Work Integrated Learning Conference 21112018 303
Participants at the Work Integrated Learning Conference held from November 21-22 at the Library and Information Center, during a break session of the Conference’s first day.. PHOTO: ANTONIO LONGANGI

By Taigu Muchiri

United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa), Linking Industry With Academia (LIWA), Cresco Skills Development (CRESCO) and Southern African Society for Cooperative Education (SASCE) held the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Conference in Kenya from November 21 – 22.

The WIL conference which was supported by the Ministry of Education’s State Department of Vocational and Technical Training (TVET) seeks to ignite the employability revolution in East Africa and provide an effective approach to implement Work Integrated Learning and in the process, improve student employability aligned to the needs of industry and East Africa's development agenda.

Speaking during the conference, the Vice Chancellor Prof. Paul Zeleza emphasized the importance of investing in graduates and ensuring that they are well prepared to effectively deliver in the job market. He said reports on graduate employability show that there are glaring mismatches between what universities are producing and what the economy needs, resulting in graduates spending years searching for employment, unemployed and underemployed.
According to data from the Federation of Kenya Employers at least 70% of entry-level recruits require a refresher course in order to start to deliver in their new jobs. To mitigate this, he mentioned that the University is engaged in several initiatives that will improve on the employability of its graduates. One of these initiatives includes the Placement and Career Services that assists students make a smooth transition from the academic world to the professional work space.

Another initiative is the partnership between USIU-Africa and the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) that seeks to equip 20 million youth with skills for employability. He mentioned that said that USIU-Africa was chosen as the only private University in Kenya to participate in this program and will be hosting the Coding for Employment training project in Kenya.

According to a report published by the British Council on universities, employability and inclusive development, Kenya faces a growing problem of what has been referred to as the 'youth bulge', with 80% of its population under 35 years old. The youth, aged 15-34 years form 35 per cent of the population and have the highest unemployment rate of 67 per cent. Eve n though not all in this age group have joined the labor force, the unemployment rate amongst those that have is extremely high.

The recent expansion of the university sector has fed into perceptions that many of the increased number of graduates joining the labor market are unable to obtain jobs.

Dr. Kevit Desai, Permanent Secretary, Technical Vocational Education and Training, Ministry of Education emphasized that the government is developing policies to support industry competitiveness and support teaching, research and innovation so that young people are able to find gainful employment. He said that the ongoing reforms in the education sector are critical and these reforms should be implemented at the technical institutes and Universities.

Dr. Meshack Opwora, Director of Technical Education at the Ministry of Education noted that TVET is a key enabler that will drive the Big 4 Agenda and Vision 2030. These investment programs will require young people with various technical skills who will then be absorbed into different sectors of the economy.

He was categorical that the government aims to develop a technical institute in every constituency in Kenya. “Currently, there are 203 institutes and this number is expected to increase over the next two years to a total of 218 technical institutes in the country,” said Dr. Opwora,  adding that “This will not only meet the current demand but it will grow the skill sets of young people and empower them to be employers.”

He said that the government is keen to provide competency-based education at the TVET level and reduce the unemployment rates among Kenyan youth.

The conference will lead to the development of an effective approach in implementing the corperative and work integrated learning in Kenya and the East African region, and in the process improve student employability.

One key deliverable of the conference will be a draft high-level framework for implementation of Cooperative and Work Integrated Education.