbing course, such industry players included Ceramic Tiles Markets and Rhino Special Products who exposed the trainees to wall-master finishing techniques, tiling and basic décor, over and above basic plumbing delivered by companies such as Davis & Shirtliff. With a completion rate of over 93%, the plumbing course was a hit among the trainees drawn from all over Mombasa.
The training also included aspects of business training from a plumber’s perspective, where trainees were taken through basic business entrepreneurial skills as well as how to overcome the common obstacle most start-up enterprises face of securing financing. This is informed by the fact that the majority of young people enter the labour market as self employed micro-enterpreneurs, and require a lot of support to survive, grow and create jobs for other young people.
Work-exposure, valued by trainees as well as employers
This comprehensive training has also developed special interest and appetite from employers who are now eager to have modern plumbers within their workforce. A significant number of trainees have secured attachments in severel companies within Mombasa, with demand as far as Nairobi. Attachments offer exposure to the trainees and allow them to put in practice what they have learned during training through valuable on-the-job learning.
Many of the plumbers have been attached to institutions in the tourism and hotel sector, with encouraging feedback on their performance so far. One example is from Voyage Beach Resort where Aisha and Farida are attached. Justus Ambani (Chief Engineer, Voyager Beach Hotel) told the Kuza team that they have proved him wrong. “I did not have high expectations with young girls of coastal origin, and the nature of work they were coming to do – plumbing? I agreed to give them a chance anyway. To my surprise they have proved me otherwise. They are excellent girls. They are always punctual, take tasks positively, they are committed and perform beyond expectation. They have learnt a lot in one month.” Similar sentiments were echoed publicly by the CEO of the Group Mohammed Hersi, who on a routine walk around Voyager encountered Aisha and Farida at their work station. Beyond any doubt, he was impressed as he took to Facebook to post a lengthy narrative of his exchange, and committing to support daring young women who choose to pursue careers in fields stereotypically associated with men.
These two ladies (Aisha and Farida) have proved they can be able to handle plumbing work, a field dominated by men. HRM says they are high achievers and have proved to be an asset to the resort. They are motivators and role model to all ladies thus proving that given opportunity ladies can handle what men can do. We are extremely proud of both of them. Aisha and Farida are also debunking the notion that Muslim girls cannot venture into such fields hence I chose to personally celebrate them. I am also happy that these are girls from the coast region who are helping break the stereotype often tagged to them.
Mohammed Hersi, Chief Executive Officer, Heritage Hotels
Despite the recognise importance of industry attachments, real opportunities are often hard to come by. TVET institutions and young people lack the time, information and confidence to approach employers and secure this vital learning experience with fair allowances. For young women in the male-dominated building and construction sector, this poses an even harder challenge. Kuza and its partners have played the role of knocking on company doors, securing work exposure visits and internship opportunities, and learning important lessons along the way about private sector incentives. The Imarisha Vijana Centres also play a big role in building foundational soft skills, and exposing young people to a learning environment again, establishing self-esteem and commitment to the TVET courses. This ultimately makes trainees better employees.
Asha and Farida now want to scale to the heights of the plumbing profession. They both want to start their own ventures and manage other plumbers. “This opportunity has given me new hope and I love it. It is good for me since there are very few female plumbers – we are in demand. It wasn’t easy though because of societal expectation on girls, but our Career Guidance Officer encouraged us to take up the opportunity. I have since learnt its worth.”
By Meshack Nyambu and Cindy Lithimbi-Ondego