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Breaking poverty barrier with vocational skills

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PUTTING SKILLS TO GOOD USE— Mwanza youths

To a newcomer to the area, the ordinarily looking red brick house in Chinangwa Village, Traditional Authority Nthache, in Mwanza District may not arouse curiosity.

However, community members there hold it in high esteem because, through its walls, it has created smiles on community members’ faces while inspiring hope for the future.

“This is no ordinary building to us. It is, in fact, the only skills development centre in our district of Mwanza. It is a place where youths and other members of the community acquire vocations skills, which we regard as the vehicle that can pull us out of the mud of poverty.

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“This is no ordinary building; it is a place where we hone vocational skills, which are necessary for our economic empowerment,” said 22-year-old Grace Tambwa of Chinangwa Village, T/A Nthache.

Tambwa, who never, even in her wildest dreams, imagined that she would one day become a plumber, is one of the 36 youths that have already passed through Nankhudwe Community Skills Development Centre since it started its operations in 2020.

The skills development centre has also been providing informal skills training to hundreds of rural youths, imparting in them knowledge related to carpentry and joinery, plumbing and bricklaying, among other technical skills.

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That is how Tambwa, who used to make a living through the sale of second-hand clothes and shoes imported from neighbouring Mozambique, has acquired her skills.

“It was not easy to make a living through such a business because, most of the times, people would take long to pay for the products, a development that eventually affected my business,” Tambwa said.

It is after she heard of the important role skills acquired in vocational schools have played in the lives of fellow youths that she thought of enrolling in a plumbing course at the community skills development centre right in her village.

“I eventually chose plumbing because the construction sector is booming but the sector lacks people with necessary skills to support it. As a result, most of the people who are constructing modern houses resort to hiring artisans from as far as Blantyre. As such, I realised that there is demand for plumbing and other skills in this area,” Tambwa, who has just finished her level four course, said recently.

She said she will use her skills to provide quality services that satisfy demand in the locality.

Thirty-five-year-old Robert Chivuwa of Gwirenchira Village in the same area has just finished his studies at the same institution and says prospects of starting a plumbing business in the area look great.

Chivuwa, a father of two, has been practising subsistence farming to fend for his family.

He is now turning to plumbing for answers to financial challenges he has been facing all along.

Like Tambwa, Chivuwa is of the view that the boom in the construction sector in Mwanza District provides youths and community members in general with an opportunity to acquire relevant skills.

Chivuwa has already started a company which, apart from creating employment opportunities for other community members, will also assist in the provision of quality services to support the construction sector in the district.

“The training we have received here has empowered us with skills that have enabled us to not only provide services as plumbers but also create job opportunities for fellow young people. As such, we have set up a business and are just waiting for the authorities to advise us on how we may pursue the idea further,” Chivuwa says.

In the Southern Region district, Nankhudwe Community Skills Development Centre is the only place where youths in rural communities such as Chivuwa and Tambwa can access skills development education for economic empowerment.

Unlike other districts in the country, where community technical colleges have been constructed, the community skills development centre remains important for the youth in Mwanza in as far as skills development and economic empowerment are concerned.

Despite that Malawi is a youthful country, where the youth make over half of the population, most of them lack opportunities and are heavily dependent on blood relations.

The situation is worse in rural areas, which is predominantly dependent on agriculture and harbours most of the unemployed people.

Lack of exposure to other productive activities among rural populations has made subsistence farming the main activity across the country.

The lack of opportunities has caused a large percentage of the rural population to migrate to towns and cities in search of limited job opportunities.

Reports indicate that the majority of migrants have no employable skills that can enable them to get the limited jobs on the labour market, a development that prompts most of them, especially the youth, to engage in crime, drug abuse, prostitution and vandalism.

Vocational skills centres were established to deal with challenges such as lack of productive knowledge and skills among people in productive age groups.

The community colleges will, among other things, assist the youth to become self-employed, apart from allowing them the opportunity to attain higher qualifications.

Through the colleges, out-of-school youth and adults who fail to make it into formal Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training institutions due to limited capacity and restrictive entry requirements would receive training in specific trades.

Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta) officials said skills development remains a viable opportunity for creating opportunities for the youth of this country.

Director of training programmes for Teveta, Modesto Gomani, said the youth who finish training handle themselves well and put themselves in a better position to contribute towards national development goals.

“The nation’s development now depends on vocational and entrepreneurial skills because, if we have many people establishing businesses and employing other people through these skills, we, as a country, will easily grow economically,” Gomani said.

His sentiments may not be far from the truth, considering that the informal sector is one of the largest sectors in the country, absorbing more than 80 percent of the labour force in rural and urban areas.

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