Behind the dirty blue gate just off Kangundo Road, young men and women work their hands every day in adjacent workshops. There are those who make baby wear, while others operate machines that produce wooden and leather products.
Nothing unusual, until you talk to Victor Karua, the founder of Vikrut Prerequisites Ltd, the company that runs this beehive. Vikrut, named from the first three letters of his name and his wife Ruth, operates a rare model of business: it trains young people in different technical and vocational skills and, in fact, pays while they learn.
Vikrut specializes in training of the youth in a number of fields including: tailoring & machine operation; carpentry & woodwork; welding & fabrication; leather work; cabros (pavers) and other installations.
Victor says he began the organization to help solve the unemployment crisis in the country, now at over 40%. Either, there are too many graduates chasing fewer white-collar jobs or millions of youth who dropped off at various points along the education chain towards university roaming the streets looking for any job.
“We target those who don’t qualify to join university. Remember only 6% of those who start primary school make it to university, leaving 94% to join smaller colleges.”
With so many youth missing opportunities in mainstream colleges, Victor saw an opportunity to help provide skills to young people and make some money in the process.
His model is simple: get young people looking for skills, train them and have them work to pay for their own training and upkeep, which ranges between Sh6, 000 and Sh8, 000.
Students are trained on the job and end up producing products that are sold through various contracts Vikrut has with different retailers and suppliers.
Victor targets youth aged between 14 and 24, and only those with passion and ‘most teachable’ attitude make it to the Vikrut centre. The youth are trained in tailoring and textile printing, woodwork, leather and even making of cabro paving blocks.
After training, some are retained to continue working for Vikrut while other companies often poach others. Most affected is the tailoring section that regularly losses staff to textile firms operating at the Export Processing Zones that lure them with better pay.
“We are using modern methods of hands-on training,” he said. “Job training produces competent professionals who can make our economy grow faster and that’s why they are taken up very fast by other companies. This is the training that will end up in making of a car in Kenya. The old theoretical methods are outdated.”
Victor started 30 years ago with about Sh1000 he saved in college while studying for a diploma in art and design. Using the little cash, he bought materials and made baby feeders by himself, which he sold to shop keepers.
Soon many retailers noticed his products and orders started coming in. But there was a not-so-small problem: he could not get people with the right skills in tailoring. Frustrated, he brought in his wife to help but that was not enough. He was forced to start training his own tailors, mostly ladies.
Later, he introduced woodwork for young men and masonry. “On-job training enabled us to make this project sustainable as the trainers still make things that we sell,” he says. “It’s hard to train someone without cash as most of them come from very disadvantaged backgrounds.”
He said the so-called informal sector has evolved from Jua Kali to Jua Cool and now it has joined the formal industry when it comes to economic activities.
He has transformed the desperation of youth for jobs into a sustainable multi-million enterprise that is empowering hundreds of school leavers every year and making him rich.
Vikrut Prerequisites sets a very good example of micro-enterprise that has definitely succeeded to become medium (SME). “One does not require hefty capital to start up an enterprise. Actually, the fundamental requirement is an idea and entrepreneurship, then other requirements follow,” says Victor.
On this day, Victor was not a very happy man. The tailoring section was virtually empty after losing a huge portion of 137 tailors he had trained in 2016 to EPZ firms. This requires him to go to the slums of Kayole and Kariobangi and recruit more trainees to replace them.
It’s a bittersweet situation that he has become used to: give hope to guys who eventually dump you for greener pastures. “The perception has been that vocational training is for failures. Now tell me, do you see failures here,” he says, pointing to a lady using machines to shape up wooden cooking spoons, who has only basic education but is one of the machine’s operators in the wood section.
With this success, Vikrut is expanding the organization by acquiring high tech textile machines for making sweaters and socks.