Local skills gap lingers in Kenya, hindering national projects

The perennial lack of skills in Kenya could end up hampering projects designed to bring government services closer to the people.

"Our challenge in the public sector has been skills," said Fred Matiang'i, the cabinet secretary for Information, Communication and Technology, at the inaugural National Innovation Forum recently held in Nairobi.

"We have to be honest, our transition or what we look at broadly as the ICT revolution of our government is challenged because of inadequate ICT skills in government," Matiang'i conceded.

There is, however, work being done by the ICT ministry to develop the skills of the local ICT talent.

Recently, the government launched the Presidential Digital Talent Programme in conjunction with the ICT ministry to help young people to intern in different companies around the country to enhance their on-job technology skills.

The talent program, launched in February, aims to provide ICT skills to help initiate and complete several government projects around the country.

"Through the presidential digital talent program, we are beginning to work with the private sector to populate the public service with the right skills, so that we can gradually transition the public service to an environment where it is not only an effective consumer but also an effective participant and facilitator of the digital economy," Matiang'i said.

The program aims to triple its capacity to 300 by the next year. Matiang'i said that the vision for the talent program was to engage 1,000 to 1,500 trainees in the next three to four years, in order to staff government ICT projects effectively.

The Kenyan government has rolled out several ICT projects, including eCitizen.go.ke, which enables citizens to apply for documents such as drivers' licences and pay for the services via mobile money.

The government also has established Huduma Centres, which are digitally connected facilities where citizens can apply for birth certificates, death certificates and other documents. This has made it easier for people to access government services, but the sustainability of these projects lies in the government's ability to retain high quality talent.

The revelations are casting a shadow on local universities, which should ideally nurture relevant talent.

Ivan Lumala the Chief Technology Officer for the Microsoft 4Afrika programme noted that there is a difference between skills, knowledge and competence.

"Many of us would agree that across Kenya we have lots of people who have the skills," Lumala commented at the forum. "Where we find this gap now is in the competence -- where competence speaks to the intersection of a skill and the task at hand."

He added that this skills gap may not only affect individuals but also small companies, which might face challenges in completing contracts.

"So what we are trying to do is to come up with a process that addresses that incompetency, through additional skills, where they are needed," Lumala added.

Microsoft's 4Afrika initiative looks at how to improve ICT innovations on the continent through various ways, including skills development.

Lumala absolved the universities of blame and said that skill competency is an ongoing process, and that the constant refreshing of skills is needed in a digital economy.

Vince Matinde

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