The ongoing legal and institutional reforms in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sub-sector will go a long way in harnessing hands-on skills in the country, industry captains have said.
In June, a new law was enacted establishing Rwanda Polytechnic, a TVET higher learning institution that will bring together public TVET colleges countrywide.
The current colleges that will be merged under the newly created Rwanda Polytechnic (RP) are best known as Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centres (IPRCs).
There are about five IPRCs spread across the country, with every province having at least one such college. About a decade ago, the Government undertook a major overhaul of the technical and vocational training system, adopting a national TVET policy, while it also created Workforce Development Authority (WDA), an agency that plays the supervisory and coordination role of TVET programmes.
Since then, the Government has been encouraging Rwandan youth to embrace TVET, saying it offers one the best opportunity to acquire skills that are needed on the labour market.
The Government has also increasingly effected new changes in the TVET domain, including adopting a new policy and more recently moving to set up Rwanda Polytechnic, which will operate on the same model as University of Rwanda.
The new college will offer advanced diploma and diploma courses in TVET.
Edmond Tumwine, the Head of Public-Private Dialogue and Institutional Relations at Private Sector Federation (PSF), told Saturday Times that the latest reforms will help eliminate duplication and bring about efficiency and resource optimisation.
Employability of graduates
“Most significantly, we believe the new reforms will help fix the issue of skills gap in the industry,” he said.
He said the move will address the issue of studying courses that are not needed on the labour market and lack of skilled workforce.
Article 7 of the law establishing Rwanda Polytechnic says the institution will provide science- and technology-based technical and vocational training and education which empowers beneficiaries to create jobs.
It will also carry out and promote research and technology in technical and vocational fields, coordinate programmes and activities aimed at developing teaching and research staff in institutions of technical and vocational education so as to upgrade their knowledge and skill capacities.
Government says it targets to have at least 60 per cent of the country’s upper secondary school students under TVET stream by 2018.
Figures from the Ministry of Education show that 55.9 per cent of all the students in upper secondary schools were in TVET learning institutions, in 2016 up from 38 per cent in 2013/2014.
Government says TVET graduates stand more chances of getting a job and becoming entrepreneurs, as opposed to their counterparts from the conventional education system.
Recent figures from Workforce Development Authority show that as many as 73 per cent of TVET graduates were getting employed within six months of their graduation, while a TVET graduates traceability study indicated recently that 75 per cent of employers were satisfied with their performance of graduates.
But the industry believes the latest reforms will make things even better. “The private sector will find it easier to work with one polytechnic under which all TVET courses across the country will be delivered,” Tumwine added. The plan is that the industry will, from time to time, be involved in designing the curricular to ensure courses reflect the needs of the labour market. This approach had already been incorporated in the TVET system and industry captains believe the ongoing reforms will streamline it further to ensure better results.
Robert Nkusi, General Manager for Horizon Construction, told Saturday Times that most graduates have theoretical skills but lack practical and communication skills, a major challenge when it comes to presenting architectural projects.
In particular, he said, there are very few topographers in the country, which forces companies to rely more on expatriates.
Technical skills gap
About 60 per cent of quantity surveyors that Horizon employs are expatriates. A quantity surveyor is a professional with expert knowledge on construction costs and contracts.
A major skills gap, he said, is also notable in geo-technology (study of soil properties and features). “We urgently need to develop local skills in the extractive sector,” Nkusi added.
According to a 2012 manufacturing sector report (Rwanda Skills Survey), commissioned by Rwanda Development Board (RDB), four top economic activities in the sector include manufacturing of food products (constituting 20.5 per cent); repair and installation of machinery and equipment (11.7%); printing and reproduction of recorded materials (8.7%), and manufacture of furniture (8.5%).
Within the manufacturing sector, apart from the limited competency in soft skills, the overall technical skills gap was 7,568 labour units in the short-term. This gap was highest among artisans cadre of 5,980 (79.0%), managers 842 (11.1%), technicians 267 (3.5%), and scientist professionals 144 (1.9%).
“The new institution should focus on developing skills needed in the industry because the sector is growing but there is a shortage of skills,” said Tumwine, who cited agribusiness, food processing, and hard metals as some of the areas that need urgent attention.
According to the national TVET policy developed in 2015, a skilled workforce is a basic requirement for driving the engine of industrial and economic growth, and TVET holds the key to building this type of technical and entrepreneurial workforce.
Regis Umugiraneza, the head of agro-processing cluster at Rwanda Youth in Agri-business Forum (RYAF), said Rwanda Polytechnic should put in place a strong value-chain system which will ensure production of raw materials, machinery, processing and product marketing.
He said this would significantly boost the Made-in Rwanda drive.
“There is a glaring lack of technical skills in agro-processing. The new institution should have technical experts who can help make quality, long-shelf products that meet standards based on well-defined formulas; for instance, the quantity of sugar or other ingredients needed in bakery,” he said.
WDA director-general Jerome Gasana said that, when the Government set out to reform the TVET sector in 2008, the country had about 100 technical and vocational training centres but this figure has since quadrupled.
He said Rwanda Polytechnic (RP) will begin operations as soon as a presidential order determining its structures is put in place.
RP’s management comprises five organs namely; the Chancellery, Council of RP, Office of Vice-Chancellor, Academic Senate, and Senior Management Committee.
Members of the Academic Senate (consisting of the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson, as well as their term of office)will be determined by a prime minister’s order.
Gasana said the cabinet is expected to deliberate on the proposed structure for the supreme TVET institution soon.
Read More: The New Times