Gap between graduate skills and what is required by industry

Students at Nairobi's Edulink International College.

Students at Nairobi’s Edulink International College.

Developing Africa’s human capital is critical to the continent’s future growth given it has one of the world’s biggest youth demographics. Although enrollment to schools and higher learning institutions in Africa is rising, the quality of education offered is still low. Employers often complain of half-baked graduates, whilst young people struggle to find jobs.

Dubai-based Edulink Consultants recently invested US$3m in a new college in Kenya. Edulink chief operating officer, Dr Raj Gill, talks to How we made it in Africa about what Edulink International College brings to the Kenyan education sector and how to deal with Africa’s education challenges and unemployment.

What gaps have you spotted in Africa’s education sector and how big a problem will this be for the continent’s future growth?

There are many gaps, mainly the mismatch of what is being produced by the various institutions and what is required by industry, commerce and other businesses. Also, when we set up and were looking for staff, we found many candidates who had impressive qualifications and resumes, but had difficulty in explaining what they could actually do and how they could contribute.

Without a quality-educated workforce, there will be very little growth and it will be limited and short lived. To have sustainable levels of growth there must be a constant supply of a good, educated workforce that will be required at all levels, in the crafts, vocational and professional fields. These depend upon each other; a shortfall in one will hamper the capabilities of others. Just obtaining a qualification will not be enough, they have to gain good experience and also be life long learners. The rapid changes in information and communications technology (ICT) and manufacturing technologies will drive major developments in all fields of business and will continue to form the bedrock of development for at least the next 20 years.

You recently opened Edulink International College in Kenya. How will your offering be different from what is already available in the market?

We believe that education is one of the most important pillars in wealth creation for nations to lift people into middle-income levels. Our aim is to produce graduates ready for work, hence our motto “education that works”. We want to produce lifelong learners who have the core skills and competencies in the fields they will choose. We believe that ICT is now the general-purpose toolkit for all professions and this will form a core skill in everything we do. Africa is no different from other parts of the world.

If the continent builds its infrastructure and communications base, supported by a well-educated workforce, then the recipe for development will largely have been put together and foreign investment inflows will increase. This is exactly what happened in the South Asian tiger economies, and China, and is rapidly taking shape in Brazil and India.

Describe the challenges you face in your Kenyan operations?

Lack of appropriate qualified staff, especially teaching staff, that will be able to meet the new regulations that have come into force for higher education institutions is a challenge. Other hurdles include non-streamlined procedures for business set up, and the length of time it takes to obtain approvals. Kenya needs to improve transparency in its processes and provide “one stop” services for investors from overseas who feel overwhelmed by some very archaic processes and some deep-rooted practices that belong in the last century.

Do you have plans to set up more training institutions in Africa?

Yes we are always exploring, but the business climate has to be suitable. Our decisions to start other institutions will be based on regulations, the business climate, the availability of a suitably qualified workforce, and of course how quickly we can set up an organically-grown locally sustainable business.

There are not enough jobs in Africa for the continent’s burgeoning youth population. What next after they get the best training and skills?

This is the classic chicken and egg scenario. I believe that in Kenya, and many other African countries, the flow of investment for industrial development has already started. This is being largely driven by local demand [as] the population is moving towards a middle-income economy. There needs to be a parallel process of improving infrastructure, better education, streamlined business start up procedures, and a serious effort to eliminate graft. Additionally, confidence building and the security situation needs to be better addressed.

The training and skills developments will also form a part of this concurrent process and there will be a lot of fine-tuning required for the different strands along the way. Adjusting one strand will require additional inputs in many other inter-connected areas. This is a continuous process. Building of confidence for investors and public-private partnerships will have to [be] addressed. Government can show the way by aligning all their processes, but they cannot undertake the task of the private sector, nor can any significant progress be made without having seamless processes in the various government departments that are charged with nation building.