Cynthia Mideva has given motivational talks in more than 16 schools countrywide from the time she enrolled for a teaching degree at Kenyatta University. She has also accepted short volunteer positions to teach in some of the schools.
Mideva who expects to graduate in July with a degree in English Literature says she purposely picked these engagements to position herself better in the job market. “I have gone to many schools in Nairobi, in Nyanza and at home in Vihiga County where I interacted with students and school administrations. I did this to give back to the society, but ended up getting good recommendations for prospective employers,” says Mideva.
Every time she volunteers at a school or gives motivational talks, she walks away with a recommendation letter. Mideva was also a constant visitor at her university’s centre for career support and placement.
This office was established at the institution to handle students’ queries concerning their career growth. Here, she was guided through her programme, allaying her fears that she was in a wrong course.
“I always wanted to study communications and was frustrated where I was slotted in for an education programme. But at the careers office at KU, I was reassured that I could still be a good communicator in the teaching profession. By the time I was leaving the university, I was sure that I had pursued the right course,” she says.
KU’s centre for career support also offered her employment preparedness tips; including job application tips, interview skills, and financial literacy skills for novices in employment. All the benefits notwithstanding, not many students take the office seriously, according to Mideva.
“The office ensures that you have all the necessary skills before you step into employment. It organises for teacher development forums for education students and invites experts who teach students how to position themselves better for job opportunities. We learnt how to carry ourselves at the first job and even how to plan for the first salary and how to handle money. It is a resource that many students, in my opinion, take for granted,” says Mideva.
Few students go out of their way to prepare themselves for the work environment. They then present themselves to recruiters devoid of the technical as well as soft skills that employers are looking for. Others who lack financial literacy waste their first salaries and develop poor financial behaviour as they grow in their careers.
A 2018 Skills Mismatch Report by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) indicated that 66 per cent of university graduates came ‘unprepared’ to take up jobs that they apply for. According to the survey, only 34 per cent were ‘very prepared’ for the positions.
As a result, recruiters complained that they were spending unwarranted resources, in terms of finances and time, to prepare new hires for work. On average, for instance, 68 per cent of the new employees take up to three months to do their job properly, according to the survey.
During this time, new recruits are introduced to basics such as handling customers and proper communication at the workplace. Some Sh20,000 is used per graduate in this process, according to the survey.
For six months after graduating with an accounting degree Multimedia University of Kenya in November 2017, Gideon Kipchumba never sent any job application.
The 26-year-old who now works at Barclays bank says he did not have any job application skills. “I used to face a challenge especially on communication and interpersonal relations. I had not also applied for jobs actively, therefore, I had very little experience in creating CVs and preparing for interviews,” says Gideon.
He would later join the bank’s ‘ReadytoWork’ programme that equips graduates with work preparedness skills. Those who successfully go through the programme are offered internship positions and even jobs.
Caroline Ndung’u, Marketing and Corporate relations Director at Barclays Bank, says graduates have wanting soft skills. “The gaps that we see during the interview process mostly have to do with soft skills. We have graduates who look good on paper, but cannot express themselves properly. They have a challenge bringing out the strengths that make them suitable for the job they are interviewing for,” says Ms Ndung’u.
According to Ndung’u, graduate jobseekers who do not position themselves well in the job market have a lot to lose in the highly competitive career field.
“Today’s youth have to contend with the fact that more than 50,000 people are graduating from our universities every year, all of whom are competing for limited opportunities. It is, therefore, important that one stands out during the interview process and importantly, once they start working,” she says.
Geoffrey Gitau, a medical and surgery graduate at the University of Nairobi, currently on internship at Nyeri County Referral Hospital, says the work environment is unfriendly. This even applies for medical students who are no longer guaranteed of jobs upon graduation.
“People who studied medicine in the past were assured of jobs but not today. I have a friend who hustled for two years after internship before she got her first medical job. Today, everyone has to go that extra mile to get a job,” says Gitau.
