By Lewis Msasa:
For a good four months, Effello Mainja of Mbulu Village in Traditional Authority Maganga in Salima would cycle 30 kilometres every day to a garage at Lifuwu turn off.
This is where she was undergoing training in motor vehicle mechanics. She was the only female among the class of eight.
She is among the 83 that graduated recently from a technical skills training programme in Salima Central Constituency.
Fifty-one percent of Malawi’s population is the youth, according to the 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census.
Despite their significant proportion, present and projected, young people have not realised their full potential due to age-related challenges and barriers such as lack of relevant education and skill sets, among others.
Experts say that empowering this segment of the population economically would lead to a significant shift in the economic transformation of the country.
One way to realise this, as being championed in the Malawi 2063 agenda, is to expand vocational and entrepreneurial training for out-of-school youth and provide them with job relevant skills.
But with only eight public national technical colleges offering formal Technical Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) in Malawi, meeting the demand for quality Tevet in the country is a real challenge.
Trends in National Pre- Apprentice Recruitment between 2013 and 2022 show that applications for Tevet into the national public and private colleges for training has been way higher than the available spaces in the colleges.
For instance, in 2013, a total of 11,215 candidates applied to go to these technical colleges but only 1,084 were selected. Interestingly, for the 2022 recruitment, 2,858 applied and 2,241 were selected to go to these national colleges.
The high number of youths seeking to get skills training only implies that government may not singlehandedly shoulder the enormous task of training this youthful Malawian population.
CDF for skilled youths
But it emerges that the gap can be managed using a taxpayer resource – the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) – as demonstrated by one lawmaker, Gerald Kapiseni Phiri of Salima Central Constituency.
He realised that it was his responsibility to support government’s vision of equipping the out-of-school youth with job-relevant skills using part of the CDF.
He says he was prompted into action after observing that crime rate in his area was increasing, which he partly attributes to lack of skills among the youths to enable them earn a meaningful living.
He started facilitating skills training of the youth in the area using personal resources way back before he became Member Parliament (MP) for the constituency.
“But as demand grew, I felt it was important that I use part of the CDF to support the training activities for the youth in my constituency,” he says.
Government established CDF as a way of ensuring even distribution of rural development throughout the country.
According to Ministry of Local Government’s CDF Guidelines, the fund seeks to provide MPs and their communities with the opportunity to choose and implement projects that maximise their welfare in line with their needs and preferences based on immediate, short-term community development needs.
The first budgetary provision for CDF was approved by Parliament in the 2006/2007 budget, initially at about K1 million per constituency.
Currently, according to National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC), the CDF is at K40 million per constituency annually.
Kapiseni Phiri took advantage of this funding to empower youths in his area, an initiative that attracted the attention of the Tevet Authority.
Teveta for quality
Executive Director for Tevet Authority (Teveta), Elwin Sichiola, says as a way of increasing access to Tevet among the rural masses, the authority, among others, promotes the Informal Sector Skills Development Programmes (ISSDP) which are aimed at equipping Malawians, especially youths, with quality technical and entrepreneurial skills.
“Under the ISSDP, there is a window where the authority regulates the training programmes and provides technical support to ensure quality of training facilitated through partnerships with various CBOs, donor agencies, NGOs and other interested parties,” Sichiola says.
He says regardless that these training interventions are undertaken in an informal set up, issues of quality have always been a priority to the Tevet Authority.
Therefore, whenever there are such interventions, the authority comes in to facilitate the training programmes as a way of ensuring quality and to ascertain that the trainees are properly certified after completing their courses.
“Before certifying trainees in the informal sector, we invite distinguished experts from the industry to make a final assessment based on the set training package outcomes.
“We also ensure that trainers are properly assessed to ascertain that they have relevant competencies to train,” he says.
In Kapiseni Phiri’s undertaking, the authority facilitates training of the youths in the following trades: hair salon, fabrication and welding, carpentry and joinery, motor cycle mechanics, tailoring and fashion design, motor vehicle mechanics, carpentry and joinery, plumbing, electrical installation and horticulture.
Skilled and confident
And the initiative is now reaping fruits.
Recently, it graduated 83 youths from the area, at a function where Deputy Minister of Labour, Vera Kamtukule, was Guest of Honour.
Kamtukule said initiatives like the one in question would go a long way in empowering young people in the constituencies with skills for job creation and self reliance.
She said the graduation of the 83 youths in Salima Central Constituency symbolised the strategic contribution that MPs could make towards skills training of youths in their areas through the CDF.
“These training interventions are very important because it is one way of enabling our community members especially the youths to become productive in society,” Kamtukule said.
One of those graduating that day was Mainja. She was full of praise of the training, saying it would go a long way in empowering the youths in Salima.
“I never had the dream of ever becoming economically independent. Now I am confident that with the skills that I have acquired, I can earn a living,” she said.
Her instructor, Happy Tembo, commended her for her determination.
He has since decided to her together with two male colleagues on an internship so that they can continue shaping their skills in motor vehicle mechanics.
“I am confident that the rest will perform well with the current competencies they have. I concentrated much on drilling them in mechanics, auto-electric and tyre fitting because these skills are always on demand in our locality. As such they can easily eke out a living from these skills,” said Tembo.
Kapiseni Phiri’s desire is to train between 3,000 and 4,000 youths by the year 2025.
Sichiola believes that if the initiatives like this are replicated in all the 193 constituencies, Malawi could see close to a million youths being equipped with technical skills by 2025.