Ideas & Debate

Well-designed vocational training key in creating employment for Kenya’s youth

Kenya has an upcoming demographic dividend, that is, in coming years, the country will have a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth, which will be driven mainly by changes in the age distribution of its population.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 60 per cent of Kenya’s population is currently under the age of 24. This large youth population presents us with a pool of human capital that could, given the right opportunities, be an engine for Kenya’s advancement.

However, it is unclear whether this young population will be able to catalyse Kenya’s growth given the current statistics: A United Nations Development Programme report released in 2013 states that greater than one million Kenyans aged between 20 and 29 are unemployed.

Another statistic from the Institute of Economic Affairs and Nation Newsplex reveals that 58 per cent of Kenyan children drop out of school before sitting their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam.

What becomes apparent when looking at the statistics is that at the core of attaining growth are two closely related issues — primarily, youth unemployment and underlying that, shortcomings in the education system that is meant to prepare people for work.


The magnitude of youth unemployment cannot be underestimated. Globally, more than 75 million young people are unemployed and three times that number are underemployed, that is, not utilised to their full potential or underpaid.

However, we do believe that youth unemployment can be solved-although its solution will require the concerted efforts and collaboration of all involved- from individuals to employers, governments and development partners.

Our research and work at McKinsey show any solution to youth unemployment will necessitate addressing foundational problems in vocational education by applying three key principles:

First, target employer demand. In making decisions around which professions or industries to train young people in, we should have a clear understanding of the employment landscape to see which jobs are available now or are likely to develop in the near future.

Within Kenya, some of the industries which will likely be a source of jobs are the financial services sector, retail, hospitality and manufacturing — non-exhaustive.

Too often, training programmes have failed to address the needs or demand of employers, leaving young people with qualifications that do not translate into a job with a liveable income.

Second, embed the correct mindsets into educational programmes. Having equipped students with technical skills that are essential to perform job functions in high opportunity sectors, we should not neglect the other two determinants of success which are often overlooked — emotional intelligence and behavioural patterns.

The people who succeed in life are not always those who achieved distinction in school but are usually a remarkable group of people who have grit and are ready to tackle adversity, commit time and energy and persist in developing a better future for themselves.

To mentally and emotionally prepare students for the dynamic and unforgivingly competitive job market, we need to embed the right mindsets — of growth and persistence — in our youth from the beginning.

Third, offer the right support and coaching. Whilst securing a job and having the right mindset are integral to success, we cannot underestimate the importance of receiving continued training and mentorship even after having completed school or entered the workplace.

Professional development is enhanced by constantly reflecting on where you are versus where you would like to be, and having someone — be it a coach or mentor — help you chart the steps towards that goal.

Continually providing support and coaching helps people succeed in jobs and puts them on a path towards continued growth.

Following these three simple principles in designing vocational education programmes will equip youth with the skills to successfully navigate the transition from education to the work-place and set them up for long and successful careers, which ultimately benefits the Kenyan economy.

A youth employment initiative which is modelled on these principles and is contributing to the reduction of youth unemployment not just in Kenya, but in four other countries globally is Generation.

Generation was conceived by the McKinsey Social Initiative, a global non-profit founded by McKinsey & Company in 2014, and funded by USAid.

It is an intensive four-six week training programme which simulates the workplace in its emphasis on practical versus theoretical training and places students in jobs on graduation.

At the end of 2016, Generation would have reached the important milestone of having trained 4,000 Kenyans and secured 91 per cent of them employment.

Generation offers an alternative avenue into formal employment for students who wouldn’t typically have a way into tertiary education — 55 per cent of participants are female, a lot of which are single mothers and 65 per cent with a KCSE mean grade of C and below.

In unlocking the economic opportunity for these youth, they are not only able to transform their own lives, but the results are amplified and extend to their families and society.

We encourage other education programmes to apply the principles outlined and hope that this approach to education finds widespread application.

If we invest in equipping our youth with an education that is highly relevant and applicable, we can place them in jobs with a promising trajectory for advancement and set Kenya up for future prosperity.

However, that prosperity is highly dependent on the upfront investments that we make today.

Jayaram is senior partner, McKinsey & Co and Sinaceur is partner at McKinsey & Co.