Youth online jobs plan now on track, says CS Mucheru


ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru with his Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs counterpart Sicily Kariuki after launching Ajira Digital, an online employment programme, at KCB Leadership Centre in Karen on November 24, 2016. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A State-backed project aimed at training up to up to a million youth a year for freelance online jobs is back on track after a stutter due to lack of funds, ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Secretary Joe Mucheru has said.

The digital skills training programme dubbed Ajira Initiative, was slowed down by cash woes, attaining only 18 percent of its target, after the State reallocated its budget to other projects.

The Ajira programme was launched in 2017 to equip youth with skills for freelance online work in a bid to cut high unemployment levels.

Data by the ICT ministry shows that only 55,766 youth were trained in three years through June 2020 out of the 310,000 that were targeted, a performance rate of 17.99 percent.

The ministry has blamed the gaping underperformance on a 75 percent cut on the budget, without disclosing the amount allocated for the initially state-funded programme.

Official data published by the Treasury shows the ministry was issued with nearly Sh14.9 billion total expenditure in two years through June 2020, a 49.27 percent cut from original total budget of Sh29.36 billion.

“Even with that reduction we got much more through the president's effort with the MasterCard Foundation and Ajiri is full steam ahead,” Mr Mucheru said.

MasterCard Foundation came on board in June 2019, committing Sh30 billion under Young Africa Works in Kenya programme targeting to support five million young Kenyans to access dignified and fulfilling digital and digitally-enabled work in five years.

The onboarding of MasterCard and other private actors transformed Ajira programme to a public-private sector initiative.

Young Kenyans aged 20-34 are the hardest hit by unemployment compared to those above 35 years in an economic setting that is plagued by job cuts and hiring freezes on the back of sluggish corporate sales.

The Ajira initiative seeks to impart skills on the youth to help them secure temporary online work such as software development and transcription services in a rapidly evolving global gig economy.

The programme involves hiring mentors to offer training and providing free internet connectivity and work spaces through the constituency innovation hubs, largely funded by National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NG-CDF).

Some 320 innovation hubs were set up between July 2017 and June 2020, the ICT and Youth Affairs ministry says in the progress report, falling short of 870 centres targeted in the period by 63.22 percent.

“(The CIH) project slowed down by requirement for MPs to utilise NG-CDF to put in place infrastructure before ministry provides the bandwidth,” the ministry says in the progress report.

The report says 189 of the technology centres were established in the year ended June 2020 after a slow start that saw only 11 hubs set up in the first year through June 2019 before rising to 180 centres in the year that followed.

Some 25,000 youth were trained and mentored in first two years through June 2019 before plunging to just 5,766 persons in the 12-month period thereafter.

Buoyed by higher internet penetration, supported by rising use of smartphones, Kenya has set sights on becoming a tech hub for Africa, providing job opportunities for its growing skilled and innovative youth.