Ideas & Debate

Kenya must go beyond odd jobs to fix rising youth unemployment

Youth wait for work
Youth wait for work deployment under the National Hygiene Programme in Eastleigh, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Youth unemployment has risen to alarming levels in Kenya. In fact, eight out of every 10 unemployed persons are youthful.

The Strategic Plan 2018-2022 prepared by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection reveals that the sector needs to address the high levels of unemployment, especially amongst the youth.

About 85 percent of the unemployed are aged below 35. The largest unemployment rate is recorded in the age group 20–24 years at 19.2 percent!

Yet every year, up to 800,000 young adults join the already crowded labour market from various institutions of learning.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that Kenyans aged 15-34 years are 17 million while those that are 14 years and below are 18 million.


But despite having a youthful population, this segment of the population is often left out in key policy decision-making processes that have a momentous effect on their present and future livelihoods.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once observed that very few governments think about youth unemployment when drawing their national plans.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani , in his maiden Budget, allocated only Sh12.6 billion to projects directly targeting the youth.

A total of Sh2.2 billion went to the Youth Empowerment Project; Sh400 million to the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) and Sh 10 billion to the Kazi Mtaani Programme targeting unemployed youth in the major cities and urban settlements.

This allocation accounted for less than one percent of the ShSh3.2 trillion Budget.

There is no debate about the importance of the measures and projects targeting the youth, either past or present, if well designed, implemented and evaluated. But most of them merely act as stop-gap measures in the short run.

Kenya is today unrivalled in terms of available skilled manpower in the East African region. So we need to think beyond fumigation, storm water drainage, cleaning of markets and informal settlements as a strategic solution to youth unemployment.

In dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the youth in the country have stood up to be counted by demonstrating their capability, ability and wiliness to re-write a fresh chapter in the Fourth Industrial Revolution which has ushered in a new era of economic thinking and disruption.

Kenya is a haven of great young innovators! The creation of ventilators by university students; smart gloves concept with flex sensors; solar-powered roofing tiles; gas-tracking devices; solar-powered light system to safeguard livestock from wildlife in rural areas and the innovative hand-washing machines that use foot pedals to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are examples of some great home-grown recent innovations.

Admittedly, youth unemployment is not just a big challenge in Kenya. According to the Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the continuing decline in young people’s engagement in the labour market reflects not only the increasing enrolment in education but also highlights the substantial numbers of young people who are not in employment, education or training.

As a country, we need to think global and act local so that our skilled youth can be inspired and supported even as we project more youth and unemployment challenges by the dawn of the next decade.

So the next few years are very critical to see us successfully walk through Vision 2030 which aims to transform our country into a newly industrialised, middle-income economy.

In this respect, we need to increase resources geared toward empowering the youth by government, donor agencies, private sector and even philanthropists. Employers must also provide more opportunities for internships, apprenticeships, on-the-job-training and mentorship.

Mr Ochieng is a communications strategy adviser.