Many students often struggle to get internship opportunities, ending up seeking jobs with bare minimum hands-on experience.
The situation is even worse for graduates in courses that are highly practical such as agriculture, a major employer in Kenya.
This was the dilemma Maurice Recha faced as he studied for a certificate course in general agriculture at Friends College Kaimosi.
“For a month, I moved from company to company, farm to farm, looking for opportunities to practise what I had learnt in class but I did not seem lucky,” recalls Mr Recha.
But he heaved a sigh of relief when he was placed in internship at Labed Cash Marine Enterprises in Malaba, thanks to a collaboration between his college and the Agriculture Sector Network (Asnet)
Launched in February 2020, Asnet is the umbrella body of the agriculture sector in Kenya with membership from business associations across all value chains in the sector, companies including micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), development partners, academia and research institutions, NGOs, civil society groups, finance institutions, cooperatives and farmers.
A recent study by Asnet in western Kenya revealed that there is a technology gap between agricultural technical vocational education and training (ATVET) programmes and innovation requirements in the agriculture industry.
This partly explains why most graduates from these institutions, like many others, remain unemployed and are unable to establish their own agriculture-related businesses.
The gap was attributed to the use of obsolete technology and lack of demonstration farms among ATVETs.
In collaboration with five ATVET colleges and 32 medium agri-food companies, Asnet addresses the internship challenges through a rural youth employment (RYE) project whose goal is to impart skills and competency with a view to increasing youth employment in western Kenya.
The project under the Agri-Jobs 4 Youth initiative, which enhances youth employment prospects by better equipping them for the labour market and at the same time increasing the demand for labour and improving labour market functioning and matching mechanisms, is implemented by GIZ and supported by the German Development Cooperation.
Through RYE, Asnet links students with agricultural firms where they are placed on internship and get practical experience.
It was through this programme that Mr Recha was linked to the aqua firm where he says he gained hands-on experience in areas such as pond construction, fish harvesting techniques and production of fingerlings.
Armed with the techniques, Mr Recha says he is ready to work as well as advance his education by taking a diploma course.
“I got all-round knowledge on fish rearing, including subjects like transportation of fingerlings, having been on internship and intensive training for three months,” says Mr Recha
Asnet General Manager Agatha Thuo says many young people need a lot of polishing to work effectively, especially in the agriculture sector.
Often, she notes, the focus in learning institutions dwells more on theory and examinations while the industry is looking for employees who can do real jobs.
“Many employers shy away from employing fresh graduates because they have to undergo so much training while what they are looking for are not trainees but people ready to work,” notes Ms Thuo.
While good grades are important, she adds, employers in the agriculture sector often search for performance at their firms rather than focusing much on how well someone did in class.
Between September and November 2021, some 61 students went through the Asnet attachment and internship inaugural programme. A further 120 students joined the programme in January 2022.
They obtained various skills and technical skills such as machine and equipment operation and agricultural best practices in poultry, dairy, horticulture, aquaculture and apiculture production. Students have also accessed skills for processing assorted feeds for poultry, dairy animals and aquaculture. Students are also exposed to various facets of farm economics.
Under this programme, Asnet is partnering with the Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology (RIAT) in Kisumu County, Siaya Institute of Technology, Friends College Kaimosi in Vihiga County, Sigalagala National Polytechnic in Kakamega County and Sang’alo Institute of Science and Technology in Bungoma County.
These ATVETs provide more than 95 per cent of students who attend the Asnet internship programme.
Students are linked to the programme through their learning institutions and via Asnet digital platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp.
Although the programme currently focuses on Western Kenya, there are plans to spread out to other regions, if resources allow.