The Swiss non-profit organisation "WATER FOR WATER" (WfW) has been committed to the fair use of water resources in Mozambique, Zambia and Switzerland since 2012. Its focus is on promoting professional water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH) in structurally disadvantaged peri-urban areas as well as environmentally friendly water consumption and effective resource conservation. In all its efforts, the transfer of knowledge and skills through local organisations plays a central role in strengthening value chains and reducing dependencies.
In Zambia, WfW is not only dedicated to professional water infrastructure, but has also launched the "Skills Development Programme" to combat the high level of youth unemployment and address the lack of water and sanitation infrastructure from the personnel side as well. With this programme, WfW supports vocational training institutions and students, creates links with industry and water suppliers and is involved in national expert groups.
Richard Hajanika, Rejoice Mungalaba und Chela Peter (v.l.n.r) bekommen an einem Friday Workshop am LVTC praktisches Wissen von Justin Mbewe, Superintendant der Lusaka Water Supply & Sanitation Company vermittelt. (Bild: Yemba Chilambwe, WfW).
A path with hurdles
Although Zambia has sufficient water resources, many Zambians do not have access to clean water and adequate sanitary facilities. These problems are particularly severe in urban areas, where strong population growth is overburdening the municipal infrastructure. Therefore, Zambia has developed an ambitious "National Development Plan" that considers the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. As part of SDG 6, Zambia is pursuing, among other things, the goal of achieving equitable access to drinking water and improved sanitation by 2030. The path to this goal harbours a number of hurdles - but also opportunities.
"We recognised the importance of vocational training in the water sector early on and have been strengthening this sector in Zambia since 2013," says Tumba M. Mupango, Programme Manager for Skills Development at WATER FOR WATER (WfW) in Lusaka, Zambia. The vocational training programme has four specific objectives: Firstly, easily accessible training - including for women and low-income sub-groups in society. Secondly, a good learning environment with appropriate teaching materials. Thirdly, the promotion of practical training programmes and sustainable career paths and, fourthly, the networking of stakeholders and active management. For Mupango, one thing is clear: "We want our activities to empower learners and professionals so that they can contribute to reliable and safe water and sanitation systems in Zambia."
High demand for qualified specialists
Chola Mbilima is Chief Inspector of Finance and Trade Management at the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO). As an experienced expert in the water sector, she emphasises the need for a large pool of "highly skilled young water professionals of both genders to address the challenges in the water and sanitation sector effectively." She emphasises that SDG 6 cannot be achieved without improvements in vocational training in the water sector.
From a regulatory perspective, Mbilima sees two main challenges in improving vocational training in the water sector. Firstly, the gap between theory and practice: many vocational training centres teach content that is not in line with current industry practice. The integration of practical elements often fails due to outdated equipment. This is accompanied by a lack of adaptation to industry standards and a lack of practical experience among graduates. Secondly, she mentions gender inequality: Women are underrepresented in the water industry and are, as a result, often excluded from decision-making processes and other opportunities in the sector.
Reputable partners for practical training
Mbilima greatly appreciates the cooperation with WATER FOR WATER (WfW) and, in particular, WfW's participation in the Skills Advisory Group (SAG) - a national initiative of two ministries in which WfW acts in an advisory capacity and contributes its expertise. She emphasises the importance of WfW scholarships for female students, which help to overcome gender inequality. She also highlights the development of the internship program, which enables students to gain practical experience in the industry during their education.
Phyllis C. L. Kasonkomana is the Head of Development at the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA) and is responsible for ensuring the quality, evaluation and certification of all TEVET programmes, including water-related programmes. She shares similar concerns to Chola Mbilima, but points out an additional challenge: the inadequately trained VET teachers.
In this context, she emphasises the vital role of WATER FOR WATER (WfW). For example, as an expert in the further development of the curriculum, practical learning units and a concept for dual technical vocational training for water supply and sanitation, as well as in strengthening the capacities of the trainers. According to Kasonkomana, WfW has proven to be a "serious partner in vocational training in the water sector since 2013."
Vocational schools face a dilemma
Jonathan Mumbi is the Vice Principal of Lusaka Vocational and Technical College (LVTC). He states: "Water and sanitation programmes are relatively new compared to established disciplines such as electrical engineering or metalworking, which poses challenges both in terms of curriculum development and the availability of qualified teachers."
For Mumbi, however, there is another significant point: vocational training institutions are "profit-oriented organisations". They find themselves in the dilemma of fulfilling a public mandate with virtually no public support. They generate income through tuition fees, which are unaffordable for many young people. Mumbi says: "The biggest challenge in providing high-quality, widely accessible, practical training is a lack of money." As a vocational school, Mumbi sees the need to offer training programmes in water supply and sanitation because they "are essential for a developing country like Zambia." In order for this to work for vocational training institutions, they are dependent on the support of organisations such as WfW.
Closing gaps between theory and practice
Rosemary Chisengele is a student at LVTC. She is in her second year of the Water Supply and Sanitation Operations Course (WASSOP). She decided to do the course to increase her chances of getting a permanent job and because water is life.
She talks about all the challenges on a practical level and would like to see closer support for teachers and more practical courses and internships: "We need more practical training, because things are changing from day to day. Too often we are taught things that are already outdated." Chisengele describes herself as a "hard working lady"; students like her improve vocational training with their commitment and demands from below.
Mumbi, the school's vice headmaster, is confident. Also thanks to the support of WfW. On the one hand, the school benefits from financial support for school fees, infrastructure, tools and equipment and has grown in recent years. On the other hand, WfW has successfully networked the LVTC with industry players and other partner institutions, from which the school and its students have particularly benefited.
Industry entry without practical knowledge
Patrick Daka is Managing Director of Davies & Shirtliff, an African multinational company from Kenya and one of Zambia's largest suppliers of pumps, pipes and accessories for water supply. Unsurprisingly, Daka also notes "a gap between theoretical and practical training". Many graduates lack practical experience: "They come into the industry with no practical knowledge and have to start from zero."
Davies & Shirtliff is connected to WfW through the Friday Workshops, which the NPO initiated at LVTC in 2017 to bridge the gap between vocational training and industry. In these workshops, experts from the industry provide students with practical experience and insights into the latest technologies and materials in the industry. However, Daka also places responsibility on companies, which should work more proactively with educational institutions. He emphasises that practical experience and problem-solving skills are crucial for the quality of work in the water and energy industry.
Friday Workshop with LWSC LVTC. Photographer: Yemba Chilambwe
Diverse challenges with diverse opportunities
It becomes clear that the challenges in the field of vocational education and training in the water sector in Zambia are manifold: between theory and practice, between institutions in financial dilemmas and less privileged young people, between aspirations, reality and opportunities. From a multi-perspective, however, it also becomes clear that there are opportunities between these stories, especially in connecting actors and their perspectives and resources. This makes it possible to achieve sustainable goals and generate local added value.
For the NPO, which is active in three countries, one thing is clear: a holistic, local approach on the way to a fair and professionally managed water, sanitation and hygiene supply (WASH) is not possible without focussing on vocational training and its diverse stakeholders. The opportunities that arise from this cooperation and this focus are just as various. They range from fair access to vocational training across gender divides to the creation of reliable and safe water supply systems. Creating links between educational institutions and industry and promoting practical training formats enables learners to acquire the necessary skills to be prepared for the current demands of the labour market. These are key steps towards achieving the sustainability goals in the water sector and ensuring an equitable and reliable water supply for all Zambians.