News that IBM is looking to American graduates to staff its research hub in Nairobi has seen the issue of ICT training quality raise its ugly head again, with questions remaining over whether young Kenyans will ever see the benefit of large multinationals setting up shop in the country.
Looking to the US is as clear a sign as IBM could give that they do not consider locally-trained developers good enough to do the job required of them. Though IBM, which opened the research lab in the Kenyan capital last year, has been partnering with Kenyan universities to help train quality local techies, they clearly believe the time when enough quality graduates can staff their lab is some way off.
Nobody should be surprised by this turn of events. The 2011 Julisha research report by the Kenya ICT Board found that most companies were unimpressed with the quality of local techies, preferring instead to look abroad for staff. AITEC chairman Sean Moroney has highlighted the disparity between the skills taught in Kenyan universities and the requirements of the industry, with 9,600 IT graduates set to join the workforce this year. Creative Web chief executive Duke Kibagedi has also stated existing universities are too rigid with course offerings, leading to graduates strugglings in the job market.
The repercussions for Kenya and Kenyans are immense. The government can wax lyrical about the Silicon Savannah and Konza City all they like, but if the multinationals who invest in Kenya look abroad for staff, then the benefits will be minimal. We can assume that if IBM has seen fit to make this move, then others will as well. The KSh170 million (US$2 million) investment by the Kenyan government in the IBM lab was a bold move, but unless it focuses much greater investment on improving the quality of ICT training in Kenya, the only locals employed within the Silicon Savannah will be those making the tea and emptying the dustbins.