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Supporting informal workers in Kenya

A SOS tutor shows Mary how to make quilts
A SOS tutor shows Mary how to make quilts

Up to 30% of the Kenyan population work in the informal sector, characterised as unreliable, low-income activities beyond the scope of legality. In an effort to improve the prospects for those working in the informal sector, SOS run specially-designed courses at the SOS Vocational Training Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

Informal work is primarily low-paid, irregular and unprotected by law. However, the sector plays an important role as it prevents many people who are unable to find formal employment from slipping into extreme poverty and enables them to support their families. Opened in 1985, the SOS Vocational Training Centre in Nairobi, Kenya trains nearly 200 men and women every year in a wide variety of vocational and business management skills to support them to make their informal enterprises more successful.

The SOS Vocational Training Centre runs both full and part-time courses in subjects including woodwork, carpentry and joinery, metalwork, electrical installation, catering, fashion and design, tailoring and metalwork. Many of the courses run on Saturdays to enable informal workers to attend, and the course content was designed in consultation with informal sector to ensure that it met their needs. "Instead of giving handouts", explains Fritz Bachlechner, the SOS Regional Technical Advisor, "we asked them what they needed to run their businesses better. Some have started businesses but don't have the skills, while some have skills but no entrepreneurship.” As well as being taught relevant skills by teachers who are experts in their field, the courses includes training in entrepreneurship skills, when the students learn about how to access investment for their business, book keeping, profit and loss, marketing and customer service. Students at VTC Nairobi, Kenya


After Samuel, 21, left school he managed to get work renting out a snooker table. He gets quite a few customers, but the work is poorly paid and insecure. Samuel's grandfather was a bicycle mechanic and as a child Samuel enjoyed helping him in his workshop. When he saw an advert in a national newspaper about the training courses on offer at the SOS Vocational Training Centre Nairobi, he enrolled on the Saturday course in mechanics and electrical installation. His accredited course will be complete in a year, after which Samuel hopes to go into partnership with other students on his course and open a garage.


Mary, 43, is a mother of five. For the last 17 years she has worked in the mailroom of a large research organisation based in Nairobi. However, her job is not secure and Mary worried about what would happen if she lost her job. After seeing the same advert as Samuel, Mary enrolled on the soft furnishing course run by the SOS Vocational Training Centre. She now attends the course every Saturday, where she is learning quilting and cushion making (see photo, top left), as well as business skills. She is grateful for the guidance the SOS tutors give her. "Now I know who to approach, where to put the business, who will be my customers, what their needs are and how I can give them good service", she explains. Mary is confident that with the advice she has been given and knowledge she has, she will be able to make her business a success "It will be hard work in order to succeed, but I'm not afraid. I'm wiser, bolder and better prepared than before."