No country for young people: How old guard hangs on to State jobs

51 per cent of people in the workforce are aged between 15 and 34 years. [iStockphoto]

Diversity and inclusion are huge not just in private sector circles but also in government.

Just like their private sector counterparts, State corporations and other government agencies have been eager to showcase their diversity across various areas.

Whether it is shouting about the opportunities, including tenders set aside for marginalised groups to easing access to their premises by people living with disabilities, perhaps this could be just a catchphrase if their operations are looked at from the lens of jobs they offer to the youth. 

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (Knbs), 51 per cent of people in the workforce are aged between 15 and 34 years.

Those between 25 and 34 years formed the bulk of the workers and accounted for a third of the people who reported to have worked for pay, according to Knbs data. 

“Majority of the employed population were of age 30 - 34 years at 16.3 per cent followed by those of age 25 - 29 at 15.9 per cent,” said the State statistician.

Within many State entities, the average age of employees is well above this. Past data by the Public Service Commission  (PSC) showed that a majority of the civil servants are in their final working years, with little effort made to replace them, a pointer that some of the state agencies could be headed for a crisis. 

Many of these entities have insisted on the need to balance recruiting new skills while retaining experienced senior personnel. 

Among the State entities grappling with an ageing workforce include the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), where 62 per cent of the employees are over 50 years old.

Out of the 1,093 employees that NSSF has, 675 are over 50 years of age, with 19 of them being over 60 years, according to disclosures in NSSF’s corporate strategic plan for 2023 to 2027.

The Fund, which is tasked with mobilising savings among Kenyans for use when they eventually retire, does not have employees younger than 29 years, with only 38 of its staff members aged below 34. This would mean that just three per cent of the staff are in the youth bracket. This is in contrast to the reality of today’s workforce, where 51 per cent of people in employment are aged between 15 and 34, according to Knbs. 

NSSF noted that an analysis of the number of staff and distribution by age illustrates an ageing workforce, hence the need for succession planning and replacement.

Kenya Power in 2022 revealed that the average age for its employees is 46 years - a scenario the company says poses a major “crisis in the next 10 years.”

“At an average age of 46 years for permanent employees, the company will be in crisis in the next 10 years,” the company had said at the time, adding that it needed to recruit new key staff, mostly in the technical areas.

The firm appears to have made some progress and today says that the bulk of its workforce is aged between 35 and 44 years.

According to a report that the electricity retailer submitted to the Senate in April, out of its 10,515 employees, 4,165 or 40 per cent of them are aged between 35 and 44 years.

Still, the firm’s workforce has a substantial number of old guards, with another 40 per cent being aged between 45 and 64 years. Employees between 21 and 34 years only account for 20 per cent of the entire workforce. 

A similar scenario is seen at the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra), where only seven employees are aged 29 years and below, while 72 per cent of the 190 employees at the energy industry regulator are over 35 years

The crisis of an ageing workforce is also seen in Nairobi City County, which is also grappling with an ageing workforce.

The county government has on several occasions attempted to rejuvenate the old workforce inherited from the Nairobi City Council but with little success. The problem was identified nearly a decade ago but not much has been achieved in hiring a younger workforce.

The Nairobi City County Public Service Board has in the past warned that without a policy on human resource succession plan, the problem will only get worse.

This was after an audit showed about three-quarters of City Hall workers were more than 50 years old.

“The last recruitment was done almost 20 years ago. Those people are now over 45 years old and if we don’t have a succession plan in terms of human resource, then the county government will soon grind to a halt,” City Hall noted.

The county government in November last year embarked on a recruitment drive to bring on board younger drivers and plant operators as it sought to replace the ageing staff in the mobility and works sector.

“The recruitment exercise will enable the county to have its own drivers and plant operators. The recruitment is timely, we have an aged workforce, and most of our current drivers will be over 55 years old in the next few years and will be retiring. Had we failed to recruit drivers now we would have a lot of problems in the future,” said the county government when it recruited the younger personnel last year. 

The Senate recently queried a decision by the Kenya School Of Government (KSG) to retain 15 staff aged above 60 years, including two aged 71 and 75 years old respectively. KSG had responded that the senior staff hold immense knowledge needed to train government employees across all cadres.

PSC in 2017 drew a succession planning management strategy seeking to address challenges such as an ageing workforce and skills flight and brain drain, particularly in the professional and technical areas.

The main objective of the strategy was to initiate a proactive planning process by developing a pool of potential successors and encouraging a culture that supports knowledge transfer and employee development.

But not much has been realised from this, with many State entities still depending on an ageing workforce for critical duties. Even PSC itself is grappling with an ageing workforce.

In 2022, PSC data showed 43 per cent of its 231 employees were aged 50 years and above.

Another 40 per cent were aged between 40 and 49 years, leaving PSC with only 17 per cent of workers aged below 40 years. Only two workers were aged below 30 years at the time.

“Cognisant of this fact and its significance for succession management, the commission has embarked on a restructuring programme to address the gaps,” said the commission.

PSC said it has over the years experienced succession management challenges partly due to the stagnation of its officers in one pay grade for long periods. 

Kenya in 2009 changed the retirement age for civil servants from 55 to 60 years. That for people with disabilities has been set at 65 years. Other exempted from the 60-year retirement rule include lecturers, researchers and judges. A recent bill has proposed to cap the retirement age to 60 years. 

According to the State Department of Labour and Skills Development, which made a presentation to the National Assembly’s Department Committee on Labour, the statutory retirement age in general can present several challenges, including loss of critical skills but also denial of jobs for younger people.

“The rigid retirement age can hinder job opportunities for the younger generation. With older employees staying in the workforce longer, it can limit job openings and hinder the entry of new graduates or young professionals into the job market,” said the Statement Department. 

“Mandatory retirement can result in a loss of valuable skills, knowledge and experience within organisations. It takes time and resources to train new employees to replace experienced retirees, potentially impacting productivity and organisational efficiency.

“Organisations may face challenges in workforce planning and succession management due to the fixed retirement age. They need to anticipate retirements and ensure appropriate talent management strategies are in place to enable a smooth transition and continuity in operations.”