Don on mission to mentor students to pursue practical based skills careers

Dr Ronald Michieka is a man on a mission to assist Kenyan youths pursue market oriented career paths they are passionate about and in the process create more jobs in the informal sector and bolster economic growth.

According to Dr Michieka, inadequate, inconsistent and incomprehensive career guidance services in schools has led to career misalignment, poor delivery of career information and poor school-to-work transition programmes among the youth leading to poor skills transfer and joblessness.

The don who lectures at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology’s (MMUST) Department of Mathematics and Science Education is concerned that most students wetre experiencing challenges when choosing careers at the end of secondary education with some ending up pursuing courses which they will never practice due to wrong choices.

Working with a team of career counsellors and tutors from universities and Technical Vocational Education Training Institutions (TVETs) and different professionals, the founder of Micron Academic and Career Support Centre is assisting over 300 Form Four leavers and over 500 others in Form One to Form Three from five counties to establish and achieve their education, career and personal goals.

In Nakuru, the career guidance and mentorship programme that has also brought on board technicians, instructors from youth polytechnics, entrepreneurs, artisans, and technologists is incorporating 26 students who sat their 2021 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Educations in sessions that are also open to parents and guardians and are being held at Ngata Community Hall, within Rongai Sub-County.

The students enrolled into the of Micron Academic and Career Support Centre are being empowered to understand their needs, strengths, personality, skills, talents and interests so as to make informed academic and career decisions.

“Most of the time, the students fall for the names of the courses as well as what parents dictate to them or based on influence from friends or celebrities, leading to a situation where they finish the course but are unable to create value using the knowledge and skills gained,” observes the don.

He points out that in other cases, freshmen are allocated programmes by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) based on high school grades, taking career paths they never dreamt of.

Agribusiness, Geography Information Science (GIS), Nutrition and Dietetics and Medical Engineering according to the don are some of the career courses avoided by students.

“County governments received medical equipment from the national government some of which are being serviced and maintained by manufacturers. This is a stark reminder for students to change their mindset about familiar courses and embrace marketable fields such as Medical Engineering,” he adds.

Due to a growing number of Kenyans conscious of the feeding and lifestyle habits, Dr Michieka notes that graduates in previously avoided careers in Nutrition and Dietetics were highly sought after.

“We are reminding those in Form One to Form Three that one must perform academically well in the subjects that will lead to their dream career. You may be passionate about medicine but your performance in sciences is very low. You either work extra smart or pursue another career option,” he explains.

At Micron Academic and Career Support Centre, mentors assist the students to identify sectors that are growing fastest around the world and the kind of skills that would prepare them for those careers. The participants are taught how to present in future their skills in a global language and also promote them on international platforms.

The don affirms that in the new digital economy, it is important for students to bear in mind that competition for skills is now global.

He laments that due to misconceptions, students joining universities and colleges have over the years chosen to study courses such law, engineering, information and technology, computer science, journalism, medicine, nursing and education which are deemed more marketable than others.

In 2020 the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) revealed that 16 programmes on offer in 10 universities did not receive a single application from the over 90,000 potential students.

The courses had a capacity of 795 students but none of the candidates who qualified for university admission in 2019 thought they would make a career from studying them.

The courses included Bachelor of Science in Automotive Technology, Bachelor of Technology in Building Construction, Bachelor of Technology in Renewable Energy, and Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering as well as Bachelor of Science in Energy Technology. Others, Bachelor of Science in Aquatic Resources, Bachelor of Science in Animal Production and Nutrition, Bachelor of Science in Oceanography, Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education and Extension, Bachelor of Science in Fisheries, Bachelor of Science in Economics and Statistics, Bachelor of Commerce, and Bachelor of Agribusiness Management.

Other courses that have been fairing badly are Bachelor of Social Work, and Community Development, Technology in Mechanical Ventilation and Air conditioning, Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies and Business Administration, Bachelor of Science (Aquatic Resources Conservation and Development), Bachelor of Science (Natural products) and Bachelor of Science (Environment and Resource Management).

Dr. Michieka adds; “There is always an architect, accountant, doctor, engineer, nurse, aeronautical specialist marketer among other professionals in our midst. Nevertheless, many times students ignore other courses that are equally good if not better that would even make them internationally marketable. I also believe that building up such a TVET ecosystem in Kenya can provide concrete job opportunities for young Kenyans as well.”

He states that world over, the labour market was transiting from theoretical expertise to practical-based skills adding that a growing number of Kenyans with good academic qualifications were unemployed because of a mismatch of skills and career choices.

On the other hand, trade careers have been neglected over time, meaning fewer people are practicing, and this is why their services are currently attracting premium fees as the don expresses concern over a growing shortage of technicians and artisans in the country noting that in order to achieve the Kenya Vision 2030, the country needs 90,000 technicians and over 400,000 artisans to plug the current shortage.

“There is a growing worrisome shortage of vocational skills and competencies such as plumbing, electrical installation, welding, brick laying, painting, carpentry, tailoring among others. If we go on like this, we will start bringing in expatriate artisans and craftsmen,” he adds.

He cites the Bachelor of Science in Oceanography course which students have shunned yet it is significantly relevant to the Blue Economy sector that currently is receiving noteworthy global attention from governments and corporates.

He also mentions an ignored course such as BSc in Animal Production and Nutrition, which he says is marketable since farmers will always have challenges and will require someone with knowledge to assist them.

Stanley Kipkorir Komen, whose daughter scored a B plain in 2021 KCSE, holds the opinion that solutions to unemployment must start at schools which need to put in place robust career guidance and counselling structures to advise students while choosing university courses before sitting their KCSE exams.

“Most students are not exposed to professionals in different areas. I always encourage parents and guardians to expose their children to their friends in different careers,” he avers.

Komen insists that it is important for educators to ensure their students become empowered to navigate what lies ahead, rather than just prepare them for those jobs that currently exist. Young people, adds the parent, must be taught the art of being able to navigate their environment intelligently, regardless of changes in the market.

“The students should also be empowered to design the jobs of the future and not just work in the new jobs created. Changing trends will impact the workplace of the future, and the jobs we take for granted today may be displaced in future. The hugely competitive jobs market is set to become even more so in future, with more people competing for fewer opportunities,” he affirms.

Zadella Osiemo who scored an aggregate of B Plus in 2021 KCSE stressed that the lack of career guidance is a big challenge as secondary schools and universities careers and guidance officers have failed to guide and counsel students while parents have also failed to offer mentorship to their children to think broadly.

“Parents want their children to take certain courses because they perceive holders of such degrees highly employable. This leads to most students often going only for employment-oriented courses,” says the former student of Nakuru Girls’ High School.

Ms. Osiemo holds that schools must put strong focus on ensuring that students in their care become as competitive as possible, by providing them with the skills which would set them apart in future, and beyond the academic curriculum.

Daniel Onyambu who wrote his 2021 KCSE at Nyakeyo Secondary School and attained a final grade of B plain is elated that the Ministry of Education has proposed to make mandatory the requirement of providing guidance to students while choosing university courses before sitting their KCSE exams.

“It is unfortunate in Kenya that people do jobs that they don’t like or aren’t trained to do. This is due to poor career selection and planning,” says Onyambu.

He notes that if implemented, the career guidance and counselling policy would aid university students in making right choices that would improve their employability and provide them with a competitive edge.

Onyambu insists that young people should make informed choices that match their career path adding that the document would transform the mind-set of the youth.

He adds that the policy would assist Kenyans to distinguish their culture, engage in productivity and develop positive thinking that will influence habits.



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