Bridging the skills gap

The Private Sector Federation (PSF) organised a conference on Wednesday April 27th, 2011, to address the question of skills development. Key stakeholders were in attendance and the deliberations were fruitful.Key issues were; how to raise labour productivity and how to involve and commit the private sector in this and how to fill gaps evident in important and productive sectors such as ICT and Tourism.

The Private Sector Federation (PSF) organised a conference on Wednesday April 27th, 2011, to address the question of skills development. Key stakeholders were in attendance and the deliberations were fruitful.

Key issues were; how to raise labour productivity and how to involve and commit the private sector in this and how to fill gaps evident in important and productive sectors such as ICT and Tourism.

We have a scenario where too much orientation is towards higher education with an oversupply of unskilled labour leaving a skills gap in low and intermediate levels.

There is also no formal training for professionals at these levels at their work places. This is the rationale behind the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) program

The private sector’s capacity to create jobs needs to be strengthened. This requires structural reforms and increased funding and managerial capacity that is innovative in its strategies to achieve results.

Traineeships (internships and industrial training programs) should be normal (mandatory, really).

The private sector, being, the beneficiaries of the skills should be part of the process.

Not just as a ‘do good’ act, but as a way of ensuring that the skills delivered to them are relevant. A logical and practical model of how to go about this was presented.

The private sector should define the occupational profiles to ensure their relevance. Training providers then need to convert profiles to modules that would be specific and preferably short term (the problem is immediate). Thereafter the training and assessment are conducted jointly by the trainer and the private sector.

Certification should be done by a body such as the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and the trainees learn on the job from this point on.

Industrial attachment is another aspect that involves the private sector in skills development. The problem here is that some employers do not know the set of skills they need and this might explain why some have asked to be paid or flatly refused interns relevant to their sector.

This is true especially in the hospitality industry. PSF has taken this challenge and sponsors 100 students on local internship programs for six months.

They will further sign Memoranda of Understanding with Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC), Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Worksforce Development Authority (WDA) to start regional internship programs.

This is very commendable. From the local internships, there is a strong positive relationship between internships and employability. Over 60% of all the interns were absorbed by the companies they were attached to. However, it must be added that there is so much more to be done in this area. We have only just begun.

The challenge of funds always comes up. This requires an out of the box approach. Should we seek funding from development partners, or put in a levy or leave the private sector to go it alone?  From the onset ,we should use all we can but in the medium and long term we should ensure that we develop a funding mechanism that is self sustaining and independent.

One feeling that permeated the conference was a sense of ‘realism’; that we only think of what we can realistically do now.

It is sensible too. However, in a brainstorming session, ‘idealism’ should lead the way. We should think of all that we want, dream of, hope for. We should paint our idea of heaven and have unbridled ambition.

It is from there that we infuse it with reality and break it down to measureable and achievable bits with a timeline. Two; more discussion on business incubation programs is required. Seeking to employ people is only one part of the story. The other side is the creation of jobs.

This needs serious attention. And there should always be relevant statistics.

Let us shoot at the sun; the arrow will land further away.

Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.

sam.kebongo@gmail.com

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