By Wandia Njoya, PhD
I say often that we should not expect fresh graduates in Kenya to be workplace ready at all. In addition, no one should make such a demand for universities. Many times, people get shocked. That is how much the corporate world has convinced us of their propaganda.
So what should happen instead?
What universities should do
Universities and tertiary institutions should train in the basic skills and broad principles of each profession. The graduates in Kenya should learn specific work skills on the job. We do it for managers anyway.
Companies employ professionals trained in different fields as CEOs and even pay for their training. Therefore, why can we not do it for new graduates in Kenya?
To expect universities to have workplace-ready graduates is as ridiculous as expecting them to offer a BSc in M-Pesa studies. First, Safaricom would not hire all of the graduates, and two, we would be asking students, parents, and universities to subsidize Safaricom.
Expecting universities to have the latest machines in the workplace also drives up the cost of education. It makes universities spend more money on capital expenditure and hiring technicians. That cost makes education more expensive.
There is also no way a technician in the university can be the same as one in the workplace because their goals are different. The job of the university technician is to keep students happy, while the one in the workplace needs to do quality work with the machine.
It is unnecessary to buy the latest machine for teaching purposes. That does not mean that we should still use typewriters because the keyboard is the same as for computers. However, why buy the latest model of a machine when a relatively past model can work out fine?
What companies should do
In fact, what we can do is that companies, which replace their machines every so often, can gift or sell the older models to the universities. Then the companies can do corporate social responsibility (CSR), and the universities get to keep education costs down.
After all, even if we train a student on the latest model and they join the workforce next year, there will be a new model within another year. We learn to use and adapt to new software all the time. Those who cannot learn usually cannot learn anything to do with computers anyway. The problem is not the model of the computer.
If the graduate lacks the training to think, they will complain in the coming year that they did not learn the model for that year. Yet, they had already left school by then! Graduates need more to learn how to adjust to new trends. Fixating them on the latest model of machines means that they will not adjust to new trends in the workplace.
If a company must have graduates in Kenya who know the latest machines, they should work with universities to offer internships more mid-program rather than at the end. Moreover, this is where government creativity should come in.
The government should offer better incentives to companies for in-house training. Do better work promoting the continuous learning currently offered by the National Industrial Training Authority.
The problem of graduates is less about universities
In short, just back off the universities. Stop making demands of universities that are not within their mandate.
The problem of graduates in Kenya is less the universities and more the workplace. The school system is less stuck in the 19th century than the industry and corporations. We have to change the way we think about work.
We need workers paid better, and possibly allow workers to own shares in companies. We need to reduce the wage gap.
There is no way workers can feel loyal to a company where they walk as someone chauffeurs their boss in. More so, where workers cannot afford school fees while their bosses’ kids go to schools whose fees are 100 times the lowest-paid workers’ salary.
The basis of the Anglo-Saxon corporate model is slavery. People who do the manual work earn literally nothing and get overworked and depressed. Meanwhile, the boss just lives a decadent life, earns a salary for entertaining, and still steals from the company in the end.
In addition, just before you start screaming Ujamaa, and because Europeans impress a lot of us Kenyans, look at what happens in Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain. I am sure it is not heaven, but it gives us another way to think about education, work, and money.
More so, poor communities in US urban centres are trying out a similar idea. Therefore, while we are following Americans in trashing the idea of our neighbour next door in Tanzania, somebody else is trying to make the idea work.