Giving Youth a New Chance in Kenya

Interview by Maria Brindlmayer, Senior KM Specialist, YouthPower Learning, with Silvano Ateka, Communications Officer, Kenya Youth Employment and Skills Program (K-YES).

Maria Brindlmayer (MB): You are working in a challenging environment. The majority of Kenya’s population is under the age of 17 and struggling to find meaningful jobs – and you have set ambitious project goals for the K-YES program. As you are entering your second year, we would like you to share some of the challenges that you have encountered and initial successes. Can you start by giving us a brief project background?

Silvano Ateka (SA): As you said, we are entering our second year of a five-year project. The project aims to give motivated but disenfranchised youth the skills and support they need to compete and succeed in the workplace in 9 counties in Kenya. We are doing this against the backdrop of Kenya’s initiatives to strengthen youth; key among them being various youth-specific loan facilities and the country’s economic blueprint – Vision 2030 that prioritizes youth empowerment.

Our program, which, as I said, is entering its second year, will officially launch on 14th December 2016. At the end of its cycle, 30,000 youth are expected to have gained new or better jobs.

MB: So what does your program do?

SA: Our focus is on enhancing youth employment through:

  1. Vocational training designed in coordination with local industry and the private sector;
  2. Business skills to empower youth for self-employment;
  3. Career Counselling to ensure that the youth make right career choices;
  4. Financial inclusion by ensuring availability and uptake of youth-friendly financial services;
  5. Gender equity to ensure program intervention benefit both gender – especially women who are often marginalized;
  6. Strategic partnership for the implementation of vocational training and job placements.

MB: How did you identify what was needed by the youth?

SA: We started with a survey of youth (aged 18-35) in five counties. These are youth who have either primary or some secondary school qualification. We tried to understand what their most important issues were, e.g., did they need training, or financial capital, or was there a lack of knowledge where to get training? We tried to understand if the issues were related to curriculum, or youth perceptions or public stigma, etc. Each county poses different problems and has different needs. We could not train youth to be plumbers if there was no need for plumbers in that county.

MB: Does your program provide technical and soft skills training?

SA: Yes – we provide this directly through our Trainers of Trainers (ToT) at the grassroots also using service providers selected by the program. The program is also partnering with Vocational Training Institutions in the counties where we operate to provide the training – which also includes entrepreneurship, communications, and similar skills, as well as career counseling. Many of these partners did not serve this group before – they may have served youth with university degrees or high school graduates, but not drop-outs. There is a certain degree of stigma about drop-outs which makes it hard for them to get a job of financing.

MB: What have been your biggest challenges so far and how are you dealing with them?

SA: One of our biggest challenges is how to package or frame the program when we approach youth and promote our program to youth. If we don’t package it right, we might come across as encouraging youth to drop out of school because they can easily earn money by getting vocational training and a job. We are dealing with this challenge through appropriate messaging – ensuring that our target audience understands that we serve youth who involuntarily drop out of school.

Another challenge is recruiting the right youth. Sometimes it is difficult to affirm if a youth has dropped out of school or not. We have a very good screening processes in place to verify this, but once a youth has been recruited this can cause some delays and confusion.

Thirdly, we need to manage expectations. We promote the program as something that will empower youth through training, but often youth then also expect that we provide them with a loan or scholarship. We need to manage youth’s potential disappointment. The government has allocated money for loans to youth – like Uwezo and Youth Enterprise Fund; and special opportunities for youth tendering on government contracts.  While the aim is to enhance youth’s access to financial capital that is essential in bettering their lives, most youth are not benefitting from these opportunities. We must tap into other players so that more youth can benefit. Our partnerships will help to mitigate this challenge.

Another challenge is the stigma of having dropped out. Young people are expected to finish school, and those that drop out – for many different reasons, e.g., their parents can’t afford school fees – do not want to admit that they dropped out. There is a stigma in society about drop-outs. Similarly, there is a stigma about vocational training and blue collar jobs. This type of training is not as highly respected by youth or employers as university education. However, there is now increasing recognition by the government and others that the informal sector has created approximately 80% of the new jobs.  Most of these are blue-collar jobs and youth that are trained for this type of jobs are increasingly important for the growth of the economy. Thus, our communications messaging needs to be very strong, positive, but also very nuanced and persistent. Changing long-held perceptions in society cannot be achieved very quickly.

MB: Do you have a success story that you can share?

SA: We already have many success stories. One that stands out particularly is the story of a young man in Nairobi. He dropped out of secondary school because his parents did not have the money to send him to school. He then just danced in the street and hung out with his friends. Through the entrepreneurship training provided through K-YES, he identified a new path for himself. He created his own dance business and created a dance group. He involved his friends and is now making money.

MB: So what is planned for the next phase of your project?

SA: With the forthcoming official launch of the program, we are very excited about the new visibility that this work will gain. We are also just in the process of revising our targets to increase the impact of our program and ensure that more youth get jobs.

MB: Thank you, Silvano/Joyce, it is very encouraging that you are increasing your targets. Having more youth benefit from your program will have a long-lasting effect in Kenya. We look forward to hearing more from you over the next years as your implementation progresses.


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