Felix Okwera is part of the first group of students to be recruited and trained in the Skills for Construction project. "I heard about the project when it was advertised by a megaphone on the streets of my home Pakwach Town but I did not take it seriously until I heard about it the second time on a talk show on our only district radio Pakwach FM," he says.
As such, Okwera registered on the second last day of registration. He sat for the interviews and was shortlisted for the training, which he started in February. After the training, he was assigned to work at a renovation site at a primary school. This was his first job in construction.
Okwera and 1,500 others are part of the ongoing skilling exercise as part of efforts to prepare Ugandans for jobs in upcoming infrastructure projects.
The Skills for Construction (S4C) project aims at equipping youth between 18 and 35 years with basic literacy skills in basic construction skills, pipefitting, and rigging. Launched with 600 graduate trainees, the training is implemented by the Employment and Skills for Eastern Africa (E4D/SOGA) and lasts 10 weeks.
Currently, it takes place at the Uganda College of Commerce, Pacer Community Polytechnic in Pakwach District and Nakawa Vocational Training Institute and Management Training and Advisory Centre in Kampala.
Okwera has applied at a Chinese construction company called Mukoda which is constructing roads in Pakwach District.
"These skills have transformed the youth of Pakwach District. Many of us were unemployed without any hope of finding jobs but now we also have skills that companies can make use of."
Similarly, Maureen Akwee from Kampala started her training in March as the sixth female student in a class of 25. "In the first two weeks, I learned personal interaction skills, communication skills, how to avoid sexual harassment at the workplace, and financial planning, among other skills. The next four weeks I learned occupational health and safety and why it is important," she says.
As a person trained in ethics and human rights, most of the terms and machines were new to her causing her to question what she was doing in construction.
"But with determination and help from my group members, I ended up excelling and learning these new things such as making box frames, cable clamps, working at heights, risk assessment and so many more. At Level II, I started learning rigging. This enables one to attach and detach colour coding, identifying lifting tactics using hand signals and manual handling. I am proud to be a rigger," Akwee shares.
For Robert Omito, the Pakwach District chairman, the transformational aspect of such trainings should be applauded. "Uganda is characterised by theoretical education that leaves graduates with no practical skills but only vulnerable, in search of jobs. Skills training, on the other hand, is transformational, it has given hope to many Youth of Pakwach District most of whom were unemployed," he said during the graduation of the first batch of trainees in Kampala recently.
All graduates were offered jobs from top construction companies such as Kato Contractors, Blue Ocean Engineering, GCC, Spedag, Dag and Bragan, Bollore Transport and Logistics, Sasgeco, Roko Construction, Coca-Cola and Mukoda Engineering.
The skills for construction graduates will be certified by the Engineering, Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB), a widely accepted certificate.
Vocational training not meant for failures
Uganda has one of the youngest population in the world, with 77 per cent of its population under 30 years of age. But sadly most of these are not in school, employment or under any training according to the United Nation Population Fund. In 2008, The Business, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) Act was passed.
And last week, when Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) stakeholders met, changing the mind-set of the population in favour of vocational training was top on the agenda.
For instance, Martha Mary, a student from Cooking School Uganda said technical and vocational education and training is a blessing before thanking Brac Foundation for giving her a platform to get trained.
Similarly, Ismail Mulindwa, the chairperson National Selection Committee, says most students get admitted to Senior One but at the end of the day few of them study up to Senior Four.
He, therefore, urged students to also embrace vocational training. But most importantly, the principals who were present urged society to change the negative attitude they have towards vocational institutions.
But Juliet Nakanjja, the principal of Biira Vocational Training Institute, encouraged females to be part of the vocational training skills. "There are both men sensitive and female sensitive courses. Therefore, an individual should get motivated and focused on what they can to study," she said.
MasterCard is working with 19 vocational training institutions to admit scholars. MasterCard has enrolled 97 students to vocational institutions so far. Partner schools were asked to encourage schools to make students understand that vocational institutions are not meant for failures.
Additional reporting by by Hephzibar Vicky Bukasu