We need a comprehensive exit strategy for the youth apprenticeship program in Kenya

We need a comprehensive exit strategy for the youth apprenticeship program in Kenya
Access to the job market in related trades remains the most significant concern among beneficiaries
By Evans Nyagwara
The latest population census in Kenya of 2019 estimated the rate of youth unemployment (ages between 18 and 34 years) at 16 per cent. In 2020, the World Bank estimated the unemployment rate of total labor force (ages 15 to 24 years) at 13.6 per cent. The situation is compounded by the fact that about 800,000 more youths join the labor market every year. As a result, youth unemployment remains to be among the topmost critical challenges facing policy makers and labor experts in Kenya. This impedes the development rate of a country, raises crime rates and dependency ratio on the few working population. Others challenges that may be indirectly associated with this include stress and other psychosocial disorders, increase in gender-based violence and its related consequences.
Notably, the government in partnership the World Bank is striving to solve this problem by implanting a program dubbed the Kenya Youth Employment and Opportunities Programme (KYEOP). The program offers job skills training to close to 40,000 youths in targeted counties across the country. A study by Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub, on this program conducted among 600 beneficiaries (randomly selected) drawn from Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi City, however, shows that access to the job market in related trades remain the most significant concern among beneficiaries. The study was also conducted among key informants like policy makers, supervisors, policy implementors and employers. For this/such programs to be effective, the transition of beneficiaries into the job market should be managed well. This includes linking youths to the job markets upon completion, provision of seed capital to successful beneficiaries as well exit job training program.
The preliminary findings of this ongoing study indicate that once youth go through KYEOP training they take longer to get absorbed into job market. Most of those who access job opportunities in the short term get opportunities that are low paying with very little guarantees. In the design the program has not factored in support incentives beyond the training. Policy makers should therefore design tax incentives for firms that hire apprentices coming from government sponsored programs. This will encourage firms to retain apprentices who may have been placed on internship or even welcome others.
Although the training on market-oriented skills is a critical component in boosting employability among the youth, initiatives to provide seed capital to start or boost business is even more rewarding. This may encourage the youth to form a group during training, develop a business idea, receive mentorship and couching in running business and thereafter start and run a successful business.
Designing a mentorship program that may run for at least a year after training for beneficiaries is important. This is because, though the participants in the apprenticeship program may have gone through the training for a period of 6 to 12 months many remain generally inexperienced in the job market and often lack confidence to execute the task assigned to them in their new jobs. This will supply the much-needed guidance and support as they enter their new trades.
The policy makers and implementors are required to have a retainment and absorption strategy with program partner industries like hospitality, motor vehicle, plumbing, hairdressing and beauty industries among others. These partners should be able to absorb participants even after training. This will be an important element aimed at giving them more experience and improving their confidence in managing related traders.
Lastly, the study revealed that there was no form of certification given to the participants inasmuch as they were assured of certification. This is therefore a barrier to the participants being employed. This is because employers are reluctant to take them without any official/ or formal recognition of the skills they claim to have. For this/such programs to be effective, the stakeholders must be able to provide the answers about the future. The absorption of participants into the job market must always remain to be the goal if the problem of unemployment is going to be solved. Efforts should be made to make sure that the recommendations in the policy brief are implemented to the latter. This will provide a more sustainable solution to unemployment in Kenya.
The writer is a gender and development studies specialist, nyagwaraevans@gmail.com


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