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close this bookThe Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)
close this folderChapter IV. The integration of youth into the informal sector: the Kenyan experience by Ahmed K. Ferej
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Background
View the document2. The growth of the informal sector in Kenya
View the document3. Vocationalization of the formal education system
View the document4. Accessibility to skill training in the informal sector
View the document5. Implications for education and training
View the documentConclusion

4. Accessibility to skill training in the informal sector

4.1 The informal apprenticeship

The informal (traditional) apprenticeship system in Kenya has its roots in the Indian craftsmen imported into the country at the turn of the century to help the British Colonial Government construct a railway line linking the seaport of Mombasa with the interior of the country (King, 1977). With the completion of the railway line, the Indian craftsmen stayed and formed the basis of skilled technical manpower in the country. Their skills were needed to maintain the railway system, operate and maintain factories that were being started to provide goods and services, and construct buildings for the settler community (King, 1977). People from the local communities were initially engaged as labourers on the railway construction project but gradually, by working alongside the Indians, acquired enough trade skills to work as semi-skilled and, later, as skilled workers.

A key characteristic of informal skill training in Kenya has been its relative ease of entry. According to King (1977), people in the East African region had not developed long traditions of craftsmanship and the inherent need to protect the skills from others in order to ensure continued patronage, had not been ingrained in them. Entry then, as now, was based on kinship, friendship, and philanthropy (Ferej, 1994). Informal apprenticeship in Kenya had no rigid rules or time constraints about the duration an apprentice would take to learn the trade. Once a learner entered into an apprenticeship his acquisition of skills would depend entirely on his aptitude, and the quantity and variety of work the owner/trainer was undertaking. A trainee could exit and seek employment elsewhere or start his or her own business, at any point he or she felt ready. In some cases the owner/trainer re-negotiated with the apprentice new terms, as the apprentice became more skilled. The fee structure too is quite flexible as the fees may range from nothing to amounts sometimes equivalent to high school annual fees (King, 1977; Ferej, 1994).

Another characteristic of the Kenyan apprenticeship system is the low regard for formal certification, unlike in some West African countries. The worth of the craftsman is measured in the quality of work he does (King, 1977).

With this flexible, non-protectionist mentality, trade skills have spread very rapidly in Kenya. The public has been the beneficiary of the abundance of skills as technical services are fairly cheap to obtain within the informal sector. The abundance of skilled craftsmen has helped to provide some essential skills in the rural regions of the country as well. Some of the skilled workers return to their rural village homes and set themselves up to offer services that were either unavailable or too expensive to obtain. Another important contribution of the informal apprenticeship system is the opportunity for large numbers of youth to obtain skill training with little cost to both the learner and employer, and at no cost to the taxpayer. It would be impossible for the current training capacity to absorb all the youth that are now obtaining training from the informal apprenticeship system.

4.2 The formal apprenticeship training system

An alternative route into apprenticeship training is through a government-sanctioned programme. In 1973, the government enacted legislation to formalize the apprenticeship training system through a comprehensive National Industrial Training Scheme for the training of craft apprentices. The scheme was based on the Industrial Training Act of 1973 (GOK, 1973), whose main objectives were to organize and ensure quality training of apprentices. Prospective trainees must meet minimum entry qualifications, currently pegged to secondary school certification, and must have a sponsoring company that would provide the work experience component of the training.

To encourage industries to train their workers in accordance with the new training scheme, a levy was introduced whereby all medium and large companies would be required to contribute. Those who provided training for their workers would be entitled to a reimbursement at the end of the year from the fund. The government presently encourages contributing firms to take on apprentices without any obligation to retain them at the end of the four years of apprenticeship. Presently a very small number of youth obtain training through this system. Between 1990 and 1996 a total of 4,468 craft apprentices were trained through the system (Ferej, 1997). This is an average of 750 persons per year. Many of the youth accessing training through the formal apprenticeship system nevertheless find themselves in the informal sector because the industries that sponsored them during their training period are not obligated to keep them at the end of training.

During the apprenticeship period the learners are required to take trade tests at appropriate levels of the programme. The lowest competency level awarded is at Grade 3 and Grade 1 is the highest level. The system of trade testing was started after the Second World War to provide a means of assessing skills and providing a hierarchical grading system to distinguish competency levels of skilled workers.

Some corporations, like the railways, started their own schools to train workers in skills pertinent to them. Nevertheless these apprentices still take trade tests as a means of defining their standards. It should also be pointed out that since the trade test is mostly a practical examination, individuals who acquire skills through the informal apprenticeship system can take the test and legitimize their status, and secure pay commensurate with their skills in the modern sector.

4.3 The learning process in apprenticeship training

Most of the learning in apprenticeship training takes place on the job. In the case of formal apprenticeship training, the Industrial Training Act in Kenya mandates vocational college attendance for about six months in each year. The learning process for the apprentice involves observing, or actually working on tasks. Within the informal sector no time limits are imposed. Apprentices progress at their own pace and can exit whenever they feel they have acquired sufficient skills. A unique feature of apprenticeship training is that learning is inextricably linked to productive work or economic activity, that is in sharp contrast with learning in school laboratories, where the learner's activities are focused on educational outcomes (Wertsch, et al., 1984). Further, the work environment of the apprentice has an important bearing on the type, depth, and the speed by which knowledge and skills are acquired by the apprentice.

