Having spent the majority of your life being tenderly guided by the most caring people in your life such as parents and teachers, graduating from university simply means that now is the time to make all the big decisions yourself.
Of course, employment is one of those major decisions awaiting you. Accordingly, up and down the country, scores of young, energetic and ambitious young people have graduated with hope of securing their dream jobs, only for their hopes to be dashed.
In Rwanda, like in other parts of the world, young people are increasingly finding it difficult to pin down a job. Those lucky enough to do so are part-timers on projects that only last a few months.
The persistence of youth unemployment has led to many in Rwanda to blame education institutions for focusing more on quantity rather than quality of graduates.
This approach has led to a mismatch between what employers need and what prospective employees are offering, hence the reluctance by employers to offer full-time roles to young people.
Sparingly, authorities have understood this predicament and moved swiftly to implement various channels to stem this problem – one of them being the introduction of Technical and Vocational Education & Training (TVET) schools to provide specific skills to meet labour market demands.
In principle, TVET has a range of short and medium term hands-on intensive courses that focus mainly on providing technical training to students instead of the traditional methods of lectures which are often centred on theoretical cramming.
According to EDPRS II, however, if TVET courses are to be successful, their design must be “demand-driven, and the education and private sector development sectors must coordinate to ensure this is fulfilled”. Thankfully, this is exactly what Akilah Institute for Women has committed to do. Akilah, located in Kigali, provides the finest example of how an education institution can become the bridge between what the vast labour market demands and what education institutions should supply.
How do they do it? Well, to begin with, the institute, now in its fifth year, cultivated private sector partnerships which allowed them to model their curricula to reflect market needs.
With that in mind, Aline Kabanda, Akilah’s country director, explained that “strong emphasis on market-relevant education and job placement is truly what sets Akilah apart.”
Ms Kabanda added that“ Akilah’s mission is not solely focused on academic preparation but career preparation as well – meaning that graduates emerge not only well-educated, but ready to enter directly into the professional workforce.”
But, of course, this is a claim that all education institutions are capable of making – after all they can all argue that after successful graduation, it is the graduate’s responsibility to prove that they possess the right skills required to be successful in the job market.
But, given that the current curriculum is still regarded as wanting, is this approach fair to would-be graduates? Can any of these higher education institutions actually prove that their methods work adequately enough to guarantee graduates a decent chance to a job?
Indeed, do they track their former students to ascertain their chances of employment? Unfortunately, a lack of information means that there are no clear answers to these important questions.
At Akilah, however, the clear understanding of the current disconnection between what employers want and what the education system should supply has enabled them to lead by example in matching their female graduates, who they happen to focus on, with real decent jobs.
In fact, Akilah’s success is glowing; their first two classes of students graduated with an average 95 per cent job placement. This figure is enviable and warrants recognition.
It shows that Akilah has taken the time to understand what employers want and proceeded to model their curriculum accordingly. It is without a doubt that a cultivation of partnerships between private sector actors and education institutions is vital if TVET is to succeed.
In short, having allocated the biggest education budget to TVET schools, it is high time education institutions adapted to market needs by changing their models accordingly.
We cannot continue to load students on planes (read in schools) with a parcel (read degree) that may or may not contain a parachute (read skill set) that may or may not work and ask them to jump anyway.
The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.