The recent Labour Day celebrations took me back to my business studies classes, specifically on the four factors of production – land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship. These factors are essential resources needed to produce goods and services – they are the building blocks of the economy.

According to the Principles of the economy by the University of Minesota, labor refers to human effort that can be applied to produce goods and services.

Whereas the celebrations recognize the country’s workers for their commitment to growing our economy, I am reminded of the need for Kenya to create productive jobs for all. Productive jobs yield sufficient returns to workers, allowing them and their dependants a level of consumption above the poverty level, according to the International Labour Organization.

This is what the manufacturing sector offers. Primarily, the sector is the guaranteed provider of productive, sustainable jobs. Manufacturing has the ability to create new jobs as well as grow existing ones through forward and backward linkages, to ‘feed’ other sectors of the economy.

The growth of productive jobs in manufacturing means that many people will be able to support their dependents and live quality lives with access to basic amenities such as healthcare, education, clean water, and food.

The Manufacturing Manifesto by Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) highlights the need to secure the country’s growth that creates jobs for Kenyans. Unfortunately, Kenya’s manufacturing sector is faced with a double conundrum – while the nominal value of output is growing, the sectoral contribution to the overall GDP is falling. Secondly, the share of formal employment in the manufacturing sector is stagnant.

Growing the quantum of manufacturing jobs is important because it provides an avenue for decent wages in addition to ensuring that labor productivity is raised. Granted that the Kenyan economy has sufficient labor reserves, the priority for the manufacturing sector and the country converge on expanding jobs in the sector.

We cannot speak of job creation without increasing women’s participation in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as manufacturing.

According to a Women in Manufacturing Report in Kenya, 2020, companies in the manufacturing sector are predominantly male-owned and staffed across all subsectors. The number of young women in manufacturing is even lower.

This is attributed to the lack of capital finance, appropriate business development services, and the absence of specialized professional and technical human resources, which are slowing the growth of women in manufacturing, and hampering their participation. Additionally, biases and stereotypes, and gender-neutral laws and policies hinder the participation of women in the sector. On the other hand, some women-owned businesses are stuck in the informal economy and are unable to formalize for sustainability.

When it comes to the growth of industry, it is apparent that women’s role is invaluable. Their participation does not only increase their agency as individuals in the economic development of any country but also, encourages the proliferation of other women into starting businesses or monetizing their talents.

Increasing participation of women in manufacturing calls for a deliberate effort to review specific laws that affect the manufacturing sector through a gender lens and create guidelines for gender-responsive implementation. On the other hand, STEM awareness campaigns aimed at girls and young women shall encourage them to take up STEM subjects and join TVET or another skills-based course. Such skills are essential to address the opportunities and challenges to meet the new demands of changing economies and new technologies in the context of globalization.

Public policy dialogue that is integrative, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of women in manufacturing is also paramount. The Association continues to advocate for company policies that encourage women’s participation in the industry. KAM has partnered with link-minded organizations to drive Menstrual Health Management and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at manufacturing firms.

We are all invested in increasing the quality of life for all citizens in the country, but we must apply measures that are sustainable and guarantee long-term benefits for our country. Productive jobs have a critical role to play in this.

Phyllis Wakiaga is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network  Kenya Chapter Board Chair


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