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Vocational training works for communities and the economy in Kenya

August 10, 2023

IDRC-supported research in Kenya is uncovering the potential for innovation in vocational training and identifying ways in which the sector can produce more young graduates with marketable skills.

Led by Colleges and Institutes Canada, the research includes an innovation component, in partnership with Kenyan training institutes, to enable students in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) to find solutions to community problems. Through four new innovation hubs connected with local communities and industry, students from these training institutes are designing economically viable and socially useful products. The developers of some of these innovations have applied for patents and certification in anticipation of commercializing them.

As examples, students have designed new stoves that will consume less fuel and cook more efficiently. They have come up with fortified flours (along with suggested recipes that call for underused crops from local farmers) that could address food insecurity and nutritional inadequacies for vulnerable groups. And, responding to community requests, students at one training institute developed ways of adding value to Irish potatoes by manufacturing a fortified flour and enriched animal feed.

The innovations demonstrate how developing skills in the TVET sector can help transform economies. The research team also includes representatives from George Brown College, in Canada, and two Kenyan organizations: the Linking Industry with Academia Programme Trust and Rift Valley Technical Training Institute. In addition to testing out the innovation hubs, the research team has developed measures to improve gender equality in the sector and important policy processes to help to invigorate the sector as a whole.

Research highlights

  • Canadian and Kenyan researchers are supporting the vocational training sector to play its role in innovation, skills development and youth employment. 
  • Four Kenyan innovation hubs connect training institutes with local communities and industry, enabling students to design economically viable and socially useful products. 
  • Training institutes and the Kenyan government are adopting new practices and policies to improve gender equality and overall quality and performance in technical and vocational education and training. 


Realizing the potential of vocational training 

As in most sub-Saharan African countries, more than 75 percent of Kenya’s population is below 35 years of age. More than 13 percent of youth are unemployed or underemployed, and this number is expected to grow. Recent estimates show that thousands of young people, often poorly skilled, leave school early every year in search of work, but with limited success. Those who leave school early often cannot benefit from even the few employment opportunities available.  

While there is no single solution to address these challenges, TVET is increasingly recognized by governments and development institutions as the most practical avenue for youth to acquire work skills. However, this level of training and education is typically neglected. Institutions do not receive the financing, training materials, services and information they need to deliver the skilled graduates that economies need. 

The IDRC-supported research aims to help governments in countries like Kenya and Uganda, which are working to change this trend. Together with development partners, they have begun to prioritize policies and investments to transform TVET to better meet workers’ current and future needs for a broad array of hard and soft skills. In Kenya, for example, government has invested massively in the TVET sector, escalating students’ enrollment to these institutions by over 600 percent since 2013.  

Three Kenyan women wearing white lab coats and chefs’ hats weigh large pumpkins outside a training institute.
Ol’Lessos Technical Training Institute
Innovations at the Ol’Lessos Technical Training Institute include fortified flours derived from underused, locally grown pumpkin varieties.

New innovation hubs, policies and gender-equality programs in Kenya 

In addition generating new products, the innovation hubs housed in training institutes are proving to be useful platforms to bring together sector stakeholders from government, education and industry for policy development and promotion of TVET in the country.

The research findings have informed the development of a national quality-assurance framework, which the government and other stakeholders are using to improve the quality and relevance of TVET in Kenya. The findings and recommendations have also provided support for the implementation of the National Youth Employment Programme, which aims to create employment opportunities for youth by developing the capacity of TVET institutions and graduates. A database to track the progress of graduates and provide a platform for employers to access qualified graduates is also being created.

Recommendations have informed gender mainstreaming in TVET through training programs and career guidance tools designed to meet the unique needs of women, in addition to men, and marketing strategies to attract more women students.

A new initiative called the Kenya Blue Economy Skills Training Program builds on this research. The seven-year, CAD25 million project funded by Global Affairs Canada supports the Government of Kenya’s plans for an enhanced blue economy, based on the sustainable use of ocean resources and healthy ocean ecosystems. The program will enhance the capacity of Kenyan TVET institutions and agencies to deliver skills training programs that meet international standards and respond to the needs of blue economy industries.

Policies to strengthen skills training and education in Africa 

African countries need innovative and highly skilled technical personnel who will drive an agenda to transform economies through innovations that add value to primary commodities and natural resources.

But turning TVET into a serious employment and innovations solution for young people is easier said than done. This IDRC-supported research has shown that for TVET to become a viable option to increase innovation, value and employability in Africa, the following is needed:  

  • Increase the capacity of TVET institutions to develop innovation hubs, business incubators, and applied research centres.  
  • Create more accessible instruments and structures to protect the inventions of young innovators through technology patents, business trademarks and copyright for intellectual creations, coupled with support strategies for start-ups.  
  • Create a skills-development authority that funds private-sector actors to provide training and placements, and help align skills development with industry, community and workforce needs.  
  • Base national development plans on effective industrial foresight and labour-force planning to identify key sectors and industries that will drive employment and economic growth in the future.  
  • Support internships, apprenticeships and other forms of hands-on learning as incentives for industry and communities to hire well-prepared TVET graduates.  
  • Strengthen soft skills, language skills, and information and communication technology skills along with technical skills in preparing TVET graduates for the job market.  
  • Promote the prestige and visibility of vocational education by initiating promotional campaigns and competitions. 

IDRC-supported research on the TVET sector will continue through new investments. For example, a new initiative, FutureWORKS: Skills for a Sustainable and Inclusive Future of Work, includes the sector, among other levels of education, in the research questions it aims to address. 

Contributor: Paul Okwi, senior program specialist, IDRC