During a few weeks in November, a group of young Kenyans competed in the fourth edition of the Africa Tech Challenge, a professional skills competition sponsored by AVIC International, a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China. More than 100 competitors showed off their carpentry, masonry and steelwork skills at the future site of the Global Trade Center in Nairobi. Their work was compensated and evaluated by AVIC executives and organizers who stood ready to reward the top performers with either construction jobs or civil engineering scholarships at prestigious universities in China.
Since 2014, AVIC has been working with various ministries and government agencies to offer work and educational opportunities through the Africa Tech Challenge. In Kenya, AVIC is dedicated to more than just aviation; this is a company that provides foreign direct investment in a variety of projects related to construction, electronics, civil engineering and software development. This competition aims to provide empowerment in a promising country at a time when the unemployment rate among young people in Kenya is greater than 20 percent.
Previous Africa Tech Challenge competitions have required competitors to prove their skills in machining, metal working, mobile software development and programming of computerized manufacturing equipment. The competitors are chosen from public universities and technical training schools; the students are paid competitive salaries as they show off their skills during on-the-job training sessions, and they have opportunities to earn scholarships, handsome cash prizes or a job at one of AVIC’s projects.
Although AVIC is primarily based in Kenya, the Africa Tech Challenge has crossed borders in the past. For the third edition of the Challenge in 2016, students from Ghana, Uganda and Zambia were invited to a lathing and programming competition held at the Technical University of Kenya campus in Nairobi. This particular challenge, which was themed around a “Made in Kenya” idea, focused on machining innovation. Aside from cash prizes, the winners of this challenge received scholarships to study engineering at Beihang University in Beijing.
Prior to the first edition of the Africa Tech Challenge, AVIC had been working with the Ministry of Education on a Technical and Vocational Education Training program across various public schools in Kenya; the idea was to promote some of the methodology applied by Chinese manufacturing firms when they need to recruit skilled workers. In the construction and civil engineering fields, AVIC expects to hire more skilled workers as it continues to develop major projects such as the UAP Towers and the Two Rivers Mall and shopping district, the largest of its kind in the East Africa region. AVIC plans to bid on more large-scale project across Kenya over the next few years.