WorldSkills Africa underlined the importance of skills development for refugees

The ILO and its partners supported a team of trainers and a refugee contestant to participate in this internationally-recognized skills competition, providing them with a powerful opportunity to learn from global talents and strengthen their networks.

News | 29 April 2022
Image - Jessy Inga Volonté, the only refugee contestant who managed to participate at WorldSkills Forum (first from left) ©ILO/Albert Okal
The WorldSkills Africa competition took place from 28 March to 2 April 2022 in Swakopmund, Namibia. For the first time in its history, along with the nine African nations, the competition included a category for refugee participants, setting a new milestone of inclusivity.

At the opening ceremony, Mr Nangolo Mbumba, Vice-President of Namibia, underlined the significance of including a refugee team, stating: “Some of us have tasted what it means to be a refugee. We should not question their participation. It is our responsibility to ensure that refugees should feel welcome, and they should have a chance to compete. Our country may have a next vice-president who has been a refugee.”

His encouraging words set the welcoming and hospitable tone for the regional event. The ILO and UNHCR, both supporting refugee and host communities on skills development through the PROSPECTS Partnership, led the selection and training of refugee candidates and trainers to participate in WorldSkills Africa. Both agencies are also members of the global TVET (technical and vocational education and training) and refugee coordination group, alongside Finn Church Aid (FCA) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). This group of organisations together supported the formation of the refugee team, including eight refugee contestants and eight trainers, to compete in Namibia.

Participation in this important regional event was also an opportunity to bring attention to the lack of access to quality training and skills development for refugees. “Research constantly indicates that refugees are a disadvantaged group in accessing skill development opportunities. Either host countries do not allocate sufficient resources, or some do not have the frameworks in place to include refugees in skills development programmes. Thus, forums like WorldSkills offer them an essential platform to showcase that refugees do have potential that can meet world standards if given the opportunity to do so,” said Mr Albert Okal, ILO PROSPECTS Regional Specialist on Skills and Employability
Contestants demonstrating their skills at WorldSkills Africa ©ILO/Albert Okal

A team of TVET trainers involved in the PROSPECTS TVET activities were supported by the ILO to accompany the refugee graduates and made effective use of the opportunity. After returning from the event, Mr Stephen Luswata, a restaurant service operations trainer supported by ILO PROSPECTS Uganda said: “As a food and beverage service trainer, I was able to meet and share professional skills and experiences with other key players from the trade from different countries. I could compare our professional practices in Uganda with international practices. I must say there is no other means Africa can use to offer international services unless we fully participate in such events. I am now an ambassador of International Restaurant Standards in my own institution back home and for Uganda generally.”

As a restaurant services expert, Mr Luswata was invited to be a judge in the competition and also mentored one of the trainees, Mr Mugerwa Hossama also from Uganda, participating in the event. Mr Hossama ended up winning bronze medal for Uganda in the restaurant operations category.
Stephen Luswata (L)with bronze medal winning contestant Mugerwa Hossama(R)at WorldSkills Africa ©ILO/Albert Okal

Afterwards, he said: “It was a great pleasure to represent my country at regional level. This helped boost my experience as an upcoming restaurateur. The competition allowed me to put my skills to the test, and I am glad that I managed to emerge among the winners. With my bronze medal, I am now ready to face the best performers at the global level competition in Shanghai, China.”

Unfortunately, the refugee contestants from the PROSPECTS countries faced more challenges than had been hoped to obtain travel documents for Namibia, in spite of the significant efforts by the ILO and UNHCR with national authorities. In the end, only Ms Jessy Inga Volonté from Kenya, supported by UNHCR, made it to the competition. “I was super excited to be part of the refugee team. The interesting and encouraging part is the inclusiveness this event contains, bringing onboard marginalized and displaced people which demonstrate unity and a clear commitment not to leave anyone behind,” said Jessy, who competed in the web technologies category.

“Both refugee participants and their trainers had prepared for this event for over six months, attending virtual workshops, mentorships, training and coaching from senior experts. However, obtaining travel documents for refugee contestants is far more complex than for other citizens and we are disappointed that not more refugee trainees were able to travel and compete,” said Stephen Opio, Chief Technical Advisor for ILO PROSPECTS in Uganda.
At WorldSkills Africa, more than 190 national experts from 12 African countries and 32 WorldSkills international experts from 21 countries participated. “This competition would have been a great exposure to the shortlisted refugee candidates. Events such as these improve student’s skills and the exposure strengthens their employability, which matters most for a refugee candidate,” added Mr Opio.

The PROSPECTS Partnership facilitates refugee inclusion in hosting communities by advocating for legal identity, extension of national social security measures and decent work opportunities through expanded access and capacities to participate in labour markets. “This event underlined the challenges facing refugee populations in terms of mobility. We need improved national and regional systems for facilitating access to travel, work and education for the forcibly displaced. Nonetheless, we have been able to bring back an immense amount of learning and new ideas from the competition. It will further help us improve our skills development interventions targeting host and refugee communities,” added Mr Okal.