Recruiters say that preparedness for employment entails knowing the industry trends and positioning yourself well for recruiters.
Manpower Services Managing Director Francis Muhindi says a good number of job seekers do not take the time to know the organisation that they are interviewing for.
Muhindi has seen graduate jobseekers who lack basic knowledge about their fields, even as they go out looking for employment. “It is expected that graduates know their area specialisation. I have interviewed a media graduate before who couldn’t name the media outlets in Kenya,” says Muhindi.
Preparation for employment, Muhindi opines, is as basic as having a clear mental picture of the real world outside a student’s academic experience.
“Kenyan graduates are presently more aware of the tough employment dynamics. Most graduates expect to stay longer before they land their first jobs, but doesn’t help that a sizeable chunk give up on the job search so easily,” says Muhindi.
Lack proper job search skills
The recruiter says that most graduates and other job seekers lack proper job search skills.
“When looking for a job, they only look at newspapers and company websites. What many fail to account for is the fact t that not even ten per cent of all available jobs, at any particular time, are advertised. It is upon the jobseeker to look for the 90 per cent,” he says.
Muhindi says graduates err when they assume that taking an additional degree increases their chances of getting hired.
“It isn’t wrong to go for masters after you graduate with your first degree. However, an additional degree does not increase your chances of getting a job. What it does instead is make you even more frustrated when you fail to get hired even with many academic qualifications,” he says.
The Skills Mismatch Survey also showed that graduates spend vast resources to attain higher academic qualifications only to end up in low-cadre jobs that certificate and diploma holders can perform. Some of these jobs include cleaning and office messenger positions.
“A lot of money is being spent educating a master’s degree student who ends up doing a job that can be done by someone with lesser skills. As a nation, we are wasting a lot of resources in education,” FKE Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo said during the launch of the survey.
Muhindi says first-degree holders should first exhaust their employment options, including starting a business before they decide to go back to class.
Liberty Holdings Kenya General Manager, Anna Manyara says preparedness for work extends to financial literacy skills that help novices manage their income.
“Time is an important aspect in savings and investment and the earlier you start when you land your fist job, the better,” says Manyara.
The investments expert talks about two age mates who start saving Sh2,500 monthly but at different ages with a ten per cent annual compound interest. By the time they are 40, she says, the one who starts saving at age 25 will have accumulated Sh1.14 million while the one who starts saving at age 30 will have only Sh0.5 million.
EAGLE HR Consultants CEO, Patrick Mutisya, however, faults FKE findings, saying that no graduate leaves school unprepared for employment.
“Everyone graduate after three or so years of learning is usually ready to work unless they want to employ themselves or simply don’t want to work at all. It is only the employer who is not ready for the present-day graduate,” says Mutisya.
According to Mutisya, the fact that students make an effort of complete their studies according to their specific course requirement indicates that they are pre-disposed for employment in their specific fields.
Other students, according to the recruiter, go out of their way to engage in activities that add value to their degrees. Others take up volunteer positions while others start businesses in school. Still, other students complete additional courses to boost the demand of their degrees.
“Many students these days take CPA courses even though the qualification isn’t a requirement for entry level accountants. They do this to stand out among other accountants looking for jobs,” says Mutisya.
According to Mutisya, graduates are going out of their way to acquire professional certifications, which are not mandatory. “Professional certificates are like driving licenses. Your career progression does not rely on them, but you gamble in your career growth if you lack them. The fact that students are looking for them while in school shows how serious they are,” he says.
Mutisya has also interviewed fresh graduates who are already members of professional organisations. He blames recruiters who use outdated job description while scouting for new hire. “If you prepare wrong JDs, you definitely get the wrong people. Some employers still use JDs they used decades ago which do not respond to the current needs of the organisation,” he says.
Other employers, he says, fail to adjust to the preferences of millennials. “The graduates we have these days are more inclined to work away from the office and submit their assignments via mail. There is a need for employers to be more accommodating to this trend,” says Mutisya.