Some years back, the powers that be decided to turn polytechnics into universities. A lot of people celebrated this move thinking that more universities meant that more of their children would be able to go to universities. This move was a culmination of a widely held belief that being an artisan was a low paying career without a good future. What many forgot is that not everyone is good at academics, there are those who work best with their hands and it is these people that the polytechnics were meant for. A reduction in the number of technical colleges ultimately led to a decline in the number of qualified artisans. If you have ever needed a plumber to fix something in your house you would know how hard it is to get someone qualified as quacks abound. Recently when the building of the Standard Gauge Railway was commencing, the contractor faced a challenge in getting qualified welders. The situation was so bad that they had to import welders from China!!! It is not that there aren’t any welders in Kenya but it is just that they lack the requisite training in welding.

At the moment the construction industry is booming but there is a lack of adequate trained artisans to work on the construction sites. At the same time, there is a high rate of youth unemployment in the country due to a skills mismatch. This skills mismatch is more evident in the Eastlands area of Nairobi whereby there are high poverty levels due to lack of employment. It is due to this that Barclays Bank Kenya has partnered with the likes of International Youth Fund (IYF), Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) and Arc Skills in a initiative named Sports For Kenya Youth Employment (SKYE). IYF is the implementing partner, MYSA is the place where youth gather to engage in various sports and Arc Skills is the vocational trainer. SKYE is part of a global initiative to reach the youth through sports called ‘Spaces for Sports’. In Kenya when the program was launched last year the aim was to reach 3,100 youth in the Eastlands area that is Mathare, Githurai and Kibera. They were to be taught financial and life skills under the Ready To Work program and 500 of them were to get vocational skills in the construction industry.

On Friday last week, the 500 youth who were to get vocational training graduated with certificates in masonary, plumbing and electrical wiring. The amazing thing is that all these graduants have found placement in organizations like Kenya Power, Nairobi Water and the China Road & Bridges Corporation among others. During the graduation on could not help but see the looks of hope and excitement on the faces of the grandaunts who mostly had lost hope of ever getting formal employment due to lack of skills. The youth and mostly the ladies came from a position of no hope at all to being able to earn up to Ksh.40,000 a month. For some that might be pocket change but for these guys it is a life changer.

This initiative is part of Barclays Bank’s Shared Growth agenda whereby they believe that believes that for the bank to grow and prosper, the communities in which it operates should also prosper. My take is that If we are to reduce the unemployment rate in this country especially among the youth we surely need more of such initiatives.