Human capital development holds the key to Kenya’s economic progress

By Phyllis Wakiaga

How can Kenya strategically invest in its human capital to rightly position its self for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Global Human Capital Index released by the World Economic Forum ranked Kenya at position 78 out of 130 in 2017, up from position 120 in 2016. The report used four indices to determine the scores of different countries, which were Capacity, Deployment, Development and Know-how. Our jump to the top hundred spot was attributed to the country’s strong educational quality and our sizeable medium-skilled employment sector.

However, while we scored 60% and 53% respectively on the capacity and development sub-indexes, leading countries such as Norway and Finland were north of 85% on both. So despite our education being described as strong, the scores point to critical areas of focus that, if we are keen to still remain an investor attractive destination, we urgently need to invest in.

Human capital development has been described as a main harbinger of the future work place. Many leading economies are transitioning towards putting more investments in the potential of their workforce. Hence, instead of being apprehensive about the disruption that may be brought on by technological disruptions and automations, they are recalibrating their education systems, and reviewing their core processes to match future needs of the global markets. This is what we, as a country need to prioritize.

A 2017 Executive Briefing on The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa indicates that Kenya only captures 58% of its full human capital potential compared to countries such as Mauritius at 67%, Ghana at 64% and South Africa 63%, adding that 30% of employers in Kenya are citing inadequately skilled workforces as a major constraint to business expansion. Hence, part of revamping our education for the future should factor in the aspect of inclusivity and equity.

One of the main reasons we are not benefitting as much as we could from our demographic dividend is because many young people are locked out of quality education. Gaining education for the sake of getting any job might be easy enough for some, but for most, gaining quality education that renders one’s employability and talent as useful for future jobs is next to impossible.

To turn this around, we can focus our primary interventions in education in revamping our Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector. The only guaranteed way for our country to prosper and to achieve Vision 2030 is by building a strong manufacturing base from which all other sectors can benefit. Industrialization is the main driver of sustained and progressive economic growth and self-sustenance. However, we cannot build this base with rudimentary skills which are directed towards solving our present challenges and not, futuristic perspectives of what we may need to overcome those that lie ahead.

Singapore, the world’s stellar example in linking tangible economic expansion to investment in TVET, started to rethink their national focus in terms of economic development between the years of 1960’s to 70’s. In this time, they identified industrialization as a key driver for growth, and therefore invested heavily in the evolution of the education curriculum and in particular, TVET, to address changing manpower needs. Since industrialization creates productive employment, Singapore has become one of the world’s trailblazing economies and top investor destination. Still manufacturing continues to hold fort in the country’s economy and is attributed to this economic stability. Economists, last year, stated that the manufacturing sector increased by 15.5% in the third quarter compared to 8.3% same quarter in 2016.

In Kenya, there have been progressive steps towards achieving our economic goals with focus on the symbiosis between TVET development and Industrialization. For instance, KAM in partnership with GIZ and the State Department for Vocational and Technical Training, launched a TVET Program early last year which aims to increase economic and employment opportunities for the youths in Kenya while at the same time ensuring that local industry is poised to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution with skilled manpower. So far this initiative has placed 450 technical skills graduates for apprenticeship programs in industries across the country and an additional 500 graduates have been taken through work readiness training. These are just initial steps to a larger vision shared by Industry and Government to invest in the TVET sector in a bit to catalyse our industrialization.

More than that, it is crucial that we develop long-term policies anchored in Vision 2030 and our economic sustainability goals, to secure the progress being jump started through such initiatives. Structures to revamp TVET should be built with a view to centre young innovation at the heart of our national development. Reinvigorating the motivation to create, model, produce, fashion, cultivate in the learning desires of our young people will help us achieve our vision for industrialization as a nation.

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at [email protected].

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