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Before you jet off for that overseas job....

By Macharia Kamau | June 23rd 2021

Kenyans arriving from abroad boarding NYS bus on March 24, 2020.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Working abroad is the dream of many Kenyans who perceive the grass to be greener in other parts of the world, particularly North America, Europe and Middle East. 

Indeed, a recent study by the international poll agency Pew Research Centre showed that 54 per cent of Kenyans would leave if they could, citing high unemployment rates and low wages.

But is the grass necessarily greener? Yes and no, according to Shem Bosire who is currently based in Dubai, where he works as a director for a major international financial institution.

“Most people see leaving Kenya as a gateway to opportunity. Many believe that once they get their visa and plane ticket then voila, it is off to the land of milk and honey. This is not always the case. There are people who moved to work abroad and it worked, while others have not been so lucky,” he said.

Yes, there are great opportunities in some markets…

Bosire acknowledges that there are certain markets such as the US, Europe or Middle East that will offer more job opportunities than are currently available in the market. He gives an example that while in Kenya one might get two job interviews in six months, in places like Dubai, with good qualifications, you could get 30 job interviews in a month, especially for entry and mid-level jobs.

“It opens up opportunities to go there but it is up to you to navigate that space and see what you can mine for yourself. If you have left school with zero experience and you are open to learning various things and doing various jobs, you can get jobs across sectors,” he says.

Check for certifications and licences before you land…

Once you find yourself there, Bosire cautions against taking opportunities out of desperation and insists on researching and understanding the market, industry and the employers one is eyeing before making a move. A major challenge, he said, is for people who have made progress in their careers and hope to advance their careers abroad. Many tend to get frustrated on finding out the qualifications in Kenya for certain professions might not be factored in the new country.

“If your career is already off the ground, you need to understand the licensing regime that is specific to the particular job. Find out whether you can get some of the certifications while in Kenya. Know exactly the reality that you will face,” he says.

Learn the culture and supporting soft skills

Bosire started out at Kenya’s arm of Citibank before joining KCB Group as management trainee, where he went up the ranks to become the head of Acquiring at KCB Group’s card centre. While he acknowledges that the Kenyan training and experience put him in a position to work anywhere in the world, including his first foreign posting in Mauritius in 2008, it is the soft skills that were a challenge to figure out.

“When it comes to the soft skills, there is a bit of navigation to go through… this is usually the departure point when it comes to adapting to your new place of work. And this defines how successful you will be,” said Bosire.

“In some cultures, people will say ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’, some are not used to challenging authority, while others will be very direct. If you don’t know what works in these settings, you could make great errors that could tank your progress.”

Investing back in Kenya takes smarts…

Many Kenyans, while working in the diaspora, send funds home with the aim of securing their future and what they will be going back to on return home. “That is why you see consistent quarter on quarter growth in diaspora remittances are always on the rise,” says Bosire.

However, there have been numerous stories told of Kenyans living and working abroad trusting their next of kin back home with their hard-earned millions to invest on their behalf, with the result being tears and family feuds over misappropriated funds.

“It is easier to avoid wrangles with family members by using formal channels to invest back home. Different financial institutions like Saccos, banks and insurance companies have developed an array of products targeted at Kenyans abroad. These range from the basic purchase of land to mortgage products and unit trusts.”

“I would encourage people in the diaspora to go this formal way. Other than professionalism, most of these firms are regulated and one has legal redress in case there is loss or misappropriation of funds,” he says.

Lack of social support

Also, the social support systems that one enjoys while working in Kenya are non-existent in a foreign land. While there are networking platforms for Kenyans living abroad, Bosire says these are few and far between, with many Kenyans having to figure life out on their own. This has seen many fall off the wagon and resort to harmful practices to cope with the sometimes all-consuming loneliness.

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