By the end of May 2019, the USAID Hub’s grant to Generation Kenya prepared 1,724 young Kenyans to gain employment as sewing machine operators (SMOs). Of this total, 1,372 already have jobs at apparel factories, using their newfound skills to earn wages and boost growth in Kenya’s apparel manufacturing industry, a critical economic sector. The program has empowered young women in particular, who represent 75 percent of graduates and 73 percent of hired graduates.
Kenya’s apparel manufacturing industry employs over 40,000 workers. Yet, there remains a shortage of 10,000 to 15,000 skilled workers, 60 percent of whom are SMOs. While vocational training programs exist to help fill this gap, they have been ad hoc and have not fully met employers’ needs. In response, some companies have established in-house training units. Their trainees, however, are often unsuited to garment operations, leading companies to feel they are wasting resources and effort. As a result, Kenya’s apparel sector continues to lack a skilled workforce that can maximize the industry’s potential to drive economic growth and trade.
To address this gap, Generation Kenya, with support from the USAID Hub, developed a SMO training program. The program is designed to address both soft skills, such as positive and reinforcing mindsets, behavioral skills and technical sewing skills. The program is also selective. Generation Kenya screens applications and chooses trainees to reduce the number of trained graduates who fail to meet industry expectations. Across seven training centers, the selected students receive eight weeks of training. The trainings mimic real life experience so that trainees develop the technical and soft skills needed to perform in the workplace. Following their completion of the program, graduates are assigned to available jobs in willing and committed companies.
Watch here to see what trainees have to say about the program.
The pilot training program’s success has generated additional support, allowing the program to scale up in Kenya. The Swedish International Development Agency’s $4.5 million grant for five years and IKEA Foundation’s $2.38 million grant for three years will enable the program to reach 32,500 youth distributed across at least 50 percent of Kenya’s counties and to improve program quality to achieve a goal of 90 percent placement.
By building a stronger workforce, Kenya will have more efficient and productive factories that can meet buyers’ needs and compete in the U.S. market. At the same time, Kenyans – particularly women and youth – will now have the skills needed to gain employment that will boost their incomes, livelihoods and self-sufficiency.