Role of informal talent in steering economic growth agenda

Wilson Kairu

Wilson Kairu at his workshop in Nairobi on May 11, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What comes to mind when you hear informal skills?  The talent space in Kenya is largely divided between formal or white collar and informal talent.

The former has well-established processes that govern sourcing and keep pipelines active with incentives for job seekers such as job security, health benefits, and pension among others. The latter, however, is still trying to catch up despite being a major contributor to the economy.

Informal skilled talent plays a significant role in Kenya’s dynamic employment landscape. These are qualified specialists, with artisan and craft skills seeking jobs in their areas of specialisation.

Informal skills are often highly-specialised and tailored to specific industries and sectors such as hospitality, transport and logistics, manufacturing, and agriculture. SMEs within these sectors depend on young and energised informal skilled talent to run their operations.

Informal skills also play a critical role in entrepreneurship and self-employment. Many individuals in Kenya start their businesses based on skills acquired through apprenticeships or on-the-job training. Starting a viable business in Kenya has its own set of challenges for skilled experts, and that is where SMEs come in.

Small firms in Kenya play an important role in job creation and economic development, accounting for 80 per cent of employment and stimulating innovation and demand for new goods and services in the country. SMEs that require informal talent in the sectors offer a simpler alternative to skilled experts looking for an alternative to entrepreneurship.

While established companies that hire white-collar talent have sophisticated systems to manage it, it is mostly pretty basic in small firms. In a majority of SMEs, priority is placed on core business functions and most lack the needed technology to give talent management a strategic angle in the business.

 They may also lack qualified staff to mitigate risks brought about by labour and tax laws.  Thus, these SMEs need support with important business functions such as recruitment, HR and payroll management, as well as business support Services.

Talent management in a business setting not only ensures that you get the right people onboard, but also that you develop potential in employees and retain exceptional talent ensuring business growth. It goes beyond the short-term value of bringing in manpower to run operations by taking a strategic angle that seeks to grow the company and the individual.

It is clear that despite their importance, informal skills are often undervalued and unrecognised. Individuals with these talents may not have the right soft skills as they maneuver in the employment world. This can limit their opportunities for advancement and career growth.

To address these challenges, there is a growing recognition of the importance of informal skills in Kenya’s employment landscape. The government and private sector organisations are investing in programmes and initiatives aimed at recognizing and validating informal skills.

With an end-to-end platform that addresses all talent management areas effectively, solves real issues for all stakeholders and then leverages technology, the future is bright.

The writer is the Founder and CEO of Bridge Talent Kenya