Students and graduates of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions have called for more support in form of start-up capital, among others, to enable their projects take off.
This, they say, will empower them to use their skills to cater for the growing demand for furniture, spare parts, as well as other equipment needed in agriculture mechanisation, among others.
Wellars Hakizimana, 27, who graduated from the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre Kigali (IPRC-Kigali) in production and manufacturing in 2013, told The New Times that they acquired sufficient hands-on training.
“When I was in my final year, for instance, a group of 30 students was contracted by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) to make 80 rice threshing machines for farmers,” he says.
Currently, Hakizimana works in the production department at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre West (IPRC West).
Hakizimana, like many others like him, says he is interested in doing research to find solutions to the problems affecting the community.
“I have been involved in fabricating rice threshing and sorting machines because I come from a rice-growing area. I have also designed machines for maize and wheat farmers to use in harvesting and sorting their produce in Karongi and Rusizi districts,” he says.
To do all this, however, Hakizimana and his colleagues get support from regional polytechnic centres because students cannot afford the required materials.
“This is evidence that when a student completes [TVET studies] and gets some money to invest they can make the machines because they have the skills,” he argues.
Hakizimana further proposes that when a student graduates and is skilled in doing something of value, they should be linked to others who do the same product and get introduced to an incubation centre for experience.
“That internship training can last for at least two years. After that period, they can easily start their own businesses because they will have got some revenue from the sales of their products and clients will be familiar to them,” he says.
Robert Kazungu, a third year student of electrical and electronics engineering at IPRC West, is confident that they have been trained to be innovative and they can provide solutions to complex challenges.
“I designed a boat rescue system which gives out an alarm when a boat gets a problem. This system can be installed in a boat and will alert security organs to come for the rescue before the passengers in the boat drown.
The marine team or police can track the boat easily when the alrm sounds,” he says.
Kazungu has also developed an app that one can use to operate electric gadgets by remote-control using a smartphone or computer.
“A person in Kigali can use this app to operate a machine in Kibuye, Karongi District, for instance. We also have a system that can open and close the door via phone,” he says.
“The system is efficient, time saving and allows one to continue with other businesses,” Kazungu notes.
But like Hakizimana, Kazungu also contends that the main challenge standing in their way to use the acquired skills is lack of support, especially financially.
Efforts to support TVET practitioners
Speaking to The New Times, last week, the director of the National Employment Programme (NEP) at the Ministry of Labour (MIFOTRA), François Ngoboka, commended the initiatives undertaken by TVET practitioners’ so far.
He said there are so far 60 savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs), two in each district, with which they signed a memorandum of understanding in September last year to give loans to TVET graduates to buy equipment, whereby they (NEP) will repay 50 per cent of loans offered.
Ngoboka also said another product dubbed ‘Quasi Equity’ under the Business Development Fund (BDF) invests in TVET practitioners’ projects that are profitable and it draws its investment when the beneficiaries have reached a point to financially sustain themselves.
He noted that in cases where the equipment made by a TVET practitioner does not meet market standards, the incubation centre helps them refine their equipment.
The Principal of IPRC South, Dr Barnabé Twabagira, says the first thing they train students on is to be open-minded.
“Incubation centres help TVET graduates acquire project development skills. The equipment is expensive and no graduate student can afford it. But when a person has made a project using the school equipment, there is someone who can appreciate it and buy it,” he says.
The manager of Masaka Incubation Centre in Gasabo District, Diogène Kagango, says they have various sectors of production, including footwear (shoes), leather goods and bamboo products (bamboo furniture and bamboo weaving including chairs, tables, tiles, carpets and baskets an curtains as well as tooth picks).
“We often teach them for three months and then give them another three months to look for where they can get consumables such as hides (for leather products). Then, we give them machines to make products and take them to the market so that they raise capital to start their businesses when they are released,” he says.
Kagango says after giving them training, they help them start cooperatives and register them as a means to facilitate them acquire loans.
He says they, in partnership with Gasabo 3D, an engineering services company, also help graduates from technical secondary schools and IPRCs to improve their projects so that they get commercialised.
“It is a new initiative that we have started in line with serving the community and promoting the Made-in-Rwanda products,” Kagango says.
The director-general of Workforce Development Authority (WDA), Jerome Gasana, says IPRCs already have incubation centres and that, soon, each TVET institution will have own incubation centre.
“We are starting with teaching, but in a few years, each school will have an incubation centre where students are taught how to make products after finishing studies,” he says.
“Once the products are sold, most of the money (more than 50 per cent) should be for the student because they are the conceiver of the idea. Another portion of the money will go to the school and the rest will go to the entity that helped them develop or make the product commercial,” Gasana says, adding that they help the student register the product with Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
He said, so far, WDA has identified five outstanding projects to support, and that about Rwf100 million have been earmarked for the purpose.
The projects include the boat rescue system, affordable maize shelling machines, and affordable irrigation toolkits.
Figures from WDA show that the number of students in TVETs rose from 74,320 in 2012 to 92,888 in 2014.
There were 40 per cent students who enrolled in TVET schools countrywide against the government target of 60 per cent by 2017/18, when some 134,185 students should be in TVET institutions.