Introduction and Incidence of Unemployment in Kenya
The unemployment problem is global and presents a particularly difficult labor market experience for youth. In Africa especially, unemployment and underemployment continue to be major obstacles to the full utilization of human resources despite relatively strong growth in the region over the last decade.
Youth(15 –34 year olds),who form 35% of the Kenyan population,have the highest unemployment rate of 67%. Over one million young people enter into the labour market annually without any skills some having either dropped out of school or completed school and not enrolled in any college. A further 155,000 join the labour market annually after completing training in tertialy education or at the university.Furthermore, some of those absorbed in the labour market have jobs that do not match their qualifications and personal development goals.A total of over 1.3 million new employment places have to be created annually to meet this demand. It is also noted that, the skills acquired by the college and university graduates often do not meet the expectation of employers. There is therefore urgent need for the Government to strengthen and scale up successful measures targeting quality skill development and employment creation for the youth.
Youth and labour market in Kenya
The Kenyan labour market is one that is characterized by inadequate employment opportunities against a large and growing population of unemployed people especially the youth.It is dual in nature, presenting a small formal sector alongside a large informal sector.Over the 30% of those on wage employment are casuals. Youth with primary education are in formal employment (4%),informal employment (54%), students (14%) and unemployed (14%). Those with secondary education are in: formal employment (12%), informal employment (40%), students (26%), and unemployed (15%). While those with tertiary education are in: formal employment (31%), informal employment (9%), and unemployed (8%)
Fig.11 Thousands Youths jobless. Fig.12 Launch of National Youth Service Fig.13 Youth picking coffee.
Significantly, youth are engaged in the informal sector, which is largely unregulated and workers are subjected to low earnings and long working hours, without any formal contract. Suffering under a slow-growing economy, youth, whether well educated or uneducated, have increasingly turned to crime and violence, serving as watu wa mkono (handymen) to the ruling elite and intimidating and harassing their political opponents.
Fig.8 Youth in construction sites. Fig.9 Kenya Juakali sector source of income. Fi.10 Agricultural produce in the market.
Difficulties contributing to youth unemployment.
Youth face many challenges while seeking for employment. These include few available employment opportunities against a fast growing pool of employment seekers; lack of requisite skills sought by industry due to mismatch of acquired skills and industry expectation; and poor access to information on available opportunities. Other measures are: gender and cultural biases; ethnicity and corruption; unfavorable geographical distribution of jobs; and limited career guidance. Job seekers cite limited financial resources, lack of relevant skills and experience as major obstacles.
However, to reverse this trend, Kenya must see its growing youth population as an opportunity, not a liability. Young Kenyans constitute 36% of the population, estimated to be about 39 million people. Forbes Africa recently released a list of Africa’s 30 best entrepreneurs under 30. Notably, 7 out of the 30 entrepreneurs are Kenyan. The high number of Kenyans on the Forbes Africa list is representative of the energy, talent, and creativity that abound in the country.If Kenya wants to remain competitive, it must develop a curriculum that caters to the demands of its burgeoning labor market. In addition to a curriculum redesign, the government should partner with the private sector to provide young Kenyans with skills in information and communication technologies.
The Kenyan labour market is characterized by a number of challenges:-
i.High youth unemployment.
The respective unemployment rates for the 15-35 and 15-24 age groups based on 2009 Census data are 10.4 per cent and 14.2 per cent.
ii.High levels of under-emplyment.
iii.High level of emplyment in the informal sector.
Informality is widespread across Kenya's regions but is more pronounced in rural areasThe bulk of the employed labour force is in smallholder agriculture and the rapidly growing informal sector. However,most of the informal economy jobs are vulnerable,i.e. the jobs lack the ‘collective aspects’ that makeup decent work. These aspects include: productive work, workplace security, better prospects forpersonal development, social protection, andsocial integration; and (iv) Kenya’s labour forcehas relatively low education attainment compared to middle-income countries. About 65 per centof the population has only primary or incompletesecondary education, while another 10 per cent has never attended school. Given the above labourmarket challenges, government interventions to address unemployment should also give attention toskills development and training.
