VENTURES AFRICA – Efforts are being made to produce better trained and certified employees for Kenya’s growing ICT sector a research suggested that companies are having difficulties finding candidates with skills suitable to the industry.
Bondo University College, established by the government in 2009, is looking to break with standard education practices to produce graduates better placed to succeed in Kenya’s growing ICT industry. Meanwhile, the Kenya ICT Board has joined forces with Carnegie Mellon University to design a definitive examination for Kenyan software developers.
These innovations come at a time when companies are reporting a skills gap within the industry. Recent research from the ICT Board has revealed that companies operating in the growing sector are having difficulties finding the right skills in applicants, with applications systems analysts and software developers the professions where capable staff are most lacking.
Technological courses offered at Bondo have the specific aim of bridging the gap between theory and practice, looking to produce graduates that will be attractive candidates for ICT firms based in Kenya and also help Kenya progress as a regional ICT hub. “We want to get into the realm of actually building the technology”, says Dr Kefa Rabah, who runs the BSc course in Computer Science and Communications Engineering. He believes that Kenyans need to change the way they perceive technology. “We are being fed smart technology and we don’t know about it,” he says. “We want to change the way we perceive technology. We can do it. That is the way we want to go as Kenyans.”
With approximately a quarter of the ICT companies who responded to the Julisha Monitoring and Evaluation Survey saying they were dissatisfied with the quality of professionals produced by Kenya’s educational institutions, it is evident that innovative steps are needed to meet the demand for better qualified staff and bridge the skills gap. Yet the problems were not just in terms of accumulating technical skills, but basic ones also. “When probed on the types of skills lacking in graduates, companies cited innovative thinking, problem solving and project management as the top three skills that are lacking,” the report continued. “Some of these findings were seconded by university interviewees which indicated lower ratings on project management skills and innovative thinking.”
9600 professionals are expected to be added to the Kenyan IT workforce by 2013, particularly in the realms of software development and project management. Educational institutions are thus under pressure to meet this need, but the report blames them for failing to produce graduates with sufficient skills to meet the demand. “Consistency of curriculum was a common theme, with lack of guidelines emphasised,” the report stated. “The watered-down value of certifications and lack of market-relevant courses in some educational institutions were other themes.” A lack of experienced faculty within the technological education system, with the most capable teachers heading abroad or to the private sector, may be part of the problem. The report calls on universities, colleges and schools to expand their capabilities, establish specialised training programmes and integrate ICT into the education system more fully.
Educational institutions such as Bondo are already answering these calls, but it is not simply in education that the problem lies. Effective examining and requiring trained software developers to prove they have learned the skills to become valued workers within the sector are also lacking, hence the partnership between the ICT Board and Carnegie Mellon to develop a definitive examination to ably demonstrate that Kenya is producing graduates of sufficient quality to meet the demands of a growing sector that has been forced to look elsewhere for qualified employees thus far. The new exam will be piloted in the next 15 months and go into full production within two years.
Though there are a number of different software courses presently available, from the likes of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as well as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, most are paper-based examinations that do not test the abilities of developers to write high-quality code. “While they do have value it is possible to pass them and be completely incompetent,” said Philip Miller of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “The Kenyan examination will not be like that.” The initial aim is to certify approximately 1000 software developers every year, though eventually Miller hopes to be passing more before too long.
The intention is for the examination to become an essential exit qualification, both in Kenyan universities and globally. “We want people in other countries all using the same exam,” says Miller. “Global adoption of the qualification is the goal.” Yet the primary focus of the examination, which will test both basic and complex software development and coding to international standards, is specifically geared to proving the skills and employability of young Kenyan developers to international companies.
“We want an exam that tests skills that big companies actually need. People have to have confidence that everything is fair,” says Miller. “If we have got something good the companies will have it.”