When I got the chance to obtain a certificate and be formally recognized as a professional welder, I was eager to take up the opportunity. Before, I had no proof of the skills and experience I had gained from 25 years of learning informally on-the-job.
I never went to school or undertook training programmes to learn to weld. I also never finished high school. My father had to take me out of school because he had suffered a big financial loss and couldn’t afford to keep us all in school. You can imagine how depressing this was for me as a young boy, to miss out on an education while all my friends continued. But I had no one to blame really. It pained my father to remove me from school but there were younger siblings who had to start their education.
Although my father could not enrol me in a training institute, he decided to take me to a small warehouse in Tanga Region on the mainland of Tanzania where I would apprentice as a welder. I left home for the first time and spent two years learning my trade in Tanga.
After returning to Zanzibar I did not have enough skills to get a good job, but I had enough knowledge to work as an informal contract worker in small construction jobs. Once the contracts were finished I would go back to whatever I could find.
I learned a lot over those next five years, working on a variety of projects from residential homes to construction sites and garages. I realised l liked to work with vehicles such as trucks and buses, and I managed to get a full-time job with a government-owned agricultural project as an irrigation truck and machine repairman and welder. I have been working there ever since.
Then, in 2019, someone from the government told me about a new Recognition of Prior Learning programme. He urged me to send my application to the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) in Zanzibar so that I could obtain a certificate as a welder.
For me, it meant that I would finally be able to say that I am a professional welder. I knew I was a good welder and had learned from professionals from many countries such as Tanzania, Ghana and Canada. But I had no proof of the level of skills that I had.
The assessment process took about three days. We all had to report to the VTA centre and were assigned an assessor. My assessor had many questions about my work history, my skills and my day-to-day work. He came to my workplace to watch me as I worked, he also spoke to my employer and my supervisor. I was happy to know that the assessor was a welding trainer himself so he really knew what he was looking for.
I was then told to report back to the VTA centre with some other welders for a training course. This was the best part of the whole process for me. We were taught best practices and how to maintain good safety and health standards at work. This work can be very dangerous and some employers do not care about providing the right protective gear so it was very important for us to cover this information.
We were also taught basic bookkeeping, how to manage a team of workers and how to expand our businesses. I am not only employed but I also run my own small welding business, so I was very grateful for the business training we were given. After that, I was told that I would receive my certificate.
Receiving the certificate changed my life in two big ways. My salary was increased for the first time by 30 per cent very soon after. This was very encouraging because my employer had been increasing my responsibilities and tasks over the years. It was good to see the monetary reward for this.
Secondly, I started to really see the value of my skills. The questions that I was asked and the skills I had to show the assessor made me realise that I have over 25 years of experience in this field, and I have a lot to teach others as well, which is what I now want to do through my small business.
Over the past two years life in Zanzibar has become more difficult. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic months go by with no tourists, and there is much less money in circulation. Prices have gone up drastically and it is becoming more difficult for people to support their families. I have been very lucky to still have a job and a small welding business to support my family during this time.
In the next five years I hope to retire from my employment. I love what I do and wish to continue welding, I hope to expand my welding business and have more time to provide training for young people in my community.
There are so many young people who failed school and are just on the streets with no future plans. I believe learning a skill like welding or making things with their hands can improve their lives.
Firstly, I would tell them failing in school is not failing in life. For young people like me who’ve had to drop out of school due to financial problems at home, I would tell them about my experience. There are many opportunities to learn proper skills and now we also have this Recognition of Prior Learning programme that allows us to become certified professionals. Most of all, I would urge young people to never stop learning. Look at me, I am in my 50s yet I’m still learning.