Study finds that 56pc of those polled are unemployed, with informal sector creating bulk of jobs

A man chisels metal sheets in the scorching sun of Kibuye Market Kisumu County. [BY COLLINS ODUOR]

One in every two Kenyans is unemployed, with new data on the country’s job market laying bare the daily struggles of millions of the country’s population.

Even more disturbing is the revelation that 86 per cent of the country’s jobless population falls between the ages of 18 and 34 years, underscoring the fact that the majority of jobseekers are the youth.

A research conducted by pollster Trends and Insights for Africa (TIFA) and job-listing site Brighter Monday further highlights how the youth  in the country bears the brunt of unemployment.

According to the survey released yesterday, 53 per cent of the people polled said they were unemployed while 41 per cent said they were employed.

Only a paltry six per cent were listed as self-employed.

“About half of those who are unemployed have been jobless for at least one year,” said TIFA Chief Executive Maggie Ireri during the survey’s release in Nairobi.

“This unemployed group feels lack of experience, the over-supply of graduates, coupled with few job opportunities are affecting their employment prospects.”

This makes it difficult for the hundreds of thousands of young people leaving institutions of higher learning each year to get into the job market.

Top on the list of reasons given for unemployment was the practice of employers demanding work experience from prospective jobseekers.

Other reasons included retrenchment, tribalism, closure of companies, and few job opportunities.

Experienced layoffs

Brighter Monda Chief Executive Emmanuel Mutuma, however, said part of the problem stems from a misunderstanding between jobseekers’ expectations and what the industry presents.

“We have a situation where a lot of companies complain they are not finding the right people even with a large pool of unemployed people and this is because of the expectations of new graduates and the realities in the field,” explained Mr Mutuma.

He said graduates were solely concerned with mastering the theoretical aspects of their respective disciplines, making it difficult for them to navigate the job market that often demands versatility.

According to the study, the country’s job market has been marked by a high degree of informality. Out of 15.8 million Kenyans, 13.3 million earn their livelihood from the informal sector, with 4.7 million in urban areas and 8.6 million in rural areas.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the total number of Kenyans employed in the formal sector stood at 2.5 million as at 2016, 1.8 million in the private sector and 737,800 in the public sector. The past year, however, has seen a difficult working environment for companies on the back of failed rains, elections, and tight liquidity, prompting many to cut back on staff.

“The job market has experienced layoffs in various sectors, including the media, banking, and manufacturing,” said Mutuma.

“There was a 17 per cent drop in job opportunities during the August polls as compared to an average of the three previous months.”

According to the Purchasing Managers’ Index, published by IHS Markit and Stanbic Bank last month, the country’s private sector recorded the largest drop in productivity in nearly four years owing to limited money circulation and a lower customer turnout.

In its recent edition of the quarterly manufacturing barometer covering the third quarter, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers said the majority of manufactures projected a drop in staff numbers in the coming months on account of the business environment. The study further indicated that 73 per cent of the people currently in employment are actively seeking another job while 25 per cent are looking for one passively, reflecting the dismal levels of employee satisfaction in the country’s job market.

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