When Lucy Maghanga walks into the cavernous mechatronics workshop at Wumingu Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) College in the drought-kissed Shagha village of Wundanyi sub-county, her poise radiates with amazing ease of one completely at home in a machine-dominated universe.
It is when she embarks on explaining the intricate workings of selected mechatronics equipment that the true passion and depth of her technical knowledge of machines become apparent.
“Here we are learning. We are being exposed to the latest technology in mechanical production. As far away as we are from urban centers, we have a chance to get hands-on experience with how modern technology works. This is preparing us for the job market,” she says.
Ms. Maghanga is one of the fifty students currently learning at the facility. The facility offers technical courses including advanced mechatronics and Information Communication and Technology (ICT) to learners. With a capacity of 500 learners, the Sh 300 million VTC remains acutely underutilized. This situation is attributed to the institution’s remote and hard-to-access location which poses a key impediment in efforts to bolster and shore up enrolment numbers.
The challenge notwithstanding, the concept of setting up TVET institutions in under-developed and marginalized areas is considered a key factor in promoting growth and encouraging the transformation of rural areas while equipping students with the requisite skills to give them a competitive advantage in the job market.
The Principal Secretary (PS) for The State Department for Vocational and Technical Training Dr. Margaret Mwakima says the government is keen on the construction and equipping of TVETs; institutions that are increasingly being regarded as the next frontier in the production of skilled workers and specialists in various technical fields.
The PS adds that TVETs hold the secret to unlocking development and growth potential for marginalized areas through specializing in courses that have immediate relevance for learners.
“TVETs are spurring development in rural areas and have become key to the production of a skilled workforce by offering relevant courses required for national development,” she said.
To maximize on the latent potential of TVETs, the government has urged the institutions to upgrade and adopt production policies to generate enhanced incomes and self-sustenance. This move implies that most TVETs with technical capacity will initiate their own production to engage in commercial activities alongside teaching.
This, the PS added, will not only allow the institutions to boost their revenue stream but will also offer practical experience for learners and create employment opportunities at the grassroots level.
Out of the 234 TVET institutions in Kenya, the government has fully equipped 194 implying that over half possess the potential to become full production units.
“We want to transit into production units where TVETs can generate their own revenue on top of what they are getting from the government,” she explained.
Already, in the Coast region, the Coast Institute of Technology (CIT) in Voi sub-county has been running a successful bakery production unit that supplies several institutions and outlets with assorted pastries. In 2020 at the height of Covid-19, the institution got a juicy multi-million tender to fabricate Covid-19 beds for the Taita-Taveta County government. Several TVETs are expected to engage in income-generating activities to bolster revenue.
The PS further disclosed plans to upgrade CIT into a national technical college. This move will see the institution enjoy enhanced perks including benefitting from additional resources allocated to national polytechnics and being allowed to admit international students.
The government has so far spent over Sh 10 billion in the construction and equipping of TVETs across the county. With the opening up of the East Africa Community and the promotion of the African Continental Free-Trade Area (ACFTA), the investment in TVETs will strategically place Kenya as a regional center for technical training including offering courses in Blue Economy.
“TVETS will offer amongst others, courses in marine technology and seafarers that will promote the country’s ability to exploit the dormant potential in the Blue Economy,” she adds.
The TVET sector has become so crucial in national development that it has attracted several partners who are funding and sponsoring learners and programs. The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) has pumped in six billion shillings in the field of vocational training with 49 students getting scholarships at CIT in Voi.
Governor Andrew Mwadime says the county government will deepen partnerships with the national government to support TVETs in the region. He adds that utilization of the TVETs will increase the pool of qualified workers in the region and enhance the employability level of youths in the region. He also said that promoting the starting of production units for TVETs will create employment opportunities for qualified youth in the region.
“We need our young people to enroll in TVETs and acquire necessary skills to fit in the rapidly-changing job market,” he said.
He however expressed concerns over the low enrollment level reported in TVETs and called for intensified awareness drives to market the institution in rural villages.
The County commissioner Mr. Loyford Kibaara said the chiefs and their assistants will use the village barazas to educate the public on the importance of the institutions.
“The barazas will be used to engage the residents to make them know TVETs are here and should be utilized,” said the administrator.
To make TVETS more attractive for the youth, the PS said the introduction of short courses that would last for a maximum of six months would be ideal to lure youngsters into the institution. These intensive courses would compress the syllabus within half a year to accommodate youth who would otherwise opt-out if the course took too long.
The PS also noted that the construction of hostels to host residential students would also give institutions in remote areas the ability to admit students from other regions.
One such institution is Wumingu TVET in Wundanyi which received sh 60 million for the construction of two hostels.
Dr. Mwakima further asked the principals of TVETs to explore aspects of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for investors to construct hostels in close proximity to the institutions to accommodate learners.
By Wagema Mwangi