Skill gaps among graduates worsen job shortage crisis

Pwani University College students at a graduation ceremony in 2011. Unemployment is more pronounced among those aged below 25 years. FILE
Pwani University College students at a graduation ceremony in 2011. Unemployment is more pronounced among those aged below 25 years. FILE 

A report by Results for Development Institute (R4D) showing that most graduates from universities were uncompetitive in the job market due to gaps in their training brought to the forefront the predicament many Kenyan youths find themselves in.

Despite getting themselves degrees, most of them have to tarmac for up to 18 months before getting a decent job. Some have opted for jobs in which they are over-qualified.

The report by the Washington based institution notes that the theoretical knowledge gained in tertiary institutions was not adequate for graduates to find jobs and stay ahead in their careers.

The unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 40 per cent, of this population 70 per cent are youths. According to the R4D study, 30 per cent of Kenyans aged between 20 and 24 are unable to get employment.

The UNDP’s 2013 report on the youth employment challenge in Kenya says that while the youth represent two thirds of the population of working age people, many face hardships caused by unemployment.

According to the report unemployment is more pronounced for those aged below 25 with rates getting closer to 10 per cent. 

A different study by a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research shows a considerable change in the country’s graduate labour market over the years.

The report, titled Graduate Unemployment and Employability in Kenya, published by the International Journal of Social Science Tomorrow (ISSJT) focuses on transforming the country’s university education to conform with dynamic market demands while drawing lessons from other African countries.

According to the study, there is a mismatch in labour market demand and supply where universities are producing graduates lacking appropriate skills and knowledge needed in the workplace.

“There is a perception that the technical and ICT skills learned in schools are out-dated and do not match the state of the-art-technologies used at the workplace,” the report reads in part.

This is attributed to the fact that many universities do not have a comprehensive database of what the market demands.

While many graduates excel in reading, writing and arithmetic competencies stressed in institutions, they do not have social skills, critical thinking, and communication and language skills to progress in their careers.

However Mr David Owiro, a programme officer with the Institute of Economic Affairs, had a different opinion.

“If you look at labour market needs and the skills that graduates have acquired, you realise that they are able to perform the tasks they are required to do in a work environment. They do not need retraining but rather orientation on job delivery and maybe some interpersonal skills,” he said.

The situational analysis of unemployment in Kenya undertaken by the National Economic and Social Council points to high cost of labour, skills mismatch due to poor dissemination of labour market information, and low economic growth as some of the underlying causes of the problem.

Job creation

As a result, many workers engaged in jobs that do not match their competencies and their earnings are unable to sustain them. The report also calls for improved access and relevance of education and training to include soft skills.

While identifying the economy’s inability to absorb a sizeable proportion of the labour force as a main challenge, the report calls for reduction of the cost of doing business to improve the county’s competitiveness.

It also says that keeping political and other macroeconomic risks at a bare minimum can help accelerate and sustain high economic growth rates.

The Kenya Economic Survey 2013 records a 5.5 per cent increase in the labour market with 659,400 new jobs created. Job creation in the formal sector however declined from 74,200 jobs in 2011 to 68,000 last year, while the informal sector created an additional 591,400 jobs.

Most of the jobs in the formal sector were created in building and construction, information and communication, education and health sectors.

The World Bank’s mid-year analysis of the economy projects considerable growth for the next two years. The economy is expected to grow by 5.7 per cent by the end of 2013 and by six per cent in 2014.

In order to maintain high growth rates, the report recommends an improvement in the business and regulatory environment as well as continued investment in infrastructure and human capital.

“The challenge for Kenya is to engineer policies to boost productivity growth and foster job creation. The best way to achieve this is to maintain macroeconomic stability, to develop a business environment that promotes investment and job creation, and to increase the stock of physical and human capital,” the report says.

The World Bank advises that if the 10 per cent annual economy growth rate is to be achieved by 2030, the government needs to be more inclusive.

“As the economy has not generated enough modern jobs for the burgeoning youth population, and as poverty levels are still at high levels, significant proportion of Kenyans with limited employability are being squeezed into vulnerable, insecure, low paying jobs, mostly in the informal sector or subsistence agriculture” cautions the report.

The main challenge in tackling unemployment, according to Mr Owiro, is lack of updated data as most of the recent surveys date back to 2005.

“While the economy has been growing at an average rate of five per cent in recent years, there has been little growth in its ability to absorb the labour force. A large number of people are employed in the informal sector where incomes are so slow that they are considered the working poor,” he added

Focus on more labour-intensive sectors to increase investments, he said, would likely improve the current productivity and promote more absorption of the workforce.

The move by MP Oyugi Magwanga to introduce a bill to cushion graduates from unemployment by paying them a monthly stipend of Sh15,000 has been viewed in some quarters as a much needed reprieve.

If passed, unemployed graduates aged between 18 and 35 years will be paid until they secure jobs. Sceptics question the sustainability of the scheme given the large number of university graduates.

Graduate unemployment is not unique to Kenya. The Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A Generation at Risk report released by the International Labour Organisation notes that the job crisis among the youth has been aggravated by the slow recovery from the global recession.

Global youth unemployment rate is estimated at 12.6 per cent, affecting about 73 million people.

“Increasing numbers of youth are now turning to available part-time jobs or find themselves stuck in temporary employment,” the report says.

Unemployment rates among skilled and unskilled youth in Africa vary from country to country. In South Africa, the report says, the unemployment rate in 2011 for persons with ter­tiary education was 8.8 per cent, compared with 29 per cent for those with primary education.

In Tanzania, the unemployment rate for those with secondary education and above has been consistently higher than the rate for those with lower level of education.

The unemployment rate in Togo for youth aged between 15 and 19 years last year was 7.5 per cent, while one in every four young people with post-secondary education could not secure employment.