Skip to main content

Revitalizing skills training and education for youth


Young people between 15 and 25 represent more than 60% of Africa's total population, accounting for 45% of the continent’s total labour force. With the population becoming increasingly younger due to continued high fertility rates, sub-Saharan Africa’s 10.9% youth unemployment rate is a major cause for concern.

Many young people have little or no employable skills, or else the skills they have don’t match demand in the labour market. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET), with its focus on technologies and science, practical skills, attitudes, and knowledge for specific occupations, could be the key to increasing youth employability. However, there is an underlying impression that TVET programs are not as valuable as traditional academic programs at universities, and there is evidence to suggest that TVET programs are experiencing significant challenges.

As African governments put TVET at the fore of their public policy, knowledge emerging from IDRC-supported research is informing skills development reforms to increase enrollment among men and women.


  • Youth unemployment stands at 10.9% in sub-Saharan Africa. Quality technical and vocational training is key to decrease the high unemployment rate;
  • East African countries are in the process of reforming technical and vocational education and training to meet the changing demands of labour markets; and
  • Changing the negative image of technical and vocational education and training is vital in promoting the impact of skills training for marginalized youth.

Revitalizing TVET in East Africa

Inefficiencies within TVET institutions, limited capacity to provide high-quality training, outdated equipment, and barriers to access for women are some of the factors that contribute to the poor perception of TVET. Another is the perception that TVET students were unable to secure admission to a university because of their poor academic performance. Traditionally, TVET has been regarded as a “last resort” option.

African governments recognize the potential of TVET and, in collaboration with partners in the private and non-governmental sectors, are making strides to revitalize the quality, access, inclusiveness, and responsiveness of these programs. IDRC is supporting a group of such institutions from Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to revise curricula and training modules to address the gap between existing skills and current job requirements. Led by Makerere University in Uganda, the project aims to enhance knowledge and policy dialogue and lead to the improved  capacity of governments to review and implement reforms in skills development and employment.

IDRC research has focused on bringing recommendations to TVET-regulating bodies in the six eastern and southern African countries. One major outcome is the involvement of Kevit Desai, the principal researcher for the Kenyan arm of the project, in the country’s Permanent Working Group (PWG) on TVET. Desai became Principal Secretary in charge of Technical and Vocational Training in the Ministry of Education of Kenya in March 2018 and chairs the PWG.

A 2017 PWG report emphasizes that TVET centres need to provide up-to-date equipment to keep pace with advancing technologies in sectors such as manufacturing, and they must support the development of a new curriculum that meets private sector demand. Desai, however, said such changes are difficult given that TVET is underfunded and “receives only 2% of the total education budget in Kenya.”

To make the most of current resources, relevant government and public stakeholders are focusing on incorporating new technologies, soft skills training, and career guidance components to improve the overall quality of training of TVET. Quality assurance of TVET through accreditation processes for both public and private institutions, which are currently underway, will also increase the quality and employability of graduates.

Charles Ondieki, chairman of the TVET Curriculum Development Assessment and Certification Council in Kenya, has been one of the early advocates for the revitalization of TVET. He explains that TVET in Kenya has moved from a colonial curriculum to one that actively engages local expertise and follows a competency-based curriculum and assessment model that encourages students to complete course targets at their own pace. Once students are ready to take their exams, training institutions evaluate them on an individual basis. “We have made a lot of strides,” Ondieki argues, “and competency-based training will change everything, including university education.”

Changing perceptions of TVET

In addition to improvements within the TVET system, there is a need to increase awareness and the credibility of this type of education.

Early last year, the PWG convened the “Hands on the Future National TVET Conference” and the Kenya Skills Show as part of an effort to rebrand TVET — a recommendation from the IDRC-supported research. Prominent private sector employers such as Coca-Cola and Toyota Kenya participated as exhibitors in the Kenya Skills Show, which attracted more than 3,000 people, many of them parents and young men and women who were potential students.

Many of those in attendance were pleasantly surprised at the range of classes and training available for youth through TVET centres, which offer practical skills and knowledge that are often absent in theory-based university classes. These include technical skills such as filming, which could  be useful for a range of future job opportunities, which often require multimedia skills.

University students remarked that enrolling in TVET has also become more common for them in recent years. The skills they learn in TVET complement their university courses, and can often be completed during the six-month break between the first and second year of university studies. These skills are also encouraging university students to move beyond traditional formal sector jobs, which are often limited in supply. Such awareness of the value of TVET programs is vital for strengthening the system to ensure it meets the needs of changing African labour markets.

Some researchers from institutions participating in the IDRC-supported TVET project also attended the show to share experiences and assess developments in Kenya. The research team from Lilongwe University, for example, is exploring the possibility of hosting a similar skills shows to improve the image of TVET and market this path to young audiences in Malawi.

IDRC is interested in supporting more research on the TVET sector to provide evidence for policy reforms, review labour policies, and rebrand TVET to make it relevant and accessible, particularly to women.