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Plan for decent jobs for the youth

By | February 27th 2009

As a key measure to stem growing public discontent with the perceived lack of economic opportunities as the political class continues to enrich itself, a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the youth is welcome.

Youth unemployment has long been a growing national security emergency as ‘jobless growth’, a consequence of globalisation, puts the inequalities between the rich and the poor in stark contrast.

President Kibaki listed among the ideas proposed for the plan yearly grants to subsidise tuition fees in youth polytechnics, making training affordable to all, and increased State investment in the Youth Enterprise Fund.

With Cabinet last week approving a plan to increase polytechnic enrollment from 50,000 to 150,000 by next year and double that by 2012, such grants would be a great addition to education subsidy programmes.

Also okayed was a Sh23 billion budget for Kazi Kwa Vijana, an emergency youth employment programme, and a medium term employment programme involving the National Youth Service.This will make use of available labour to build rural access roads, boreholes, public toilets, small bridges and irrigation schemes, as well as upgrade slums and manage drainage and garbage.

The Cabinet also approved raising the revolving Youth Fund, which Government says has already created 200,000 new jobs, to Sh4 billion. Putting this money to use in "business training and provision of business development services" is key to ensuring the first-time entrepreneurs created by the Fund do not succumb to the same kind of high failure rates suffered by those not supported through any programme.

Affirmative Action

Ensuring that youth enterprises have access to government tenders and contracts is yet another way to protect these fledgling businesses in their early years. This "affirmative action", the President says will empower youth to ultimately supply ten per cent of the value of goods and services procured by Government — a Sh15 billion windfall that could do more to help create jobs than the fund itself. The only danger we see here is corruption in the procurement process edging out deserving enterprises in favour of current suppliers disguised as youth enterprises. Manangement of the affirmative action programme must, therefore, be impeccable.

Another measure under the plan is the training and funding of young people to help them start digital villages in every constituency or venture into other ICT-related businesses.

Unlike the 500,000-jobs-created-a-year promise made under the five-year Emergency Recovery Strategy, however, this new ‘Marshall Plan’ should concentrate on the quality of the jobs, not merely the numbers. In the last few years Government has counted the pledge as met, but with only 40,000 or so being created in the formal sector yearly and the vast majority being insecure, hand-to-mouth positions in the informal sector, the public is ambivalent about the success.

It is all well and good for the emergency employment plan to put youth to digging ditches and building footbridges but, in time, the best way to solve the unemployment and underemployment problems is to ensure better jobs — what trade unionists call "decent work" — with greater security, competitive pay, good working conditions and so on are the ones being created. To this end, we applaud the emphasis on ICT and the support for self-employment through the Youth Fund.

Bold Step

Increasing and paying for the number of places available to the youth at polytechnics is also a good idea. As we noted after the release of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education results in January, about 800,000 youth join the labour market every year. Far too many have little more than a primary school education.

Using programmes under the ‘Marshall Plan’ to improve their skills and give them the oppostunity to take part in the nation’s economic success is the best way to end poverty, reduce social inequality, stem discontent and, in the long term, achieve a sustainable prosperity. So bravo to Cabinet for this bold step.

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