By Gift Briton and Joyce Ojanji

Soft-skills training increases the probability of youths being employed with women benefiting more.

This is according to a study by researchers from the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), under the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) – East Africa initiative funded by the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) and its partners.

“Young women do not get employment and they get lower salaries compared to young men. Soft skills training is critical in addressing gender-based employment segregation and social norms by improving their agency and ability to make strategic choices,” Professor Jane Mariara-PEP’s Executive Director said during a recent meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Several higher learning institutions tend to ignore soft-skills training in their curriculum even though it is as important as the technical skills.”

Prof.Jane Mariara, Executive Director PEP speaking during the Nairobi meeting.

In Kenya, youth unemployment, particularly among women, remains high despite substantial investments in training intuitions. Over the last two and a half decades, the unemployment rate among young women between 19-24 years, has consistently been higher than men in the same age bracket.

The researchers investigated how soft-skills training can improve youth’s labour market outcomes. The study covered more than 3,800 students across Kenya’s four technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, including Kabete National Polytechnic, Nairobi Technical Training Institute, P.C Kinyanjui Technical Training Institute, and Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology.

The students were trained for ten weeks on socioemotional soft skills including self-awareness, gender competency, finding work and emotional awareness, interpersonal relatedness, listening, empathy, expression, interpersonal influence, collaboration, negotiation, initiative, self-control, perseverance, problem-solving, and looking forward.

According to Dr.Phyllis Machio, PEP Researcher, University of Nairobi, there have been considerable global improvements in women’s education. Yet, the share of women officially employed or looking for paid jobs remains low in many developing countries. Therefore, women are more likely than men to work in low-productivity sectors, informal jobs and less profitable businesses and to engage in unpaid care and domestic work.

“The gender-sensitive skills training intervention was designed to build trainees’ soft skills in terms of socio-emotional skills that would improve their ability to navigate interpersonal and social situations effectively, thus supporting their transition from school to work,” she noted.

According to the researchers, soft skills training is more beneficial, across both genders, to individuals who possess a high internal locus of control.

Internal locus of control is a psychological concept that refers to the belief that individuals have full control over the events happening in their lives. People with high internal locus of control tend to attribute their successes and failures to their abilities, efforts and choices rather than external factors. They mostly exhibit characteristics such as self-confidence, resilience, motivation, and more.

The soft skill training increased the probability of being employed among young women with high locus of control by over 10%. It also increased the probability of being employed among men with high locus control but the change registered was small.

Dr. Laura Barasa at the PEP meeting in Nairobi

“Generally, there was no big difference between those who were trained (treated) and those who did not get the training (controlled). The training seems not effective on its own but when combined with a high locus of control. Soft skills training is more beneficial among young women with high locus control than it is for young men,” Dr. Laura Barasa, PEP Researcher at Nairobi University.

Locus of control is widely considered to be a personality trait by psychologists. However, Dr. Barasa notes that it can be cultivated and nurtured in someone by fostering self-confidence. Soft skills training and having a high internal locus of control should start when someone is young.

“We need to raise the skills of parenting to raise our kids to have soft skills and high internal locus of control. Other than that, the education system could facilitate this with a curriculum that will not only embrace employability and communication skills but have an all-around model that will include factors such as bolstering confidence and helping young people be more motivated. We recommend that investment should be made in developing a curriculum that focuses on soft skills and also to look into ways of improving the internal focus on control of young people ” she added.

“Soft skills are key not only for the job market but also for day-to-day life. Hard skills can get you hired but soft skills can get you fired. Parenting is important since soft skills are taught at home and can be complemented in schools. We cannot wait for people to join college for soft skills training to start,” Grace Kaome, Manager, Human Resource and Administration, Federation of Kenya Employers.