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'Private sector should finance skills training'

Less than a kilometre from Kalungami trading centre in Iganga district stands what should be Nabitende Vocational Training Institute.

But, as ABUBAKER MAYEMBA found, the entire project was abandoned under unclear circumstances and in its place is a single five-classroom windowless block with rusting iron-sheets.

On a cold day, I arrive to find that the only reminder of the institute is a poster to show passers-by what government had envisioned in starting a vocational institution here. The poster states Knowledge and Skills for Self-reliance as the intended institute’s motto. However, this is now the home to Bright View primary school.

Constantin Ogwang, the school’s headteacher, observes that if the institute had been established, maybe the village would be dealing with fewer criminals as the area youths run the own businesses; instead, they  have resorted to gambling and crime. 

“Because of lack of skills, most of them think planting sugarcane, stealing and gambling are the only ways of making money. They cannot be employed in any factory,” Ogwang says.

Education minister Janet Museveni (R) inspects a stand by technical students at an exhibition

Nabitende Vocational Training Institute was designed to benefit from the budding Skilling Uganda programme in the education ministry. The unfulfilled dreams of the likes of Nabitende were on the minds of skills development experts from Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda and Namibia, who recently met at Nakawa Vocational Training Institute to discuss how to equip learners for the labour market.

The experts observed that although Uganda had made great strides in vocational training, more effort was needed from both government and the private sector to set up more functional skills development centres.

Albert Nsenginyumva, Rwanda’s former state minister for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), advised entrepreneurs to get involved in promoting skills development, as their businesses needed skilled employees. He observed that many private ventures lacked skilled workers and emerging sectors like tourism and oil and gas would face the same challenge if skills shortage wasn’t resolved. 

“Skills development is expensive and, therefore, we require alternative sources of funding particularly from the private sector as the main beneficiaries. They need to get qualified people who are trained based on their [private sector] needs,” Nsengiyunva said.

Other experts argued that if private businesses supported failed institutions like Nabitende, vocational training would get a vital boost. This they argued was vital since acceptable skills development training requires expensive sophisticated equipment. Many of the existing vocational institutions have benefitted from donations from development partners like Belgium and Japan.

Alex Kakooza, the education ministry’s permanent secretary, acknowledged that globally, the private sector is a key driver in providing labour market information that assists in planning and ensuring that training programmes are demand-driven. In the labour market, skills mismatch is the biggest contributor to unemployment in Uganda with many employees being laid off, as they lack the skills to complete tasks. 

The National Labour Force and Child Activities Survey carried out in 2013, found that about 12.6 million people) were youths aged 18 to 30, who were suffering the brunt of unemployment. 

Kakooza revealed that, the ministry had embarked on ensuring that every priority sector highlighted in the National Development Plan (NDP) gets a planning council. The administrative unit would review and define the skills expected from TVET graduates to serve the respective industries and sectors.

Comprising successful entrepreneurs, the councils would also generate information on specific sector labour demands, propose solutions to skills shortages and establish occupational standards and qualifications. Funding, another key aspect of skills development, would be handled by the private sector in partnership with government. 

“We want the reforms to be demand-driven and the employers to participate in defining the kinds of qualifications they expect us to produce. They have a role to provide labour market information that assists in establishing educational standards and ensuring that training programmes address their needs,” Kakooza said.

His comments came as he presided over a meeting with the Belgian Development Cooperation-Uganda (BTC Uganda), over skills development in the country.

The dialogue was held under the theme of South to South exchange on best practises for private-led change towards sustainable financing and coordination of skills development.

UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF

As a bridging mechanism between the institutes and the workplace, the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) recently obtained Shs 360bn from the World Bank under the Skills Development Facility (SDF). The fund provides non-repayable funding to vocational training schools.

Under the SDF, duly registered institutions receive funding to provide labour market relevant trainings, monitoring and evaluations of the trainees. The programme is divided into clusters with some catering for skills shortages in the formal sector (medium and large firms), including increased access to internships.

The fund also caters for skill shortages in the informal sector (Jua-Kalis) like master craftsmen, micro and small enterprises, and members of cooperatives, associations, NGOs, CBOs and trade unions. Already, Rwanda and Ghana have initiatives and Funds aimed at boosting skills.

In her address, education minister Janet Museveni revealed that a Presidential Initiative on Youth Employment would soon be launched. She noted that this was reached at after it was discovered that although highly trained, many youths lacked the skills and thus ended up unemployed.

The first lady reassured the experts that government had a clearly laid out BTVET strategic plan whose theme was to skill Ugandans. The strategy was launched in 2012 and it is to run until 2021.

Ms Museveni urged the private sector to embrace students who wish to do internships there, saying: “I urge the private sector to take keen interest to call interns even though they say they are overwhelmed,” she said. “We understand [being overwhelmed] but sometimes we should be willing to make some sacrifices as we lay a foundation for take-off.”

The Belgian envoy to Uganda, Hugo Verbist, and his Japanese counterpart Kazuaki Kameda both vowed more support for vocational skilling in Uganda. Verbist, in particular, said Uganda had to move past conservative ideas and the lack of imagination to develop the nation’s skills for the youth.

abumay1988@gmail.com

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