left corner left corner
China Daily Website  

Kenyan workers see measurable gains

Updated: 2015-01-16 11:04
By Lucie Morangi (China Daily Africa)

Too much emphasis on theory and not enough on practical abilities often leaves vocational and technical students in Africa with a serious handicap in the job market, according to industry and education officials and students themselves.

Kevin Nzioka, a student from Kabete Technical Institute based in Nairobi, Kenya, tells of a friend who performed dismally in an interview because he was unable to take measurements for a machine part.

"He couldn't and so lost the opportunity," Nzioka says.

The second-year diploma student concedes that although his college has modern machines, they have little time to put theory into practice because they only spend two hours weekly in the workshop.

In addition, the instructor believes that they will spoil the machines. There are 16 mechanical engineering production students in his class.

But the African Tech Challenge, a new, competitive effort, is instilling hope in Kenyan youths who otherwise face difficulties in securing technical jobs after graduation.

The effort is a joint program between Kenya's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and AVIC International, a subsidiary of a Beijing-based company involved in international aviation, high technology and many other fields.

Budding young technicians participated last year in an intensive, three-month challenge that not only built their confidence in handling machinery but also cultivated the spirit of entrepreneurship.

According to the graduates, working on modern machines coupled with professional tutelage by Chinese instructors greatly improved their machine operating proficiency.

"I was scared to use the lathe machines," says Nzioka, a finalist in the challenge. "I couldn't take accurate measurements using the micrometer, nor the internal diameter using the dial gauge, but now I can."

Kenyatta University, a renowned institution in the country, is faced with similar problems. They lack professional trainers and are forced to visit a technical college to get exposure to instructors and advanced machines. It was at this point that the participating group was informed of the ATC program.

"Our group entered the competition without a technical adviser as required. But we needed the experience," says Charity Otsembo, the only female participant in the challenge and the leader of the group.

She says the experience has boosted her confidence in handling the machines and increased her passion for mechanical engineering. "I love working on the lathe machine. I call them my babies."

The third-year student adds that she believes in herself and can confidently transfer her knowledge to other colleagues in class.

"I believe teamwork is the ingredient for success. This is what ATC taught me, together with discipline and hard work."

Eighteen teams undertook the preliminary round that commenced in August. They were taught safety measures, machine components, maintenance and advanced measuring skills.

An assessment was done and only six teams sailed through to the final round. This rigorous round tested their accuracy, speed and resilience under pressure. Points were awarded to groups and individuals. The Kabete team emerged as the best.

His passion is evident as he explains the details of the tasks he undertook. He attributes his success to teamwork and the quality training he received from Chinese instructors. "It was hard and expectations from the trainers were high. This made us work even harder and smarter," he says.

The KU team came in sixth. According to Otsembo, the final stage was intense and tough. "Priority was on how precise we were. As a team we had to forget our differences and synchronize our thoughts to be up to the task," she says.

The top two teams were promised monetary awards from AVIC. The winners were also to be linked with Chinese companies and sign service contracts to produce tools required in manufacturing.

The challenge is a corporate social responsibility that aims at encouraging youths to enroll in technical courses, create employment and increase skilled workers for the government and private sector. This directly meshes with Vision 2030, the Kenyan national development program that emphasizes the need for technical skills.

According to the participants, the experience was invaluable. It also exposed the gaps in the education system such as the competency levels of trainers, the use of too much theory with minimal practical applications, and a weak impetus toward entrepreneurship.

The participants say they also would like the competition expanded by introducing other machines, such as the milling machine. According to Nzioka, the machine would help in making threads in spanners, which are wrenches used to open bolts.

"We have been taught how to make bolts. Spanners will definitely advance our knowledge," says the young technician.


(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/16/2015 page7)

  • Group a building block for Africa

    An unusually heavy downpour hit Durban for two days before the BRICS summit's debut on African soil, but interest for a better platform for emerging markets were still sparked at the summit.