Over the past years, the urban population has continued to rise at unprecedented rates as more and more people move from rural to urban areas in search of better opportunities and “living standards”, majority of who are the youth. This has increased the competitiveness of the strained labour market further compounded by the prevailing global economic crisis that has led to thousands of job cuts. While the youth globally experience similar challenges, the youth in informal settlements are more challenged, given the fact that most of them are stricken by poverty and have limited or no skills at all. This makes these youth vulnerable to drug use, child trafficking, and involvement in violent activities like robberies, sexual abuse and exploitation as they struggle to keep themselves busy and make ends meet. This thus poses a serious challenge in keeping them gainfully engaged and away from idleness and negative social influence.
It is on the above perspective that the UN Habitat with support from the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, initiated a youth led development programme, the Youth Empowerment Programme, in 2007 to improve the living conditions and livelihoods of the youth in informal settlements. The programme empower them through vocational trainings and apprenticeship in construction skills that includes, but is not limited to block making, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical and ICT. The Youth and Empowerment Programme uses a group oriented selection approach that engages both individuals and groups of youth living and working in informal settlements in its training programme. The trainings that take up to four months are conducted at the Moonbeam Youth Training Centre, located in Mavoko, a nearby informal settlement of Nairobi, and other training institutions and consist of three components or tiers. The Moonbeam Youth Training Centre was built as a result of the programme’s on the job training in block making. While Tier 1 of the programme targets informal groups, Tier 2 targets formalized youth groups with construction activities and Tier 3 targets youth construction brigades with a major aim of improving the ability of the youth to be competitive in business focused in the construction field
Since the inception of the programme, a total of about five hundred youth from the informal settlements in Mavoko, Thika, Githogoro and Kibera, Kaloleni, Kayole and Kariobangi, have been engaged. About Three hundred of these are under going trainings in masonry, carpentry, plumbing, life skills, entrepreneurship, ICT and governance while another one hundred and seventy seven are undergoing orientation programmes.
These trainings have made the youth more productive and competitive in the labour market as observed by some of the participant’s experiences. One such beneficiary stated that:
“... I was among the first youth selected for the training in Habitat block production and the training has changed my life from an idler in the community to a young skilled youth who is able to take care of himself and be counted among the responsible young people” (Joshua Opiyo)
The above statement is further echoed by the experiences of one female ICT trainee who observed that “she had been disqualified for various vacancies due to the lack of computer skills. And since she could not afford the costs for the training, her chances came when the UN Habitat Youth Empowerment programme offered to train some youth in ICT, and as fate would be, she was one of those selected. She is proud that the skills acquired have changed her life as she now works in a cyber café and even if its not permanent, she is confident that she will soon get a permanent job” (Mildred Amwanyi).
As the youth continue to be trained in these vocational trainings, UN Habitat recognizes the fact that the prevailing job market is continuously shrinking hence the need for the youth to create jobs and be self employed. A workshop held in May this year on “Business and Organizational Development” aimed at equipping the youth with adequate knowledge and skills to start up and manage their own enterprises/businesses, either as individuals or groups/cooperatives. The workshop, which took place a the UN Office in Nairobi, comprising seven working sessions was jointly organized by UN-Habitat, youth organizations, and other Habitat Agenda Partners, including, the Kenya Land Women’s Access Trust, Kenya Youth Business Trust, Chemichemi Ya Ukweli, Environmental Youth Alliance and Vakcord.
The main objective of the workshop was to help the youth build on their entrepreneurial skills, identify the untapped opportunities in the construction industry and form groups to increase their ability to mobilize resources and market themselves in the competitive construction industry. The workshop opened by Mr. Subramonia Ananthakrishnan the Head of the Partners and Youth Section of UN Habitat, benefited sixty youth, forty seven males and thirteen females from Mavoko, Kibera, Kaloleni, Kariobangi, Githogoro, Thika and from the Kilimanjaro Initiative, a UN-Habitat supported programme focused on urban youth and crime prevention. See the chart below for more details;
In his opening remarks Mr. Ananthakrishnan stressed the need for the review of existing curriculum by policy makers so that the trainings given to the youth match prevailing employment demands as well as the importance of the involvement of the youth as active participants in the creation of knowledge. He further stressed the importance of creating youth structures to support the development and employment of youth since there was an interrelationship between development and employment. He however cautioned that, in the quest for youth employment, the use of child labour and exploitation should be avoided. He called on the participants to come up with recommendations to support the youth, given the current employment uncertainties.
Mr. Ananthakrishnan challenged the trained youth to utilize the skills acquired while continuing to improve on their capacities and graduate from the programme to pave way for other young people. The participants were informed that, to enable this transition, the Youth Empowerment Porgamme was developing an exit strategy for the trained youth.
The Youth Empowerment Programme is implemented through multi-stakeholder partnerships that bring together representatives of local and national government, the private sector, youth organizations, as well as other development partners. It receives technical support from UN-habitat’s Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme and Global Partnership for Urban Youth led Development.