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China-funded apprenticeship program help Kenyan youth secure jobs in construction industry

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-12-01 11:01

NAIROBI — Margaret Wambui has never felt intimidated working in the male dominated construction industry where grit, resilience and agility are a prerequisite for success.

The 24-year-old diploma holder in electrical engineering grew up in a farming village in central Kenya but aspired for a career in engineering given its prestige and ability to reward financially.

Wambui is among some 100 Kenyan youth shortlisted recently by Chinese firm, AVIC International to participate in its fourth edition of African Technology Challenge (ATC) that is focusing on developing their skills in the construction industry like masonry, brick laying and general steel works.

During an interview with Xinhua on Monday at a construction site in Nairobi where AVIC International is putting up modern apartment blocks, Wambui vowed to remain in the construction industry for the long haul irrespective of unforeseen challenges.

"So far, I have gained immense knowledge in building and construction since joining the ATC program early this month. I'm the only lady working at this construction site as a brick layer after the other six dropped out due to pressure from peers," said Wambui.

The confident young woman was at ease as she placed concrete on steel bars at the fourth floor of Nairobi Global Trade Centre, an ultra modern high rise building that is being developed by AVIC International.

"My day job involves hours of concrete mixing and placing it inside the folded steel bars to develop strong pillars. It is a grueling job that requires a positive attitude and patience," Wambui told Xinhua.

She hailed mentorship provided by Chinese technicians and vowed to utilize skills acquired at the one month training program to start her own construction company.

"We are motivated during this training and have been earning a good income that I intend to invest in a profitable business. Likewise, I feel empowered to start a construction company and apply for small-scale tenders in the public sector," said Wambui.

The fourth edition of Africa Technology Challenge differed from the previous three that focused on imparting skills among Kenyan youth in mechanical and electrical engineering.

Su Tianshu, the Chief Representative of AVIC International Kenya, said that youth shortlisted for this year's ATC program will benefit from skills development in civil engineering disciplines like carpentry, steel works and brick laying.

"The decision to focus on these disciplines was agreed on taking into consideration the booming construction sector in the country," Su remarked.

He added that skills upgrade is key to tackle Kenya's youth unemployment challenge that currently stands at 22 percent.

AVIC International in partnership with Kenyan agencies will implement the one month apprenticeship program dubbed "Jenga Vijana" or empower the youth to address skills gap in the construction industry.

The beneficiaries who are drawn from all walks of life are unanimous in their endorsement of a training program that has potential to transform their lives.

Douglas Too, a 26-year-old former security guard, considers himself an accomplished carpenter since joining the AVIC international sponsored training program early this month.

"The most exciting component of this training is the freedom and space we are given by our supervisors to innovate and ask tough questions. I can now handle woodwork at ease thanks to the in-depth and hands on training from Chinese and local supervisors," Too remarked.

He was born in a sugar cane plantation in North western parts of Kenya but plans to invest in a furniture workshop in Nairobi or other big towns once he completes the apprenticeship program.

The fourth edition of AVIC International sponsored technical skills upgrade program has gained traction among Kenyan youth grappling with joblessness and financial hardships.

Evans Onderi, a 31-year-old father of one, felt relieved when he joined the program two weeks ago with a mission to refine his skills in masonry.

"Let me admit that the theoretical and practical components of the training have been transformative. I have previously worked for small construction companies but have never acquired the kind of life-long skills that are guaranteed in these sites," said Onderi.

He aims to become a much-sought-after mason in Nairobi and its environs after acquiring cutting edge skills from AVIC International funded apprenticeship program.

Onderi's colleagues too were enthusiastic about completing the training program in the hope it will in future unleash new opportunities.

Joseph Odhiambo, a 38-year-old father of five who has previously worked for Chinese construction firms, was optimistic about the future, given the opportunity accorded to him to refine his skills in masonry.

"It is now possible for me to use an automated concrete mixer and lay bricks inside the folded steel bars. This experience will ultimately open new doors for me," said Odhiambo.

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