Private sector vital in training for the construction industry

Companies gain access to a skilled workforce, training institutions expose their trainers and trainees to real work experience

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Every other week, Xyverian Chuma’s motorcycle tears across western Kenya, travelling between construction sites up to 100 kilometres apart in Kitale, Kisumu and Kisii. The demand for skilled plumbers in these areas is immense but the supply remains woefully inadequate.

A private contractor, Chuma embarked on his plumbing career as an apprentice at Allied Plumbers. Established in 1963, this family business has grown into a multinational plumbing firm with operations in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, earning numerous awards for its industry excellence.

Chuma is among hundreds of skilled workers who completed apprenticeship training and passed trade tests for plumbers. But the process is not fast enough to meet the national demand for skilled labour. Despite the emphasis on practical skills in the 8-4-4 education system, school leavers have historically been steered toward university degrees, neglecting vocational and technical education.

In response, technical and vocational colleges transitioned into university constituent colleges or standalone universities without being replaced in their former training roles. This led to an oversupply of graduates who struggled to find jobs, while the private sector, especially the construction industry, faced a severe shortage of skilled workers. Companies suffered reduced profitability, lower productivity and compromised work quality.

On-the-job training

To address this, the private sector began offering on-the-job training. But this approach was often insufficient to address the systemic nationwide skills deficit. The shift in the official education policy to support technical and vocational education and training (TVET) has driven initiatives to cultivate a highly skilled construction workforce, fuelling broader economic prosperity.

These efforts are most effective when complemented by active private sector engagement.

Countries with successful Dual TVET programmes, like Switzerland, involve the private sector in the design and delivery of vocational training. Its private sector, a key factor in the country’s economic success, plays a significant role in vocational training, producing a well-qualified workforce and maintaining low youth unemployment rates.

My involvement in Swisscontact’s PropelA dual apprenticeship programme, launched in Kenya in 2022, has highlighted the importance of collaboration in delivering effective TVET programmes. The participation of industry, with the National Industrial Training Authority (Nita) accrediting firms, aligns the curriculum with industry needs, addressing both current and future demands.

By exposing apprentices and their trainers to real-world work in 35 companies in Nairobi, we aim to replicate the Swiss model, bridging the gap between classroom instruction and practical training. The programme’s structure includes three weeks of on-the-job training and one week of vocational training over 18 months. The trainees acquire high-demand technical skills in electrical fitting and plumbing.

Dual TVET system

A robust Dual TVET system benefits all stakeholders. Companies gain access to a skilled workforce, training institutions expose their trainers and trainees to real work experience and aspiring entrepreneurs acquire the needed skills and confidence. Young people gain employability and income opportunities and industry an overall improvement in quality.

A collaborative approach between the government, private sector and TVET institutions can achieve the long-term goal of skills training, providing dignified jobs that empower young people to control their future. This will lead to a more productive, efficient and competitive economy. Further investments by the government and education institutions in quality TVET programmes, along with active private sector involvement, can bridge Kenya’s skills gap and build a future-proof workforce.

Mr Jandu is the managing director of Allied Plumbers. [email protected].