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World Youth Skills Day is an opportunity for policymakers and program implementers to reflect on what’s working to address youth unemployment in Kenya.
In Kenya, about one in every three people under 35 is unable to find a job, despite actively seeking work. This challenge is further exacerbated by the 1.7 million jobs estimated to be lost as a result of the lockdowns and restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Youth unemployment and underemployment have been a major issue in Kenya for years. Policymakers and stakeholders have invested in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions, anticipating that the increase in skill acquisition will result in access to gainful employment. Unfortunately, a recent literature review found that only 3 out of 9 rigorous evaluations of TVET programs show some positive effect on employment outcomes. This research shows that on average, skills training programs increase employment by only 2.6% – a much lower result than the 10x- or higher rates that policymakers expected.
So how can we tackle youth unemployment? Evidence shows that providing technical skills training alone is often not enough to empower young people to find and create jobs. More can be done to prepare young people to enter and excel in the current labor market such as equipping them with holistic skills, basing policies on available evidence, and conducting robust communications activities to change attitudes towards TVET careers.
Increased funding, enhanced regulations and robust communication campaigns by the government of Kenya have resulted in TVET enrollment growing by nearly 300% since 2013. This is attributed to, among other things, the reforms in the sector that arose from the implementation of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Act of 2013. The establishment of a regulatory body: the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA), and the Curriculum Development Assessment and Certification Council (CDACC) to oversee curriculum development, assessment, and certification of programs have led to the development of more relevant, market-driven technical courses that aim to equip young people with employable skills. With a TVET institution in every constituency, and the Ksh. 30,000 capitation grant per student (covering about 30% of annual training costs), there has been a remarkable increase in the number of young people enrolling into TVET institutions. There is, however, no evidence yet that these investments have resulted in increased employment opportunities for Kenyan youth.
Investments and policy reforms have certainly resulted in higher student enrollment in TVET institutions. However, for enrollment to lead to employment, it can be beneficial for these institutions to have connections to employers and offer high-demand skills needed in the job market. There are a few opportunities that policymakers and other stakeholders can consider to fully prepare young people for the labor market. Recommended areas of focus include:
Policymakers and other TVET stakeholders need to use evidence to inform decision-making around TVET reform and improvement. Existing evidence needs to be made available and accessible to decision-makers to encourage evidence-based programs, efforts, and strategies for the enhancement and improvement of TVET programs in the country. The publication of the Kenya Journal of TVET (KJ-TVET) (TVETA took over the publication from Rift Valley Technical Training Institute (RVTTI) is a great start to the dissemination of the latest innovations and knowledge in TVET education and training in Kenya.
Moreover, more research, such as this report by Dalberg Advisors, into the barriers to accessing technical and vocational training among Kenyan Youth is necessary so that policymakers can put appropriate strategies in place. Some of the challenges cited included lack of financial support and low awareness among youth about available loans. Rigorous evaluations of job training and TVET programs tracer studies, such as this one by IDinsight, Kepler and Southern New Hampshire University, on youth student labor market outcomes after completing training programs should further inform future policy and investment decisions.
Often purely academic training isn’t sufficient for finding and sustaining a job. TVET programs can incorporate soft skills such as entrepreneurship, communication skills, problem-solving, relational skills, and time management. Much of the current TVET curriculum prioritizes the development of technical skills over soft skills – both in instruction and assessment. Institutional leadership can place more emphasis on soft skills, especially ensuring that the instructor training curriculum covers soft skills sufficiently. Without this, some evidence shows that these factors can impede the development of essential soft skills among Kenyan youth, inhibiting their success in the job market.
A report by the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Training reported evidence of negative attitudes towards careers in technical and vocational fields across many communities in Kenya. A communication strategy led by TVETA and county governments targeting the public and addressing the misconceptions around TVETs, can reduce the information gap that exists and increase TVET enrollment and employment outcomes thereafter. While there have been efforts by the government and other stakeholders to rebrand TVET and improve attitudes towards vocational training in the country, the research shows that communities still look down on these occupations. More efforts to address social attitudes about TVET institutions could result in higher enrollment, and consequently, more young people are prepared for jobs that require these skills.
TVETs have the potential to make a real difference in youth unemployment in Kenya and stakeholders and policymakers should continue to invest in creating enabling policies and institutionalizing support for these programs and institutions.
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