A few weeks ago, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released the annual Economic Survey, which indicated fewer jobs were created in 2018 than in 2017.
In 2018, 840,600 new jobs were created; the figure was 897,000 in 2017.
As usual, the informal sector dominated in job creation, creating 83.6 percent of all jobs. The Economic Survey also revealed that the total number of self-employed and unpaid family workers rose from 139,400 in 2017 to 152,200 people in 2018.
These statistics point to three job related challenges in Kenya. The first is that last year fewer jobs were created, despite the fact that there are about 500,000 new entrants in the job market each year, let alone those already in the job market but unemployed and job-seeking.
In a year where gross domestic product (GDP) growth was stronger than the previous year, why was job creation so low, particularly formal job creation?
Secondly, the survey pointed to the continued trend in the informal sector dominating job creation.
But due to the lack of investment in informal businesses in terms of physical premises, access to finance, access to relevant technology, increased market access and skill updating, the quality of jobs created is low.
Jobs in the informal sector are often seasonal, and do not come with the secure wages, job security, health and safety standards and benefits of formal jobs.
As a result the lived job experience of most Kenyans is low quality. For example, informal sector manufacturing sites and markets often lack basics such as reasonable sanitation facilities, access to electricity and adequate/safe physical structures, let alone access to the specialised facilities required for their specific sectors.
Finally, is the issue of involuntary self-employment and unpaid work. The story is often told of the young university student whom, after graduating, spends a few years looking for a job and seeing none in sight, decides to start a business activity to make an income.
In a country where there is no government social security net for the unemployed, most Kenyans end up starting some type of entrepreneurial activity to survive.
But if you were to ask many, they are involuntarily self-employed. Many want a job, but the limited availability of jobs forces most in self-employment, or even worse, unpaid work.
There is a trend in Kenya and much of Africa, of formal companies, with reasonable budgets, offering to pay people, especially the youth, in what they call ‘exposure’.
The companies argue that the exposure that Kenyan jobseekers get in presenting their skills at their event, is sufficient payment. And because many are desperate, and looking for a break into a stable job, especially in the formal sector, they accept ‘payment in exposure’, even for years.
This is blatant exploitation. If a company uses the talents and skills of Kenyans, especially young Kenyans, as part of their activity, they should pay for it and stop paying people via ‘exposure’. You can’t eat or pay your bills with exposure.
An environment where the demand for jobs, especially formal jobs, outstrips supply, creates conditions where exploitation runs rife.
It is important that the challenges related to job creation and quality elucidated above, are not exploited but rather provide impetus for responsible and just behaviour.