Rwandans lie low, foreigners seize jobs
Mismatch between skills and jobs requires quick measures
The glaring shortage of Rwandans with hands-on skills in areas such as technical works and construction has exposed a mismatch between products of the national training institutions and the requirements of the country’s job market.
Our investigation has revealed that whereas Rwanda has 293 technical and vocational training centers, a majority of workers in the booming construction industry, motor vehicle garages and even hair dressers are foreigners.
There are also 31private and public institutions of higher learning that enroll about 73,000 students annually, but experts say their products have “very low proficiency.”
“When you go around, even if you do not do a comprehensive survey, you see that we have a low proficiency among our graduates coming to the labor market,” said Appollo Munanura, head of human capital and institutional development at Rwanda Development Board.
He blames this mismatch on institutions that teach what the labor market does not need and the inadequate academic industrial attachment that enable students putting theory into practical work.
“Our institutions could be serving our needs, but I think something is still lacking to improve the proficiency of our graduates,” he said.
Shortage of skilled nationals is highly visible in sectors such as construction, mining, motor mechanics and in less sophisticated fields such as beauty and esthetics.
For example, garages around Kigali are operated by mainly Ugandans while Congolese dominate the hair dressing business. Patrick Twesigye, a Ugandan who owns Success Garage in Gatsata in Gasabo district, says he employs four other Ugandans. The Rwandans in his workshop are still trainees.
“When I came here about three years ago, I realized that Rwandans were not eager for this kind of work. I could hire people and they would leave me alone at the workplace after few hours; but now things have been changing,” he said.
Whereas the government targets to create a knowledge-based economy that is based on a skilled workforce by 2020, the reality on the ground points to big challenges ahead.
Experts say that one of the key things that the country needs is to have the right people with the right skills both in quality and quantity to be able to move fast towards the vision. In order to pursue this goal, the Cabinet established the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) in 2008 to provide a strategic response to the skills development challenges facing all sectors of the economy.
Irenée Nsengiyumva, the deputy director general in charge of training at WDA, says they have been able to produce about 15,000 graduates from technical secondary schools and about 5,000 from vocational training centers every year since 2009.
He acknowledges that there are some sectors that still lack workforce because nationals are not yet interested in them. He says that many Rwandans look for “white color jobs.”
Lack of formal schools in certain professions and lack of experts who can help in designing curricula for the professions like beauty and esthetics as well as mining is also another hindrance to building a skilled workforce.
“You can find people working in beauty and esthetics industry, but they never attended formal schools. It is not easy for us to find knowledgeable professionals to design a curriculum that can guide others,” he says.
To work on this, Nsengiyumva says, WDA in partnership with the private sector wants to undertake apprenticeship program to align class subjects and needs of the employers. The new system will be operational by March of next year.
Out of about 90,000 students who complete the 9-year basic education annually, WDA now enrolls 40%. The target is 60% by 2017.
According to the official, the objective is to ensure that trainees get hands-on skills which he says people attended technical schools in the past did not get.
To overcome the mistakes of the past, Education Minister Dr Vincent Biruta observes that the input of the private sector is needed in designing curricula that respond to their needs.
“The private sector should provide feedback to the education system to enable us to design appropriate curricula and also invest in education by supporting research in order to improve quality of the products,” said Biruta.
For many experts, the mismatch between labor market and skills should be the starting point to upgrade strategies that respond to the broader government goals.
“Our Vision 2020 targets key sectors that are of hope for our development goals,” points out John Gara, the RDB’s CEO. “Can we afford to wait for 2020 before our skills development intervention responds to these targeted programs? The answer is no, and we need to start today.”