Skills gap: we have heard it before, it is time for action
During a meeting last week on skills development, it was noted that there is still a big skills gap – i.e. the job market needs other skills than the ones our young people acquire at school.
During the meeting, Education Minister Dr. Vincent Biruta said that the ministry has started a public-private partnership where they encourage all higher learning institutions to conduct surveys in order to indicate how far their training responds to current market needs, and adopt the programs accordingly.
On the other hand, Biruta added, the private sector should provide feedback to education system, and invest in education by supporting researchers in order to improve quality of their products.
Apollo Munanura, head of human capital and institutional development at RDB, confirmed there is a need for regular dialogue between the private sector and higher learning institutions to see how they should review academic programs which link what is being taught and what is needed on the market. He said that RDB has been working on a labor market information system, promoting entrepreneurship development, offering internship opportunities for fresh graduates and providing career education advisory services.
All of this sounds very promising, but the problem is that we have heard it all before. Just a quick search through the online archives of The Rwanda Focus turns up the following headlines:
- For effective vocational training, link to demand is essential (December 2010)
- Hands-on skills promoted on Labor Day (May 2010)
- Major skills gaps threaten development targets (February 2009)
Now we realize that education takes time, and skills gaps cannot be filled in a year of two. However, little by little results should be felt. I our garages are run by Ugandans and our hair saloons by Congolese, that is not the end of the world. But if these people, when looking for employees, feel it necessary to look for their compatriots because there are no qualified Rwandans or local trainees are not interested, that is very bad indeed. If construction companies cannot find Rwandan supervisors or even decent bricklayers, that is a disaster. Such skills do not take many years to be taught.
In addition, it has been for several years now that there is talk of promotion technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and today there are nearly 300 centers providing exactly that. The Workforce Development Agency was set up in 2008. Yet four years later, it seems that nobody has had the idea to link what is taught in those centers with what is required on the job market. The call for public-private partnership last week shows that there is still no fixed mechanism of dialogue between the private and the education sector.
That is a shame, especially in a country with massive youth unemployment. So, ladies and gentlemen decision-makers, a little less conversation and a little more action please. It is high time.