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Speak to anyone on the streets of Nairobi and they will tell you they know of at least one skilled youth unable to get decent work. A report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2018 revealed that nine out of every ten unemployed Kenyans are 35 years and below. The 2019 Kenya Economic survey reports that 78,400 jobs were created in 2018 compared to 114,400 created in 2017. This decline in job creation has continued to be felt in 2019 adding to the crisis of youth unemployment.

The situation is no different on the global scene. A briefing on the world’s economic situation and prospects in 2019 by the United Nations states that young people are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to adults. It puts the global youth estimated the unemployment rate at 11.8 per cent, a situation not expected to change substantially in near future.

Kenya’s gross domestic product grew by 6.3 per cent last year despite it having the largest youth unemployment rates in the region. The continued emphasis on economic growth despite high unemployment numbers has left many a youth wondering where is the money all going. Their concerns reflect an unequal distribution of wealth in the country resulting in poor social development. Where is the growth if it is not trickling down to those who need it the most?

The expectation of growth as reported by the government comes with the assumption of employment creation more so for the growing number of graduates produced by universities in the country each year.

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To meet these expectations, the government has over the last few years invested billions in programmes, funds and different trainings to support the youth. Some of these are Kazi Kwa Vijana, Youth Enterprise Development Fund and the revamped National Youth Service. Thus far these initiatives set up by the government have resulted in short term effects. This is mainly due to their temporal nature and the long bureaucratic procedures for the application of the funds. The initiatives also encompass low wage seasonal jobs with no benefits, poor working conditions and little social protection which do not provide the intended beneficiaries with any means of securing their future as would salaried, pensionable employment provide.

The question arises, whose job is it anyway to provide access to employment? Many would argue that it is the responsibility of the government but is that really the case? To cater for all, the government should create a conducive environment for private sector, individuals and others to set up businesses thereby promoting entrepreneurship. Has this been the case?

Despite the World Bank’s 2020 index placing the country 56 out of 190 globally in the ease of doing business, investors still feel like they are getting a raw deal from the government. In a recent Senate round table workshop with the private sector, high and double taxation coupled with a lack of state support to the private sector were touted as some of the reasons leading investors away from the country resulting in job losses.

The informal sector which accounts for close to 80 per cent of total jobs also faces similar challenges. One way the government can boost productivity in this sector is by simplifying tax procedures, then the informal businesses will be roped into the tax base. On the other side of the coin, education levels and their impact on youth access to opportunities and jobs also play a part. Are youth taking the right courses in university? The continued emphasis on market driven courses in the country needs to change more so at the university level. Programmes offered should align to current and future market demands. 

A lot of concentration has been on business administration, humanities and the arts at the expense of science-oriented programmes creating a glut in one sector. A major challenge in our education process is that it does not train learners to embrace innovation, experimentation and entrepreneurial acumen.

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The focus should not only be on theoretical knowledge but also on equipping learners with practical knowledge and skills. This will enhance the personal and career development of the youth ensuring they are employable and skilled to create jobs for themselves.

- The writer is the Communication and Knowledge Management Officer, Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies in Nairobi.

2019 Kenya Economic survey Unemployment Skilled
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