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On Building Skills (Part 2)

The previous post looked into the importance of growing your personal skills in order to close the gap between where you are right now and where you want to be in the future.

What frustrates me about this topic is how universities are supposed to graduate you with the skills required for employment, and yet that’s not always the case. One argument you might hear is that technology is advancing at too high a rate for universities to catch up.

But let’s look at the bright side. The skills gap crisis provides an opportunity for businesses to emerge around filling this gap. Moringa School and Spire Education in Nairobi are such companies. Moringa trains students in software development skills while Spire Education’s trainings are more focused on other skills necessary for industry.

Then there are other businesses that recognize the whole higher educational system could be bypassed especially for students who can’t even afford to get in. Habari Kibra is an example in Kenya while Missionu is one in the US.

Habari Kibra is a for-profit social enterprise seed-funded by The Somo Project. Located in the slums of Kibera, this startup trains youth between 15 and 24 years of age in Analytical Journalism; a part of journalism that extensively uses data analysis.

Because I am who I am, I had to find Michelle and ask about the story behind Habari Kibra. Why Kibera?

Kibera’s reputation is not exactly the best in Nairobi. It’s stereotyped as a political hotspot. It’s also the largest urban slum in Africa located within walking distance of the road that’s the heart of Nariobi’s vibrant tech startup culture…for reference, imagine a densely-populated slum behind Silicon Valley.

But working in slums is Michelle’s little obsession.

After an internship that took her to Kibera, she realized the misrepresentation of the slum in the media. Recognizing the untapped source of human potential, the startup came about to empower Kibera kids to tell their own stories via different mediums. The first cohort of students just started this February 2017, two on full scholarships (175 USD) while others are paid for by their parents, but as the startup grows they hope to gen erate income through selling stories so all students can be on scholarships.

On the other hand, Missionu is a one-year program higher education program where students go through an immersive learning experience with hands on experience on Data Analysis and Business Intelligence (their first major). The curriculum is informed by companies in the industry and students graduate with a portfolio of work.

But the idea of Habari Kibra and Missionu made me wonder if we’re moving back to the apprenticeship model of learning new skills. In the past, if you wanted to be a baker, you spent time learning with a master baker. The downside of this is if the market suddenly decided it was going to cut out all breads and cakes from its diet, you were out of a job.

So the factory model of education came to standardize the process. But for some reason, the emphasis on theory superseded the practical and you can have engineers who graduate from college unable to install their own washing machines.

But you might read this and say, okay, the system is the system. The skills gap exists. But I’ve already gotten a job. I’m in the middle of my career. I don’t really have to think about all this skills issue anymore….

Sorry to burst your bubble, honey.

You still do.

Personal growth is an inherent human need. Some people are miserable in their jobs because they’re not growing. They’ve been doing the same thing for the last 5 years and maybe their title changes and their pay changes, but they’ve literally been doing the same thing day in day out.

Adding new skills to your repertoire

And think about it, you might be the most perfect employee for a certain company, following all the rules to the letter but what happens if the company fires you?

Actually, what happens if the entire market collapses like the oil industry did when prices went down?

Not only would you be out of a job…half your network would also be out of a job so if you were thinking of leveraging them for a new position, think again.

I guess the question you really need to ask yourself is, “How am I taking control of my own career?”

Work takes up 40 hours of your week and it’s really sad to be stuck in a place where you get neither fulfillment nor value from what you do. Additionally, relying on a single employer is the biggest mistake our parents’ generation made. And it was the one mistake I was going to make if I had listened to everyone 7 years ago.

Interesting enough, the other day I was going through my blog posts from 2010 and I discovered my “modified” CV as a result of working in a rigid corporation for 2 years.


Of course, for those who remember the story, 2 months later I had an emotional breakdown and quit to go back to grad school.

So if I were talking to the 2010 me, I would ask myself;

-What contribution do you really want to make to the world? What legacy do you want to leave behind? This connects to the concept of purpose.

-Recognize what skills you already have and what skills you might need to get you closer to what you want to do.

-Work on getting new skills through side projects.

-Build your portfolio.

-Find a mentor who can help you build a deliberate practice.

Most importantly, get out of your head and do something. Most people get stuck here. They dilly-dally in their head, thinking it would be cool to do this or that without actually doing anything.

Most of the time they imagine they need to free so much of their calendar for their new projects, but even if you spend one hour per week, you can make more progress than the person who does nothing.

I would love to go into details but since this post is getting too long, until the next time….

Published inEducationPersonal Development