giugno 21, 2015

Struggling to stay afloat

Struggling to stay afloat

At the heart of the city of Nairobi a flock of people sits outside the popular Hilton Hotel. The Jobless Corner – as it has been christened – hosts many people holding brown A4 envelopes, wearing frustrated faces and loosened ties noosed around shirt collars, which have definitely seen better days. Among them, there is Dan Mutuku, who is still job seeking, three years after graduation.

 

It is the image of Kenya’s long-winding unemployment, which currently stands at 40 per cent. To add salt to injury, little adjustment has been made since the 2014 Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA)announcement that the region’s graduates’employability rates were wanting. In their report,  51 per centof Kenyas graduates were found to be half-baked, unfit for jobsand lacking job market skills– virtually unemployable

 

In order to address unemployment numbers, graduate employability, described as the capacity developed by higher education alumni to obtain and/or create work, is something Kenya’s public tertiary institutions would need to deal with.

 

‘Many of us would agree that across Kenya we have lots of people who have the skills. Where we find this gap now is in the competence – where competence speaks to the intersection of a skill and the task at hand,’Ivan Lumala, Chief Technology Officer for the Microsoft 4Afrika, recently told.

 

The truth, however, is that many of the institutions of higher learning could do better in matching the courses with labour markets needs.

 

‘I took media studies in a leading institution but upon graduation, had never handled a professional camera. For our assignments, the studio assistants issued us with home video camcorders and the lecturer barely made it to half the classes,’claimed Mutuku, who would jump at the opportunity to intern at a media house.

 

Employers, on the other hand, seem to have little patience with new graduates.

Firms incur a lot of upfront costs when they hire fresh, inexperienced graduates or interns. Besides paying income tax, firms have to invest in their training,said Jacqueline Mugo, Federation of Kenyan Employers (FKE)Executive Director. In response, the government announced a tax rebate incentive to employers who engage at least 10 fresh graduates for six to 12 months. This strategy aims at pushing employers to make the development of a skilled human resource easier.

 

Libby Ndambo is one among the lucky few who have been able to get a placement in her field of specialization. ‘It is a good experience to put into practice what you learned at school,”she said, while hoping to have her internship converted into a job.

 

Contrariwise, in order to raise money enough to pay the rent for his bedsitter, Mark Kivuitu, a logistics graduate, was forced to accept a peanut-paying sales job at a printing firm in the city’s industrial area.After months of searching for a job in my field and getting no replies, I resolved to whatever I could find. Every logistics vacancy I come across in the papers is looking for a candidate with years of experience. How am I supposed to get that experience if they do not even  give me a first chance in my area of specialization?’he asked.

 

Moreover, when combined with the recent discoveries of oil and rare earth minerals, and with an ambitious Vision 2030 plan, the country’s human resource challenge spans even further. In fact, as African recruitment and temporary work agencies report, sectors that need specific technical qualifications (like the extractive industries, logistics, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, manufacturing in general and agri-business) are those where it is very difficult to find candidates with tertiary education.

 

Kenya’s employability experts must go back to the lecture halls. In 2008, for instance, the Ethiopian government introduced a policy designed to shift the balance of subjects in all its public universities. The directive moved the focus away from the humanities and towards the sciences and technology, on a 70:30 basis. The strategy was supported by an assessment that graduates of medicine, engineering and technology generally had better employment opportunities inside and outside the country than graduates in the social sciences and, to some extent, the natural sciences.

 

When educators become more deliberate about the quality of the education they offer in relation to the market demands, they will offer better guidance to students who will not be disappointed by their degrees upon graduation.

 

Properly developed linkages with employers to develop market-driven courses and on-job learning opportunities may be what Kenya needs to spin the unemployment numbers around.

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About Njeri Kihang’ah-Chege

Njeri Kihang’ah-Chege

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