GEOTHERMAL CAPACITY BUILDING

STEM education plays key role in future geothermal capacity building

Kenya has over 50 per cent of its population under 20 years old.

In Summary

•Currently, over 6,000 engineers are serving a population of 40 million plus Kenyans.

•To effectively support the growing industrial sector, the ratio of engineers to population proposed by UNESCO is approximately 1:2000.

Olkaria 2 power plant/HANDOUT
Olkaria 2 power plant/HANDOUT

Sustainable development in Africa remains a key priority in establishing the continent for future economic progression.

At the backbone of this development is education and a push for technical skills within various sectors. Africa is a youthful continent, and building capacity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education plays a crucial role in facilitating development and promoting economic growth.

Kenya has over 50 per cent of its population under 20 years old, which presents a strong workforce for the future.

However, there seems to be a dampened perception of STEM-related careers among the youth. The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) provides data in its 2020/2021 Students' Placement to Universities report, which confirms that majority of students are seeking desk job careers. Only top-performing students, who make 0.12 per cent of students, prefer to pursue STEM courses.  

Currently, over 6,000 engineers are serving a population of 40 million plus Kenyans. To effectively support the growing industrial sector, the ratio of engineers to population proposed by UNESCO is approximately 1:2000.

Regionally, if we benchmark against South Africa’s 1:3200, Kenya needs to significantly increase its capacity of engineers. With only about 700 engineers graduating from university each year, we need to triple our capacity to cater to an ever-growing population.

With the highest rate of electricity access in East Africa, Kenya has a wide range of renewable energy resources that we have only begun to explore. The government heavily invests its resources in alternative sources of energy to keep electricity clean and affordable.

As of 2019, Kenya has been generating about 87 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, with geothermal energy accounting for about 38 per cent – only a fraction of Kenya’s geothermal resource potential of around 10,000 MW along the Rift Valley.

Building capacity will enable further advancements in research and exploration of Kenya’s untapped potential, creating growth within the sector. There is need to develop a strategy for training engineers, developing technologies and skilled craftsmen to suit capacity needs. In conducting a skills-need analysis within the sector, we will be better positioned to inform the education sector of much needed gaps and to build a pool of qualified engineers and personnel that will suit the job market and cater to the growing population’s needs.

Efforts to encourage technical courses have been implemented into the new Competency based Curriculum (CBC) rolled out in January of 2019 by the Kenyan government. Similarly, we need to take advantage of the wealth of talent in this country and create opportunities for practical application of this future STEM literacy.

It will take stakeholders in both the education and the energy sectors, to pull efforts in increasing technical capabilities in all facets of the geothermal supply chain nation-wide. Private sector plays a key role in supporting and promoting this development of local expertise by establishing strategic partnerships and providing funding for necessary research.

This increase in private sector participation will especially expose and incentivize the youth to take on various jobs and opportunities available in STEM-based careers.  

To make sustainable impact, more needs to be done. STEM education needs to take on a multi-disciplinary approach to redefine the challenges outside of current boundaries and reach innovative solutions based on new findings. Individuals and organizations have a responsibility to set their own capacity building objectives and to obtain, strengthen and maintain their capabilities over time.

Setting up internal training mechanism to build specialized talent becomes a crucial next step for organisations and industry leaders. Engagement efforts also need to question the broader attitudes and practices to bring about behaviour change. Societal attitudes, like those that have curbed young women from pursuing careers in engineering, must be address and rectified for progression to take place.

Promoting STEM as a future career prospectus among young people in Kenya is a collaborative effort and is hinged on the support of the government and the private sector. If not careful, we will have a deficit of STEM job acquisition and with technical capacity in years to come. As a country, Kenya needs to empower Kenyans by equipping its youth to take ownership of its sustainable development.

Eng Jared O. Othieno is the GDC Managing Director & CEO