The breadth and depth of the Craft Master's knowledge and skills as well as those of the other journeymen will, to a large extent, determine the knowledge and skills the apprentices acquire. Additionally the social interaction between the apprentice and the journeymen (skill superiors) and other apprentices is also crucial to the overall development of the apprentice. Overall the contextual factor will determine the quality of technical and enterprise skills of the apprentices as well as their entrepreneurial interests. This factor is even more critical in the training of apprentices in the informal sector, where the learners do not have another frame of reference. Each apprentice works and learns in an environment that is unique to the specific business. Ultimately this is the experiences the apprentice will take with them in starting their own business.

4.4 Influence of the work environment on enterprise skill acquisition

For most apprentices, learning how to run a business is usually outside the immediate requirement of their training. The standard practice is to be involved in learning those tasks that are relevant to the technical processes, for example learning to manufacture a component or a piece of furniture or learning to repair a broken piece of equipment. However each apprentice, depending on his or her keenness of observation or interest, will learn other business activities by simply being immersed in the environment for prolonged periods of time. In addition to an individual sense of observation, the type of the environment and the size of the enterprise will also impact on the quality and quantity of general entrepreneurial knowledge acquired.

In a small enterprise the close proximity of the owner/master to the workers provides the apprentice with an opportunity to observe many business activities. Customers in small enterprise environments tend to wander into the working area either to be shown products that would guide them in what to order, or to observe work being done. Important discussions are often held between the owner and the customer regarding costs, quality, deadlines, etc. Inadvertently the apprentices pick up critical information that would come in handy in the future when in their own businesses. Journeymen and senior apprentices also conduct work negotiations on behalf of the owners and thus directly acquire valuable business experience (McLaughlin, in OECD, 1990). This situation may not occur in a large enterprise. The workers seldom see the owners of the products they are working on. In such establishments signs are prominently displayed at the door to the work floor warning customers not to enter the area due to the risk of injuries. The shop workers are also often not aware of billing procedures and the actual fee customers pay for services. An apprentice learning in such an environment is, therefore, at a distinct disadvantage to his counterparts from small and informal enterprises who have plenty of opportunities to observe and participate in other activities related to the enterprise other than production work alone.

4.5 Quality of apprenticeship training

As explained earlier, apprentices in a formal setting often lack the variety of enterprise experiences that small informal-sector enterprises offer. Consequently apprentices trained in the formal sector or through the formal apprenticeship programme might lack critical skills needed in setting up their own enterprises. While the informal sector apprenticeship training offers its trainees more advantages than other formal apprenticeship in preparation for work, it too has some disadvantages. How much a learner acquires is critically dependent on the work environment, the breadth and depth of the sum total of the experiences of those in the unit, and the variety of the work involved. Clearly, therefore, the apprentice mirrors his work environment and if it is rich, then he will come out better trained than apprentices who were involved in a lesser environment. There is indeed a role for intervention programmes to enrich the knowledge and skills of the apprentices whose learning is only based on the job. The intervention could take the form of filling the gaps in business knowledge for owner entrepreneurs and work skills for apprentices or journeymen. Such interventions will have a multiplier effect as the next generation of apprentices will receive a higher level of knowledge and skills from entrepreneurs and craftsmen who would have had the benefit of outside training. This is precisely the gap which the MSETTP, sponsored by the World Bank, expects to fill by catalyzing the market in the informal sector to develop training providers that respond to the need of the sector.

4.6 The Micro and Small Enterprise Training and Technology Project (MSETTP)

Unlike the programmes discussed previously, the MSETTP is a one-off intervention project that is being implemented with the assistance of the World Bank. Its main objective is to establish a market for training and promote business development. Hereto, public and private sector trainers avoided the sector because of the perception that it was incapable of using, as well as paying, for such services. The MSETTP project has shown that serving the informal sector can be an attractive business. Sustainability is expected to develop through the micro and small enterprises appreciating the value of training and having the information to seek training to fill identified gaps in their operations. The MSETTP project expects to impart this culture by reducing their subsidy for repeat applicants for assistance.

The MSETTP Voucher Training Programme (VTP) was initiated in 1997. The project involved the cataloguing of all interested qualified training providers and the type of training that they could provide. Participants in the micro and small enterprise sector who were interested in specific training programmes were then invited to apply for desired training by completing appropriate forms. Successful applicants are required to pay 10 per cent of the cost of training to the administrators of the programme. The applicant identifies the training and the provider of his choice from the official catalogue of training providers. Once training has been provided, the training provider redeems the forms for reimbursement from funds provided by the World Bank. By mid-1998, about 4,000 vouchers had been issued indicating that the same number of persons had received various types of training that ranged from technical skills to managerial skills acquisition (MRTT&T, 1998). The first phase of the programme indicated that 85 per cent of the training was provided by master craftworkers. This is encouraging because it indicates the respect these hereto ignored informal-sector operators command. A danger exists, however, if the craftsmen find that training is so lucrative that they spend more time on training than actual work. This would effectively kill the whole concept of working on actual customer work while learning. The long-term impact of the programme cannot be assessed yet. The idea, however, is to encourage the operators of the informal sector to value training for specific needs, know where to obtain training and be willing to pay for such training. This can only be effectively judged when the MSETTP stimulus is removed.

The programme me also includes a technology component that envisages a system where locally developed tools and systems of work can be encouraged to solve specific problems. This phase is just starting and the component has been sub-contracted to the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) for implementation (MRTT&T, 1998).