Joyce Chekwel, 24, is an International Business degree graduate from Makerere University Business School who is currently pursuing a certificate course in Tailoring, Fashion and Design at Management Training and Advisory Centre (MTAC) in Kampala.
“Right from secondary school, I wanted to do a course in fashion because I loved beautiful clothes and fashion trends naturally,” she narrates.
However, because the education mindset in most families largely dictates that one should first get a degree, she had to first pursue a degree she never was really passionate about.
“When I told my mother what I wanted to study, she told me; ‘you will do that course after you have got a degree in business’. Indeed, I got the degree and here I am now studying what I love,” she says, adding that though sometimes our parents dictate what we should study, one should pursue their dreams.
“The best time of my day is when I am in class learning and working with fabrics. Having a vocational skill just enables you exercise your skill everywhere you are, even at home. You do not need big space for example to tailor your clothes,” she asserts.
However, Chekwel is not the only graduate who has realised the need for a vocational skill. Catherine Newumbe, 34, holds a Diploma in Law from Law Development Centre has also returned to school after several years to gain skills in cookery and bakery.
“I realised having a hands-on skill sells today and is the way to go. I had stopped working owing to the many responsibilities I had at home,” she shares. “I resigned from my job. But after spending a whole year at home, I looked around for what I could do, especially one that enabled me to be self-employed. I have a passion for cooking, so I thought, why not add more skill into this passion?” she narrates.
Newumbe further notes that the skills we acquire from our parents through the different chores at home are very minimal and not sufficient. “However, if we build on those skills, they are able to help us survive. For example, when I started this course, I realised that I had very little knowledge about cooking. I am getting much better and plan to start my own business after the course,” she says.
Enrolling for a vocational course can also be another way of enriching the skills one already has. Collins Kabalega, for example, holds a Diploma in Hotel Management from YMCA but is currently enriching his skills as a chef with a Certificate in Cookery and Bakery at MTAC.
“The most important reason I am doing this course is because I am mostly an Indian Chef and at Méstil Hotel where I work, I got challenges in preparing English dishes which I wanted to learn,” he explains. He adds that this is also one way of keeping himself relevant at his work place and a way of increasing his job security.
“The other beauty with vocational courses is that one can start earning from the skills they are being taught even before they complete school. For example, I am a chef, but I study at the same time. The skills I was missing, I am already gaining. In addition, these are employable skills so, if one wants to be employed, they can seek employment or be self-employed,” Kabalega explains.
For Olivia Mukanza, an artist with a Bachelor of Industrial and Fine Art from Makerere University, his decision to pursue a Certificate in Leather Works and Shoe Making was informed by his failure to get employment. “I found it hard to get employment as just an artist. It was then that I decided to study something with a more open market but still employing the skills I gained from my first course,” she shares.
Mukanza also admits that she has learned how to work with leather materials and the machines, how to handle leather but also, where to get the materials, more than if she had decided to self-train.
“Any young person should consider doing a vocational course because when you have a skill, you do not have to wait for someone to employ you. It opens up your mind to thinking more, and that is what we need,” she says.
As if to emphasise how important gaining these skills is, Patricia Tamale, 19, travelled thousands of miles from the US to come gain these skills. She currently pursuing a Certificate in Hair Dressing and Cosmetology at MTAC.
“I was born here, but went to the US when I was about five years old. I returned in November last year after 14 years to pursue a course in Hair Dressing. The main reason I decided on Uganda is because in the US, they mainly teach African American styles of hair dressing. I certainly wanted to learn more like braiding hair, plaiting pencil-cornrows and all the other African styles which I could not get studying in the US and return thereafter,” she explains.
Furthermore, Tamale notes that though hairdressing has a huge market in the US, the mistake people who go to look for jobs there do is leaving the skills here in Uganda, and travelling without any with a hope of finding jobs; which is wrong.
Vocational skills remain relevant to everyone regardless of their academic level. It, therefore, goes without saying that everyone should consider undertaking a vocational skill to remain relevant and expand your horizons.