Eng. Nabendi is the man in charge of the Kenya Institute of Highway and Building Technology(KIHBT), a middle level training institute ensuring constant supply of technicians and technologists for the Infrastructure sector. He is a mechanical engineer by profession, holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nairobi, has undergone training specifically in the area of automotive and mechanical plant and also holds an M.A in planning and project management. The Kenya Engineer Team had a chat with him on the role of KIHBT in the industry.
As the director of KIHBT what are your specific roles?
Like any other head of an institution, I’m in charge of the day to day running of this institution and ensuring that programs prescribed under its mandate are implemented.
Discussing the mandate of KIHBT
KIHBT dates back to colonial days before independence. It started as low level skills training center for Africans. Such skills included plumbing, plant operators, mechanics e.t.c. With time, in the runup to independence, KIHBT took on an expanded scope of training to include supervisory courses to prepare Kenyans to take up certain roles in government after independence.
What are some of the courses KIHBT is currently offering?
We now have general technical training courses and capacity building courses and this is where our mandate is. We are the training arm of the ministry, specifically the state department of infrastructure with the mandate of seeing to capacity building especially in the infrastructure sector. Most of our courses are biased towards the roads subsector but we are capable of handling also the building sub-sector. The other courses which I referred to as technical training courses include Higher National Diploma, Diploma and craft courses in infrastructure related areas like architecture, Civil Engineering, highways and buildings technology.
What role does KIHBT play in the Engineering sector?
For any country to develop you need these middle level skills and KIHBT rose to be involved largely in training after the country went the direction of making every institution a university and we subsequently lost traction on the development of middle level manpower in the fields of technology. KIHBT came up to fill that gap because Engineers need technicians and technologists yet there reached a time when there was an imbalance between professional engineers on one side and technologists and technicians on the other. KIHBT has been filling this gap appropriately with a lot of emphasis on practical skills in whatever area of concern. Remember we used to train staff to take up jobs directly within the ministry so we have continued with this approach to training.
What sort of recognition has KIHBT received so far?
We have earned a lot of interest from development partners and other global institutions. One is JICA which we partner with to a great extent. There is also Africa Development Bank through the ministry of Education. There is also World Bank which we have entered into an arrangement with on a project called East African Skills Transformation for Regional Integration Project(EASTRIP).
What are some of the highway building technologies being trained at KIHBT?
We have a number of them. We call them alternative road paving technologies. They include; the mould cell paving technology, the Low volume seal road construction which is used in the 10,000km road construction program which was initiated by the government . The program aims to construct 2,000km of roads every year bringing the total to 10,000km at the end of five years. We also have Do-nou technology which is Japanese technology. We also have cobblestone paving technology. So we have programs we run for skills in this particular paving technologies which we pass on to other organizations we partner with including the county governments.
What is the difference between KIHBT and other TVET institutions in the country?
The major difference is that KIHBT was and is training for the job. Our graduates are meant to go right into the job without need for any further programs or internships. The other Institutions were mainly knowledge based even though they are being transformed now. So you find that a graduate from these other institutions will require additional training in order to pick up a job.
Along the lines, those TVET institutions have discovered the gap and are trying to bridge it. We of course do not exist in a vacuum, we are registered by the ministry of education and also offer KNEC examinations. So they know how we offer our courses and right now we are working together with them to see how we can harmonize the training of TVET institutions. Other than that the other difference would be that while they are properly founded as learning institutions, we at KIHBT only exist by an executive order.
What are the challenges and or any advantages that come with existence by an executive order?
KIHBT through an executive. The first challenge obviously is that this can be revoked any time. But there are also challenges in regards to what we can or cannot execute as an institution. Secondly we do not have a title deed for this land as it is under the government which may be a target for land grabbers.
We cannot contract various arrangements as KIHBT so we have to take it to the state department. This legal status limits us from contracting directly with international donors and agencies who have an interest in KIHBT.
There are so many who wish to interact with KIHBT in terms of development but they cannot because we are not legally independent. We exist through an executive order so when there is a change of government we always sit back and wait. We know the Ministry will likely be there or something like it but now in the definition of roles and structures will KIHBT there? You have to wait until you see it. No international donor wants to deal with a body like that.
Talk to us about KIHBT becoming a Regional Flagship TVET Institute Center
Our competency based training approach has not started now. It dates way back in line with the foundation objectives of the institute. This recognition to be a Regional Flagship TVET institution is coming through the ministry of education itself. This is through the project I mentioned earlier, EASTRIP. It is through this project that KIHBT will be transformed into a regional flagship TVET Institute. KIHBT competitively earned it against other technical training institutions. We have been considered for this position alongside other 15 institutions in East Africa. Our specific area is Highways technology so it will be a Regional Flagship TVET institute in highways technology.
Can the importance of roads on a country’s economy be overstated?
Well maintained roads are very important. In fact our day to day livelihoods depend on good roads either directly or indirectly. It is an enabler of so many government development agendas. Like the big 4, roads infrastructure may not have been mentioned directly but it is a very key enabler of those four pieces of agenda outlined in there and we can only do that by having the manpower and skills to develop and maintain those roads.
What is your working relationship with other players in the Transport industry?
To competently train our trainees, there is need to work together with the industry. If you limit the course to the classroom you will not attain the required skills the industry requires. So we involve the industry in our training. I will specifically single out the road subsector. As you know we are a division under the state department of infrastructure and squarely where the roads subsector fall.
All the road agencies who train together are our sister divisions so we are within the industry. So we link up with the agencies and the contractors because we also train contractors for example for a program called performance based contracting for roads maintenance.
Performance based contracting for roads maintenance, why is this so important?
In the past, the approach of maintaining roads was that of waiting for it to deteriorate for the required intervention measures to be taken. That would involve, tendering, valuations e.t.c but remember the road has already deteriorated and is getting worse by the day. So this new approach is such that the contractor is continuously present on the road. So we do not wait until the road is terrible, problems are fixed as and when they occur.
What is the implication, on Engineering as an industry, of transforming TVET institutions into Universities?
That is where we got it wrong. Instead of building capacities of middle level colleges we converted them into universities. So we denied the industry the required manpower to drive development in kenya. When you look at the countries who have developed tremendously between 1960s and now, they strengthened the middle level training colleges among other things. Because graduates of the middle level colleges are the hands on people, the operatives of industries.
What kind of support do you receive from the government?
The government is supporting us very well with the scarce available resources. Through the same government we also access donor assistance but obviously we need more.
What would you highlight as challenges faced by Engineers in Kenya?
I’m myself a professionally qualified engineer registered by both IEK and EBK. I think the major challenge is the mentorship opportunities that graduates require after college. Initially these opportunities were very few and the graduate wouldn’t even know what procedure to follow to become a professional engineer. But EBK has realized this and with the help of funding from the government now EBK is running internship programs to young engineers coming out of colleges.
What are some of the expected growth areas in the Engineering industry in Kenya?
Technology is ever changing. The largest expanding area is definitely the use of technology with fields like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. So apart from the actual hard engineering we used to do there is need to incorporate that with such knowledge.
Your vision for KIHBT?
Of course we need to take it beyond what it is now. It is now localized but we intend to have it as a regional institute and reach out to neighboring countries in a bigger way.