COMMENTARY

Kenya’s industrial leap should start with building the right skills

The world is entering the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In Summary

•This is anchored on advanced manufacturing for increased efficiency and productivity.

•Industry 4.0 or smart factories are terms used to describe this new epoch of industrial development.

Rajul Malde,Commercial Director, Pwani Oil Limited.
Rajul Malde,Commercial Director, Pwani Oil Limited.

The world, Kenya included, is entering the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution anchored on advanced manufacturing for increased efficiency and productivity.

Industry 4.0 or smart factories are terms used to describe this new epoch of industrial development.

New technologies among them Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, advanced robotics, cloud computing, and data analytics are re-shaping industries right across supply chains, factory lines, and customer relationships.

As manufacturing undergoes transformation, the sector will need an innovative and highly-productive workforce. Hence the need to re-tool and align the workforce with advanced production processes.  

Advanced manufacturing involves the use of innovative technologies for enhanced industrial competitiveness.

Here, we are talking of smart factories that require workers with the skills to manage rapid technological innovation within an increasingly digitized environment.  

According to the 'Future of Jobs Report 2018' by the World Economic Forum, about 71 per cent of manufacturing tasks are currently performed by humans and the rest by machines.

By 2025, this will have reversed to 48 per cent by humans and 52 per cent by machines, signaling a dramatic shift to automation.  

But contrary to perceptions that innovative technologies will destroy jobs, in fact, they will create new roles requiring highly-skilled workers.

A 2017 report by Deloitte shows that technology is creating more jobs than it is replacing in manufacturing.

The main challenge, however, is in bridging the sharply growing skills gap in the market especially digital talent.

Since there is a strong link between innovation and manufacturing, it is imperative to develop skills that are in great demand as a result of rapid technological evolution.

Manufacturing jobs of the future will be largely technology-driven and highly-skilled.

There will be high demand for employees who can work with robots and other advanced technologies. Those who display an entrepreneurial mindset and the ability to manage complex relationships and processes using data will be more sought after.  

We must therefore invest in developing skills in light of the unfolding industrial revolution.

To start with, our education system should adapt to meet the growing demand for new skills. Education and manufacturing are inter-linked. This is because education provides the human skills required for production of goods.

More important is the need to align the education system with the evolving demands of the industrial labor market.

Previous surveys have voiced employers' concerns about the lack of technical skills among employees despite academic and technical training. This has been blamed on weak linkages between training institutions and industry.

For this reason, the Kenya Association of Manufacturing (KAM) has identified skills development as a key priority.

KAM’s 2021 Manufacturing Priority Agenda cites pro-industry skills development as a pillar in industrial sustainability and resilience.

It further calls for a labor market with industry-driven skills taking into account Industry 4.0 and the Sustainable Development Goals. This requires partnerships between industry, academia and other actors in developing an adequate pool of industrial skills.

The private sector should support industry apprenticeship programmes where university and technical school graduates are recruited into the industry for training.

This is already happening in local industries through the Technical Vocation Education and Training (TVET) apprenticeship program.

The program offers students from our TVET institutions practical industrial experience thus equipping them with marketable skills.

For instance, Pwani Oil partnered with Technical University Mombasa (TUM) in 2019 to undertake joint research, training, mentorship and knowledge exchange activities.

The two institutions are also developing short-term training courses as part of a continuous skills development program. TUM students will benefit from practical industrial exposure.

However, we need to start nurturing the right skills for industry in the early stages of learning not just at tertiary level, with greater emphasis on preparing learners to work in smart factories.

Fortunately, ongoing curriculum reforms in Kenya are shifting learning from theory and exams to competence and skills-based model.

There is also a heightened emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education as part of the Kenya Vision 2030 roadmap to industrial transformation.

STEM education is key to manufacturing innovation in the 21st Century. As new technologies emerge, large and small manufacturers alike will rely on employees with a high level of expertise in technology and impeccable innovation credentials.  

This is not to say that non-science skills are not important in manufacturing.

Apart from the ‘hard’ technical knowledge, a number of ‘soft’ skills will be indispensable in the smart factories of the future.

These include complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, people skills, communication, and data literacy.

Upskilling the prospective and existing industry workforce will lead to enhanced manufacturing competitiveness and productivity.

To be an industrial economy as captured in Vision 2030 requires the appropriate skillset to keep abreast with rapid changes in manufacturing technologies.

From the foregoing, the government should consider providing incentives, for instance, tax credits, to manufacturers who actively invest in training and skills development programs, and promote industrial research in collaboration with universities and other training institutions.

Malde is the Commercial Director, Pwani Oil Limited.

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