OPINION: Kenyan government ICT training insufficient to fill skills gap

Last week the Kenya ICT Board and SAP announced a partnership that will see 100 bright but underprivileged students undergo training to become certified SAP software engineers, an admirable initiative but one that fails to adequately tackle the looming skills gap that could threaten Kenya’s emergence as a technological hub.

The “SAP Skills for Africa” programme commits to deliver professional training and certification to Kenyan university graduates and boost their employability.

“The SAP partnership is key in equipping our young professionals with high end ICT skills that are on demand in the Kenya and the wider East African Market,” said Kenya ICT Board CEO Paul Kukubo. “This effort provides a much needed skill set for graduates who would otherwise not have had the privilege to be exposed to this specific set of world class skills.”

Yet training 100 graduates in software engineering is just a drop in the ocean in terms of the skills gap that Kenya faces in the coming years, and the ICT Board should know this. It was their own Julisha Monitoring and Evaluation Survey last year that revealed that companies operating in the ICT sector were having difficulty in finding enough skilled staff. Indeed, the report suggested that 9,600 professionals will be needed to fill the Kenyan ICT workforce by 2013. And according to companies, the skills are just not there in Kenya.

Around a quarter of companies who responded to the survey said they were dissatisfied with the quality of professionals produced by Kenyan universities, with a third saying they contact external providers to fill these skills gaps rather than employing Kenyan graduates.

Software development is the area where this growing crisis is most evident, with 45 percent of respondents saying properly qualified developers were difficult or very difficult to come by. This problem is compounded by the fact that software development roles are expected to increase by more than any other, at around 70 percent by 2013.

So the pressure really is on the Kenyan ICT sector to find graduates that can fill these new jobs and prevent them from going to developers from overseas. Yet businesses have no faith in the Kenyan education system to produce adequately talented people, with universities criticized by the report for failing to properly train students to international standards. “Consistency of curriculum was a common theme, with lack of guidelines emphasised,” the report continued. “The watered-down value of certifications and lack of market-relevant courses in some educational institutions were other themes.”

Perhaps admitting there is a problem, the Kenya ICT Board has now turned to the private sector to help provide graduates with the skills to join the country’s ever-growing ICT workforce. Yet with 9,600 positions to be filled by next year and only 100 students receiving the training, it is certainly a case of too little, perhaps too late.

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