As simply stated, no country can remain prosperous and stable without investing in its youth. Kenya must realize that there can be no long-term security and development without opportunities for youth. There is an urgent need to tackle the worsening unemployment among the growing youth population as it threatens social cohesion, political stability, and economic growth. In particular, the government must do more and join hands with civil society and private sector to provide conditions where young entrepreneurs can prosper.
The unemployment situation in Kenya is exacerbated by the shrinking economy amidst political instability and pervasive income inequality. Fundamentally, the problem requires properly planned, well-structured, and broad-based programmes—and so far the government seems to be tinkering at the superficial level without a long-term, comprehensive plan. Accelerating economic growth is central to creating employment opportunities for youth, as well as providing market-driven education and training and life skills. In order to make a smooth transition, young people require decent work so as to actively contribute to economic and political development and stability.
Measures for job creation
The Government of Kenya has put in place measures to create jobs for youth. In the long-term the Government is putting massive investment in infrastructure development to lower cost of business, attract investors, grow the economy and create jobs in the formal sector. In the short-and medium-term the GOK in partnership with the private sector has invested in enhancing internships for college leavers. Other measures are integration of ICT in Technical and vocational skills development(TVET); programmes for employing youth in the labour-intensive construction industry; and provision of low cost credit to youth.
Graduate unemployment is not a problem unique to Kenya. It is a global phenomenon, however, in Kenya, it is a tragedy. In the present day knowledge based economies that have emerged following globalization and information technology revolution, universities are expected to play a pivotal role by generating, harnessing and transmitting knowledge for sustainable development and improved standard of living . The lack of available employment for the best and the brightest is a symptom of what is wrong at a macro level within the Kenyan economy.
Fig. Jobless Graduates. Fig. Graduates protesting for lack of jobs. Fig. NGO's hold demonstrations.
Manifestations of Graduate Unemployment, Mismatch in labour market demand and supply
There is a general lack of appropriate skills and knowledge among new recruits in the workplace. To compound this, there is a perception that the technical and ICT skills learned in schools are outdated and do not match the state-of-the-art technologies in use at the workplace. This has been a problem mainly with students of Computer Sciences and also engineering courses. This has forced students to do other courses like Microsoft Certification on top of their University Degrees in Computer Studies to make them be relevant to the workplace or rather be accepted by employers. Most employers perceive the engineering students to have been taught mainly theoretical work and don’t have the hands-on in the practical aspects which is critical. Another challenge is that most are only taught fabrication and repairs of machinery from the developed countries, which by the way, become obsolete by the time they reach Africa.
Inadequate labour market information
One reason for the mismatch between demand and supply lies in the lack of appropriate and updated labour market information. As mentioned earlier, there also appears to be a discrepancy between labour market demand and supply. The Universities do not have a comprehensive database of what the market demands so as to gauge students? admissions to the market demands. What has been happening is a case of the „golden rush?, for example when there is demand for scientists, the emphasis is centred on this to the detriment of the humanities. When everyone goes for the sciences, there comes a tragedy when the country needs teachers for humanities as happened in Kenya in the recent past when there were few (if any) students graduating to teach subjects like English, History, Religious Studies and even Social Education and Ethics. Currently, these are selling like hot cake in Kenya
Discrepancies between Graduate expectations versus market reality
A major element pointed out by many employers is the unrealistic expectations and demands of young employees, especially given their lack of experience and skills.
Lack of work experience
In general, the divide between school and the world of work is imposed upon students by the educational systems, in conformation to policies and pedagogical approaches in each country. Similarly, social and cultural norms play a role in whether young people are exposed to work environments.
Lack of life skills training
Another common complaint with the graduates that make them not appealing to the employers is that of the lack of skills and experiences of the young people. Curricular contents in educational institutions stress core competencies in reading, writing and arithmetic– and core subjects. Life skills such as social skills, interpersonal relationships, motivation, critical thinking, communication, creativity, language skills and so on are usually not taught within the formal setting of the school system, yet these are really valued and are at the centre stage during interviews.
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