There is a dangerously insidious belief that is making rounds within the corridors of our job market that career success is only found within executive boardrooms and polished offices. In this belief system, success is measured by how fast we move up the corporate ladder, and how big our corner offices are.
Successful people are depicted as men and women in sharp suits plopped down on high back leather seats with their arms resting on polished mahogany desks and their fingers typing paper work and emails ending with ‘Warm Regards’.
The conventional archetype of the office personality is celebrated and is associated with prestige and status, while those among us who wear hard hats, overalls, boots and reflective vests and work in industries are perceived as unschooled.
Our preferred work environment is in a large enterprise, perhaps in one of the urbane locations in the city, where the floors are polished and the atmosphere is serene, with work cubicles, fixed hours and an air of bureaucracy, as opposed to industries where technical and pragmatic skills apply, where we have the opportunity to work with tools and machines as opposed to keyboards and screens.
Addressing unemployment crisis
This perception has made the youth shun jobs that have the potential of changing their lives because apparently, these are not ‘real jobs’. Hence many pragmatic jobs in the manufacturing sector are considered unworthy, even though this sector has the potential for solving the unemployment crisis we currently face.
In actuality, the manufacturing sector is a fundamental pillar of the Big Four agenda and indeed the bedrock of any economy. For this sector to achieve its overall goal of increasing its contribution to the GDP from 9.2 per cent to 15 per cent then perhaps, we need to begin with a change in mindset about the status and nature of jobs related to this sector.
First, our schools need to emphasize the importance of hands-on approaches to solving problems and should subsequently inculcate pro-industry skill development in its curriculum. Gradually, the skill gap between the manufacturing sector and the learning institutions should be bridged, and the youth equipped with the required skills that will enable them to be fit-for-purpose.
The government should fast track the implementation of policies that ensure the youth are adequately trained for jobs in the manufacturing sector. World class training institutes should be developed, properly equipped and turned into dream destinations for youth seeking higher education. The private sector should come up with initiatives that provide on-job training to the youth as they are absorbed into the job market.
Second, we as a society should change our collective mindset about the nature of technical jobs. The realization of the immense potential that the manufacturing sector has in changing the lives of many young people should spark an awakening that the youth can shed off suits and ties and put on overalls, hard hats, boots and reflective vests and still be important players and decision makers in matters that affect the economic health of the country.
What to do...
With this awakening, the youth should be encouraged to use their technical skills to drive the rest of the nation through tough terrains that has characterised our journey to economic prosperity.
Ultimately, the status of jobs that require actual utilisation of pragmatic skills should be enhanced and marketed to the youth as healthy alternatives to corporate jobs that are now scarce. Our aspirations as youth therefore, should not only be focused on getting corner offices or moving up the corporate ladder, but should be geared towards gaining the power to be active participants to the economic progress of our nation.
And if we can do this, and at the same time achieve job satisfaction, then perhaps we should re-emphasize the importance of this paradigm shift.
I picture a country where young graduates no longer have to be anxious when they are thrust into an unforgiving and demanding job market; a country where no young person has to grapple with the fear of an uncertain tomorrow for come what may, they know that he has the required skills to assist him navigate through the job market.
The potential of the youth will only be unlocked if they are allowed to explore for and discover opportunities, and for them to be able to do this, they need the right skills, the right environment and a push in the right direction.
Mr Mokamba is a Communication Consultant in Nairobi