ICT stakeholders call for industry, educator collaboration on tech training

Stakeholders have called for more collaboration between government, industry and educators if Kenya is to bridge the skills gap that is hindering the country’s tech sector.

Representatives from universities and industry called used a forum at the AITEC East Africa ICT summit on October 25 to call for discussions on how Kenyan graduates could meet the needs of ICT firms.

Research released by the Kenya ICT Board at the end of last year found that companies operating in the ICT sector were having difficulty in finding enough skilled staff, with the skills not present amongst Kenyan graduates to fill the estimated 9,600 jobs that will be created within the sector by next year.

Around a quarter of surveyed companies expressed dissatisfaction 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.

HumanIPO has called for better tech training for Kenyan students in the past.

With the awareness of this skills gap now spreading, stakeholders have called for relationships to be developed between industry and educators to establish the needs of the sector and make sure Kenyan education institutes are producing graduates with sufficient skills.

“Hopefully we will bridge the gap by establishing a relationship between industry and educators that is so necessary,” said David Svarrer, CEO of the Digital Age Institute in Kenya. “If we are to boost the ICT sector, if we do what we have to do rather than what we do in our comfort zone, we will boost the economy.”

“If we educate people properly, and not in the mediocre way we are now, then we will prosper.”

Education is at the heart of the issue, with educators expressing a need for industry to sit down with the universities and detail the exact skills and knowledge base required of graduates to ensure Kenyans obtain jobs in the likes of Konza Tech City, rather than seeing those jobs goes to expatriates.

“My desire is to see our graduates integrating in the job market,” said Mary Kiguru, Head of the International Centre for Outsourcing Studies at Kenya Methodist University. “They need to be retrained to fit into a job, to do what the industry needs them to do.”

Kiguru deplored the lack of relevant skills held by graduates leaving Kenyan universities, but said industry must do more in detailing their requirements.

“We need to do an analysis of the current problems in Kenya,” she said. “What will be the knowledge needed to develop the required skills?” She called for a panel of experts, academics and industry players to work together and help develop a new curriculum to meet the needs of the sector. But she said that money would be needed to bring such a forum together.

“If the industry needs solutions, then they need to commit funds,” she said.

The need for a more relevant curriculum was echoed elsewhere. Martin Muckle, MD of technology solutions provider Stonehouse, said a rethink was needed if the universities were to meet the needs of the industry.

“You need to integrate coding into the syllabus,” he said. You have a formal syllabus where the qualification is recognized by the industry.” He also called for teachers to be better educated in IT at teacher training college, calling the lack of such training a “huge problem”.

Kevit Desai, Chairman of the Linking Industry With Academia Trust (LIWA) said that if this collaboration was achieved then the Kenyan ICT sector would be well placed moving forward.

“Going forward, the next step is hugely challenging. Linking industry with academia requires more collaboration,” he said.

“There is so much change, it is so dynamic. We need to align the curriculum to not just now but to what we expect in the sector in five years.”

The tone of the discussion echoed calls made by AITEC chairman Sean Moroney in the build-up the conference for an improvement in ICT education in Kenya.

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