PSF propels technical education to greater heights: The better new ways of making technical education count in Rwanda’s economic development

By Paul Ntambara It is widely recognized that a well performing technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system is at the heart of a strong economy.  As Rwanda pursues its economic reform agenda, the reform of TVET has been given top importance at the national level. At the most senior levels of government, it is recognized that if Rwanda is to be competitive in the regional and global economy, it must have a well-trained workforce and an industry-driven training system that is flexible, responsive, comprehensive, accessible and gender sensitive.

By Paul Ntambara

It is widely recognized that a well performing technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system is at the heart of a strong economy.  As Rwanda pursues its economic reform agenda, the reform of TVET has been given top importance at the national level. At the most senior levels of government, it is recognized that if Rwanda is to be competitive in the regional and global economy, it must have a well-trained workforce and an industry-driven training system that is flexible, responsive, comprehensive, accessible and gender sensitive.

The Private Sector believes that there are two fundamental, systemic-level underlying issues that need to be addressed concurrent with the Rwandan TVET reform initiative:

• Despite the much appreciated initiatives taken to date, the TVET Reform lacks an overarching and commonly agreed vision that would serve to guide and coordinate reform initiatives. A TVET Strategy with clear and realistic implementation targets supported by a funding strategy would assist in this.

• There exists many persistent national systemic barriers to the creation of a TVET system that is industry driven, competency-based, flexible and responsive; such as the pervasiveness of the academic model, lengthy civil service processes, centralized financial processes and lack of performance management systems. Current Rwandan reform initiatives, most notably the public system reform initiative, must be taken into consideration in any proposed TVET reform initiative.

A well performing Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system is seen as the backbone of a strong human resource capacity that drives the economy. The Private Sector Federation acknowledges its critical role and responsibility to the success of a program that is aimed at supporting and upgrading skills in the private sector.

Lack of enough skilled personnel has always been seen to greatly affect productivity and therefore require a more holistic approach to alleviate. Many industries in the country continue to rely on skilled labour from the region and beyond. Locally trained Technical and Vocational education graduates lack the confidence and practical experience to compete favourably on the job market.

“Our education system has for long been crippled by the lack of infrastructure. Students in technical schools lacked the practical part of learning and basic equipment to have hands on experience,” says Manzi Antoine, the Director of Trade and Advocacy at PSF. 

To bridge this gap, PSF has designed a Promotion of Skills Development Program. This program has three components: The Business Plan Competition (BPC), PSF Internship programme and Advocacy on TVET.

PSF Industrial attachment programme

The IAP program is aimed at strengthening the capacity of private companies especially the industrial sector in promoting the development of technical and generic skills through an internship program for young graduates. It bridges the capacity gaps within Rwandan enterprises and is a means of building institutional retention capacity of skills available in the internal labour market. It contributes significantly to improving the employability of young TVET graduates.

The Private Sector Federation has already facilitated placements of 400 graduates from technical schools in private industries in Rwanda and in the region. Through this program interns receive on-job trainings. They are supervised and monitored throughout the industrial attachment period with the ultimate goal of boosting their employability skills.

Students are placed in different local companies for a period of six months while some are sent out of the country; mainly in Kenya and Uganda for three months so as to benefit from more established companies and facilities.

Aline Kamugunga, a 4th year student from RTUC attended a three months internship in Kenya at the Sankara Nairobi Luxury Hotel. She says the internship was an eye-opener.

“The hospitality industry in Kenya is much more developed, they have systems in place and their work ethic is unrivaled.

“We have to improve our customer care if we have to attract customers. We have to make guests feel at home, cleanliness is important and workers have to be treated better if they are to perform,” says Kamugugnga who is specializing in Restaurant and Hotel Management.

She adds: “Internships have to start right from the lower levels of training. It does not have to wait to be done at university level. The reason the industry is much developed in Kenya; they do the practical part right from the start of training.”

For Fidele Irizabimbuto, 24, his internship at Ruliba Clays was an opportunity to gain the much needed experience but also prove himself on the job. After six months internship, the company employed him on a permanent basis.

“After my studies at ETO Muhima, thanks to PSF, I underwent a six months internship at Ruliba Clays. I learnt teamwork, proper planning and new skills that have helped me grow as a laboratory technician,” he says.

“I had an opportunity to operate large machines,” says Patrick Uwitonze, another TVET graduate who did internship at BRALIRWA.

Advocacy for skills development

Advocacy on TVET is aimed at creating and supporting a strong Public-Private Partnership in TVET development to enable the Private Sector contribute to TVET reform.The project puts an emphasis on Public and Private Partnership to promote a more efficient and effective TVET system by Private Sector getting more involved in the development of TVET for example participating in TVET curriculum development, advocating for a TVET policy that changes as the demands of the labour market change.

“PSF has to design advocacy strategies on how to deal with government as regards putting in place programmes to support the private sector,” says Manzi.

The advocacy has had impact in different areas like examinations done by TVET students. Before, examinations were mainly theoretical. For example students who studied electricity only sat for theory examinations. Today examinations are 60 percent practical.

A study has been conducted in the sectors of ICT, auto-mechanics, agro processing, construction and hospitality to determine their current state and the much needed professional requirements. From the study, a position paper was drafted. This paper has been widely discussed with different stakeholders.

Study tours to upgrade entrepreneur’s skills

To help business owners learn form best practices in the region and beyond, PSF organizes study tours. One such tour was conducted to Mauritius. Business owners in the hospitality sector were specially targeted. The aim of the tour was to offer exposure to business owners in the sector.

“Mauritius is highly rated in the hospitality sector. It was a matter of learning the best practices in other countries so that they are to apply them here,” says Manzi.

Other tours have been conducted in Singapore involving people in the ICT, tourism and automobile sector. Entrepreneurs in the woodworks industry were taken on a tour in Germany which is renowned for wood works. The intention of the tours is to give the practitioners knowledge of adding value to what is produced locally.

Eugene Niyonshuti, the chairman of the Chamber of Crafts was among the group that toured Germany. He says that the tour introduced them to new technologies in wood works.

“We need to embrace new technologies if our products are to compete with wood works from abroad. We have to establish a training centre for our people on the use of these latest technologies.

“Even before we think of the new technologies we have to insist on quality work, we can do better with the available materials ad technologies,” says Niyonshuti.

TVET programme has been decentralized with two people stationed in each district to provide technical assistance, support to beneficiaries of programs like to establish profitable businesses.

Way forward

The private sector advocates a TVET system which is strongly founded on occupational profiles and standards which have been agreed with industry. It is acknowledged that the private sector does not always possess fully updated know-how on modern technologies, manufacturing and business processes and raw materials among others, and that private sector representatives will only, to a certain extent, be in a position to define the so-called “best practices” and to be considered as “expert workers”.

The private sector acknowledges the importance of addressing employable/generic skills in curricula. The incorporation and integration of such skills in curriculum delivery has a direct impact on the performance of TVET graduates in the workplace. The private sector is aware that modern TVET systems in other countries could be well advanced on this which benefits could be accomplished from having access to occupational profiles and standards from outside Rwanda. The private sector would encourage the WDA and TVET providers, as applicable, to source and make such profiles and standards available for consultation.

The private sector would like to acknowledge and support the strategy by the Government of Rwanda to design and implement a TVET Qualifications System. In this context the private sector would like to recommend a simple, yet modular based system which supports not only the attainment of qualifications by out-of-school youth, but which also supports a step-by-step attainment of formal qualifications by staff already in service.

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