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On-the-job training equips youths with vital skills

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By Lewis Msasa

 

Loveness Mphande’s decision to undergo training in bricklaying came as a taboo in her Kalizowizo village in Traditional Authority Mzikubola in Mzimba. People thought she had gone out of her mind. They considered this trade as strictly a men’s affair. But Mphande, 22, was not deterred. Nine months down the line she does not regret opting for bricklaying.

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Improving women’s access and participation in Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) has been slow. This is despite various campaigns supported by a number of policies aimed at improving enrolment rates for girls and women in Tevet.

 

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Misconceptions have it that because of their gender, girls or women cannot pursue courses in areas that are technical in nature, particularly trades such as automobile mechanics, electrical installation, plumbing and bricklaying.

 

These are perceived as preserves for males. But according to experts in Tevet, there is a strong human rights argument and a strong developmental case for achieving gender equality in education as well as attracting girls and women in Tevet. It is argued that when girls and women are equipped with technical skills, it is more likely that their livelihoods are improved and that their civic responsibility enhanced. However, currently Malawi has only eight public national technical colleges offering formal Tevet.

 

The space is inadequate to accommodate the rising demand for quality skills in the country. Besides this, the formal technical colleges also require applicants to have a Malawi Schools Certificate of Education (MSCE) with good grades. This is also a barrier for those that are still interested in technical skills trainings but do not possess MSCE. To increasing access to Tevet among the rural masses, the Tevet Authority is implementing the Informal Sector Skills Development Programme (ISSDP) which aims at equipping the youths with quality vocational and entrepreneurial skills that promote wage and self-employment. One of the components under this window is the informal apprenticeship or on-the-job training programme.

 

Mphande is one of those undergoing such training at a site for St Monica Catholic Church at Embangweni in Mzimba. She is one of the 30 other apprentices at the site.

 

“With the skills I acquire from this training I will be able to fend for myself. I don’t care about what people say about me,” she says.

 

Tevet Authority Regional Manager for the North, Joseph Chikopa, says the training involves the transfer of knowledge and skills to the apprentices.

 

“On-the-job training aims at providing hands-on training that allows an apprentice to acquire technical as well as business skills from the Authority’s registered master craftsperson, an experienced craftsperson transferring knowledge to a young person,” he says.

 

According to the 2021-2022 Tevet Authority Annual report, over 10,000 youths have been trained in various interventions over the past year under the ISSDP. Out of this, 2, 326 which included over 1, 000 females have been trained through master craftpersons under on-the-job training in various trades.

 

Master craft trainer and team leader, Percy Nungu, says since Mphande and her fellow apprentices started training nine months ago, they have so far mastered various construction skills.

 

“The apprentices have, among others, been trained in site clearing and excavation, concreting footing, erecting a wall, back filling, construction of slab, constructing superstructure, erecting a ring beam and fixing of window frames.

 

“What remains now are aspects like plastering, pointing, tilling and flooring,” he says.

 

Nungu says when the training started in February 2022 they had 35 trainees; four have dropped out since.

 

“Ironically, those who dropped out are all men. This demonstrates how determined Mphande and her two other female colleagues are to complete their training,” says Nungu.

 

Parish priest, Father Edmond Nyoka who is the overseer of this church construction project, is impressed with the progress of the project as well as commitment of the apprentices especially females like Mphande.

 

“We were looking for skilled manpower to assist in constructing our church professionally. I approached the Regional Service Centre Manager for the North who advised us that it was possible to construct the church in a cost-effective way using the on-the-job training approach.

“I am happy to see the project is taking shape. I don’t regret choosing this approach,” he says.

 

Nyoka says apart from getting some allowances, the apprentices are assigned some minor construction projects. This far, the on-the-job training approach seems to be proving to be effective in providing hands-on skills to youths who cannot make it to technical colleges.

 

TEVET Authority’s Executive Director, Elwin Sichiola, says the approach does not compromise on quality of works. Despite the fact that these training interventions are undertaken in the informal sector, issues of quality have always been a priority to the Tevet Authority, he says.

 

Sichiola says before certifying trainees in the informal sector, distinguished experts from the industry are invited to make a final assessment based on the set training package outcomes.

 

“This is to ensure that trainers are properly assessed to ascertain that they have relevant competencies to train. All we want as an Authority is to ensure that quality of skills imparted to those under informal sector is properly regulated,” he says.

 

This is why Mphande, who dropped out in Standard 8 due to financial challenges, is assured of acquiring quality skills and is upbeat about starting her own business venture upon finishing the training.

 

“I believe the skills I have acquired here will give me a new lease of life. I will not be the same Loveness Mphande that people used to ridicule,” she quips.

 

As the country is pursuing its development agenda as spelt out in the Malawi 2063, skills training will remain the most important tool for youth empowerment.

 

 

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