Universities are increasingly moving from being Ivory Towers where research is conducted in a societally detached manner into a rich nexus of research partnerships with relevant industries and organizations. This fact reigns true especially for Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology which prides itself in being the trendsetter in Higher Education, Research and Innovation. Industry partnership does not only fill the research gap but also play a vital role in ensuring the students are sufficiently equipped with hands-on skills that are in tandem with industry needs.
The University currently has several industry partners across various disciplines and areas. I recently interacted with one of these partners, Copy Cat Limited (CCL) on their areas of partnership with the Varsity, the results from this partnership so far and further future plans of engagement. Copy Cat Limited prides themselves in being the most connected IT experts in East Africa, but that is just a tip of the iceberg. I spoke with Rose Kogi, the company’s Human Resource Business Partner in charge of Talent Engagement & Management.
What have been the core areas of partnership between Copy Cat Ltd and JKUAT?
There have been mainly two core areas of partnership, which is Management Trainee program and Internship program. Our management trainee program started in 2013 and was informed by the need to have a seamless succession and transition in our company, and the strategy was to go out and engage graduate students. We looked into various Kenyan Universities and evaluated them and settled on JKUAT and Strathmore University to kick off the program. For JKUAT the first lot was picked in 2014.
My obvious next question is why JKUAT?
Well, in our opinion we felt JKUAT produces the best hands-on students and our key focus is to get people who can deliver. Implementation and practical work is especially crucial in our work and students from JKUAT have proved themselves in this area. So far we have not regretted. Our focus in JKUAT has mainly been on Engineering students, but of course potentially we can take on board students from other areas such as Computer Science.
What exactly does your management training entail?
It entails a very extensive training which takes one year. When they come on board they go through a rotation to get the feel of what the company is about. This enables them to understand the overview of the company for two months, after this they get placed in a department of their choice depending on their areas of focus, interest and expertise. From here they get real on-the job training and basically get involved in every operation of the company.
From your experience with JKUAT, has this partnership borne mutual positive returns?
Most definitely. There have been a lot of returns. Most important is that it has seen the creation of a long-term relationship with JKUAT management and students, which I believe is very important for both sides. We have been able to give students a lot of autonomy and even given employment opportunities. By extension this relationship has seen the positive boosting of corporate image for both Copy Cat and JKUAT. And of course the partnership has borne business opportunities for Copy Cat Ltd.
Would you say that there’s anything that sets JKUAT students apart in the workplace?
First I have to say I’m an alumna of JKUAT, and a proud one for that matter. One of the things I take pride in is their drive to learn. Most of the students we have had are hands-on and are very quick to learn. They have a general grasp of knowledge in the market/industry, and we’ve seen this especially in our interview phase of our recruitment process. This shows that besides academic knowledge, the University system takes keen focus in nurturing the students to become all-round and wholesome.
Out of ten how would you rank the delivery of JKUAT alumni and trainees in your workforce?
We have so many employees who studied in JKUAT, and in terms of rating I would give 9 out of 10, and before you ask whether I’m being biased because of our partnership or because I’m an alumna, let me say I’m simply speaking from a point of knowledge and experience. The remaining 1 maybe just a few areas where they need to perfect their art.
Are there any areas of potential partnerships with the University that the company has in mind?
There’s the Tech Expo, we’ve not participated before but I want to hope we’ll be able to get on board. We are also currently engaging the University about the Taifa Creative Space, as well as a career day where we can further engage students and the management.
Away from JKUAT and CCL, we’ve seen areas where employers complain that some University graduates are not fit for the job market, maybe for lack of required skills or the right attitude. What are your sentiments on this?
I think one of the challenges that we have had as industries and which we have been engaging the education sector on is the mismatch between the curriculum and the industry. You can attest that some of the things we learn in school are not practical in the workplace. But again positive attitude is very important for anyone who wants to get into the job market. You must show passion and the drive to learn, and one advice I can give graduates is that you have to set yourself apart in the job market. There are so many qualified people out there, so what unique thing do you have to offer?