Since President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that dealing with youth unemployment is the third pillar of his Big Four Agenda, little has been articulated regarding how that’ll be achieved.
If the Trends and Insights Africa (TIFA) December report is anything to go by then 86 per cent of the nearly 13 million unemployed working Kenyans are youth between the ages of 18-34 years.
Young adulthood between the ages of 18-25 provides the best window for most youths to gain human capital, which is the professional skills, attitudes and behavioural traits as well as social capital such as industry networks and professional stature needed to advance in their careers.
However what we are seeing in the country beside massive failure rates in national exams is a growing difficulty among the youths in accessing such career and workplace opportunities.
The introduction of the parallel degree programme in Kenya in the early 2000s saw a massive increase in university and college enrolment as a means of improving their odds of landing a job.
Unfortunately, for a variety of academic, personal, professional, and institutional reasons, including but not limited to financial constraints and wrong course choices many college-bound students do not enrol and those who do, don’t persist to completion and some drop out of school without any tertiary credentials.
Even for those who finish their courses, the gains earned from completing the degrees don’t always translate to better job prospects. The malfunctioning Kenyan economy is struggling to absorb the barely 700,000 graduates in the Kenyan labour market.
A casual survey of the youthful population in the five largest urban centres Nakuru, Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa and Eldoret paints the picture of a nation inundated with broken dreams and dashed hopes.
As a country we’ve embraced managerialism as an ideology that makes managerial roles seem far superior and more esteemed than the technical work which provide actual value.
This disincentivises the technical skills and lowers the number of youths willing to train as technicians and professionals for industrial work across the country.
The violation of employment rights, diminishing job opportunities, and the striking of the private sector in 10 of the 12 months of 2017 according to the Stanbic Private managers Index has further worsened an already crisis-point labour market.
As the time it takes to secure a job lengthens, more youths are falling out of the labour market and giving up on job search.
Besides fuelling general despondency and worsening the dependency among the different demographics this lower labour participation has the unintended consequence of lowering demand for goods and services.
Additionally, it robs of the nation critical talent that could have developed newer and more efficient products and services for the local and international markets.
We have so much social capital, human capital, talents and creative spirit wasting away in frustrations simply because we haven’t reorganised how we deploy human labour within the larger labour market systems.
Dealing with the collapse of the labour market for the youths occasioned by the flouting of employment laws, shrinking job opportunities, nepotism and a skewed education system will take a sustained, relentless, and multi-facetted approach.
First, it’ll take acknowledging the mess in the labour market. Two, it’ll take reviewing the impact of a slanted import versus export balance.
Thirdly it’ll take an honest review of the enforcement of our labour laws and policies. Lastly, it’ll mean questioning how we organise the provision of good, services, human capital and meritocracy.
Darius Okolla, Nairobi.