Reaching the most excluded youth through skills development by Walter Odondi

It has been a while since I had been to the coast. The weather was extraordinarily hot you would think the sun had sworn to burn everything beneath it.  I thought I was safe from the heat while in the vehicle because of the air conditioner until I alighted. Toolkit Iskills, one of Zizi Afrique Foundation’s partners had invited us to a graduation event at Miritini in Mombasa. During the session, I decided to seat at the tent next to the students’ tent. Excitement was in the air as the graduands beamed with joy, expecting to finally receive their certificates after the one-year training.

I overheard the youth talking about their experience before joining the program. One, in particular, caught my attention. “Hehe, I can recall the fact that before the program, my friends and I would come here specifically to steal spanners or anything we could lay our hands on from the toolboxes of the transport trucks. I had looked at AGOL as a company that came here to steal our land and this was my way of getting back at them. I however feel grateful now having gone through a course sponsored by them that has transformed me and for sure will transform my family.”

The training by Toolkit iSkills focused on equipping youth with theoretical and practical skills that address labour market need in the technical skills sectors. In his speech, Engineer Kiarie, one of the partners in this training said, that the students they employed from the program are some of the best and well-rounded employees they have ever had, considering they have learnt both from the school and in the industry. With this kind of model, employers can say goodbye to the mismatch of skills that costs them more in retraining. 

Miles away in West Pokot I met a young man by the name Lokor. This was during a  visit to the Our Lady of Mercy Vocational Training Centre. In Lokor’s own words: “I was born in the village and I had never seen a fleet of stairs, I never knew people could get internet in any other way than using bundles not to mention the internally built bathrooms. The Safaricom Foundation Scholarship program has exposed me to these great insights into my career passion, a chef. I have been exposed to many things from the different cuisines different from the ugali and Sukuma I am used to at home. I have also met men who are great chefs, this has changed my perception about the gender roles that have been denying youth the available employment opportunities. Lokor is one of the 1000 students receiving the Safaricom Foundation scholarship for Electrical installation, Welding, Plumbing and Food and Beverage.

According to KNBS Economic Survey 2020, the unemployment rate in Kenya has increased from 5.2 percent in March 2020 just before the Covid-19 pandemic to 10.4 percent by around September of the same year. The highest group of people who are unemployed at 22.8 percent are within the age bracket of 20-24 years. The  International Labour Organization warns that the percentage of youth unemployment is expected to rise to more than 30 percent by 2030. Skills deficiency has been cited as one of the main contributors to unemployment. This is happening when over a million youth enter the market both skilled and unskilled. Employers are decrying the fact that they are unable to get the right skills which have led them to pay more in either training or importing labour.

The toolkit Iskills program and The Safaricom Foundation Scholarship Programme have four things in common. First, like Wangari Maathai’s humming bird, they are addressing the challenge of youth unemployment in the country, in small ways.  Secondly, they are bridging the inequality gap by ensuring access to quality training for the most excluded youth. Thirdly, they are addressing sustainability by strengthening the training partners, including supplies of modern equipment, promoting internet connectivity and building the capacity of instructors to align their training to suit industry needs. Lastly, these programs are promoting whole youth development through the integration of values, life skills and other competences needed to thrive in the 21st Century workplace.

Walter Odondi is a programme officer at Zizi Afrique Foundation. For feedback, send an email to

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