“If I can be a helper, one day I be a boss”–A case study of informal apprenticeship in Lusaka

Resource type
“If I can be a helper, one day I be a boss”–A case study of informal apprenticeship in Lusaka
Despite recent high levels of economic growth, many young people in Zambia are trapped by poverty, unemployment or underemployment, and lack of access to skills development opportunities. Vocational training institutions cannot accommodate the vast numbers of school leavers every year, and often charge fees that are prohibitive to young people from poorer families. Young people remain significantly overrepresented in Zambia’s unemployment statistics. For those that do manage to secure work, it is predominantly in the informal economy, which currently accommodates over 90 of employed Zambians. Zambia faces a clear challenge to translate the economic gains of the past few years into improved livelihood conditions and decent work outcomes. With over 46 per cent of the population being under the age of 15, there is an urgent need for programs that provide young people in particular with skills development and employment opportunities. In this climate, informal apprenticeships may offer young people access to both affordable training and future employment. Informal apprenticeship, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO), is a written or oral training agreement under which a master craftsperson (MC) provides an apprentice (a young person) with training in all skills relevant to a trade. An apprentice gains tacit skills by working alongside a master craftsperson in a micro or small enterprise in the informal economy. Informal apprenticeships are anchored in the norms and traditions of a society, which shape the obligations and incentives for MCs to train others, and for apprentices to seek this kind of training. Costs and benefits are shared between the apprentice and master craftsperson (ILO, 2012). This study seeks to identify the norms and characteristics of informal apprenticeship in Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka. The study aims to provide guidance on how informal apprenticeships in Zambia can be supported and strengthened within the ILO’s mandate to improve the quality of apprenticeships within the informal economy. The study also aims to contribute to ILO’s body of knowledge on informal apprenticeship, describing both the local specificities of informal apprenticeship in urban Zambia, and how the training relates to ILO’s broader findings on informal apprenticeship in Africa. This study found that training within the informal economy is widely undertaken in the Lusaka region. However, the informal institutional framework for apprenticeships in Lusaka’s informal economy is currently less well established, compared to informal apprenticeships in West Africa. Written contracts were found to be non-existent, and verbal training agreements were considerably undefined. There is no specific term used for apprentices within the informal economy – young people join businesses as othandiza (helpers), but this term may apply both to those in an apprenticeship role, and casual workers brought in for temporary work. This study also determined a variety of training arrangements within the informal economy including fluid models of group-based learning, whereby a young person may learn from several experienced craftspeople in a ‘cluster’ of selfemployed operators. Despite these issues, vast numbers of Zambian young people still gain skills through working and learning in informal economy enterprises. The majority of apprentices reported that they join businesses with the key objective of acquiring all relevant trade skills - training within an informal enterprise was also found to be the primary source of skills development for MCs. While the lack of clear norms surrounding informal apprenticeship may be seen as problematic, many MCs and apprentices felt that the flexibility of terms supported, rather than hindered the apprentice - for instance, by the apprentice being able to progress quickly through the learning process. Incentive and obligation operate as strong binding mechanisms for both MCs and apprentices to complete the training in the absence of fixed institutional frameworks. Furthermore, the fluid nature of Zambian informal apprenticeships may mean that any future targeted interventions may be incorporated more easily. There is currently an enabling institutional environment for upgrading informal apprenticeship in Zambia. With the 2011 election of the Patriotic Front (PF) party to government, there is a renewed focus on the issues of youth, job creation, skills training, self-employment opportunities and the quality of jobs. The PF government has stated that they seek to involve youths in national development by ‘expanding educational facilities and vocational training to absorb all school leavers’, ‘collaborating with industry to provide learnership/apprenticeship practical training’, and ‘facilitating access to finance and to markets’ for young people (The Patriotic Front, 2011). Considering informal apprenticeship as a mode of vocational training in Zambia would clearly support government’s aim of creating a vocational training system capable of absorbing all school leavers. Recognition of informal training is further supported by reforms in TEVET policy, which call for a greater focus on training within and for the informal sector, and seek to diversify the modes in which training is delivered. Key interventions are required to upgrade informal apprenticeship to a robust mode of vocational training leading to gainful and decent employment for young people in Zambia. This report argues that TEVET policy needs to become more responsive to the informal economy, with the Apprenticeship Act revitalized, trade testing promoted more effectively, and informally acquired skills recognized. The quality of training needs to be improved, such as through providing MCs with skills development opportunities, introducing competency assessment measures, and strengthening training agreements. Decent work outcomes also need to be strengthened through supporting trade associations, providing greater access to finance for MCs and graduating apprentices, improving health and safety outcomes, and creating greater links between the formal and informal training and employment sectors.
Ryan, S. (2015). “If I can be a helper, one day I be a boss”–A case study of informal apprenticeship in Lusaka.
Cited by