Unemployment rate in the county stands at 45%. This is in part attributable to a lack of skills, lack of access to employment opportunities and a negative attitude towards entrepreneurship, especially among the youth. Youth unemployment is not just an issue for Taita Taveta but for Kenya as a whole, and one key contributing factor is the education system.
Currently there is a bias towards white collar jobs and an over emphasis on the more traditional path of college and university. This is despite the fact blue collar jobs, those that are practical and industrial focused, are the primary drivers of the Kenyan economy. Vocational Training Centers (VTCs) offer a solution. By imparting practical knowledge and skills that lead directly to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, the institutions produce graduates with the capacity to spur economic and social growth.
Mr John Kombo, the deputy principal of Mwagafa VTC is a passionate advocate for VTCs and all they have to offer. As a former VTC graduate his story gives an insight into the empowering nature of VTCs and challenges the negative perceptions some individuals hold of such institutions.
Explain to us how you found yourself studying at a VTC.
I am the third born in a family of nine and so the burden of taking us all through secondary school was a challenge. I joined Dr Aggrey High School, however I spent a lot of time at home because of the challenge of school fees and as a result I didn’t perform very well. After finishing Form Four, I worked as a builder and lumberjack and took other casual jobs in Wundanyi town to help my father with my brother’s secondary school fees. Then, “I thought about my own future” and went further from home to Voi to “look for life” and “any kind of employment”. Here I found Voi Youth Polytechnic and applied to study mechanics in January 1999. “I was very happy to get [this] chance because I thought my life would be horrible, because I had nothing to do.”
What was your experience studying at a VTC?
“I had a wonderful time” at Voi VTC because the teachers and trainees had respect for me. I was almost 32 when I joined and was very happy with the teachers because they treated me as a grownup. During my time there we had a VSO volunteer known as Mr Robert Spells who taught us entrepreneurship classes. We enjoyed this a lot because he taught us about how to venture into our own businesses. I was head boy of the institution and was obedient and hard working to achieve my Grade Three Certificate after two years of studying.
It was however a hard time – I had to look after myself and so after classes and at weekends I worked so I could pay my school fees.
Tell us about your journey from graduating to becoming Deputy Principal of Mwagafa VTC?
I entered the Jua Kali sector and worked as a mechanic at Voi Police. I had previously worked here for my industrial attachment and was invited to return after graduating in a voluntary role so I could practice my skills and advance my knowledge. After some time I saw a job advertisement for a mechanics trainer at Mwarungu VTC and successfully applied for the position, beginning my career there in February 2002.
I worked at Mwarungu VTC for fifteen years and during this time I never stopped learning. I studied independently to gain my Grade Two and One Certificates in mechanics and completed a driving course in Mombasa to gain my driving licence. I also attended Kenya Technical Trainers College in 2004 where I completed my Instructor Training Part 1.
In 2017 I was transferred from Mwarungu VTC to Mwagafa VTC and given the positions of Senior Instructor and Deputy Principal.
Why do you support the VTC path so much?
VTCs are the way to go because there is a high chance of employment. If you go to town now you “will find the trainees that I taught in Mwarungu and Mwagafa, they are very busy working and you can’t find somebody with a diploma there.”
What is your opinion on the current view of VTCs?
Some people think that if you go to VTCs you are a failure and your future is just poor. However, I can say that this has “improved since the County Government [is] taking care of them”, now “everybody is admiring the VTCs”. In previous years, VTCs were seen only for Class Eight leavers and school drop outs but nowadays a lot of Form Four leavers join us.
What do you think should be done to continue improving people’s perceptions of VTCs?
Simply by talking to them; I myself have gone and talked to people and they have moved from thinking that VTCs are for failures. I tell them that going to VTCs to gain knowledge and practical skills is something they will never regret.
What advice would you give a student soon to complete Form Four?
“The best advice I can give such a person is to join the VTCs as early as possible because you can obtain skills and work on your own. Even our County Governor is insisting in his baraza’s that everybody should go to VTCs and obtain knowledge on how to cater for life.”
Finally, what is your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement since I completed my technical course from Voi – I have never slept hungry.
-by Emma Shove
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