Bane of youth: When searching for a job becomes a full-time job

Out of 4,588,793 people in the age bracket, 1,265,477, or 27.6 per cent, fell under the NEET category. [Courtesy]

After five painful years of unsuccessfully looking for a job, Ishmael decided to end it all two years ago. 

He had graduated from a top local university in 2015 with a degree in animal science but was unable to land a permanent job after a string of internships.

In the days leading up to his death, Ishmael is said to have been frustrated and called some of his friends to apologise for any wrongs he may have committed against them.

“He was my friend,” said Winfred Wangui, a Nairobi-based veterinary doctor.

“It was so sad because I felt he had a very bright future. He was frustrated; he had not been registered by the veterinary board and was unable to secure a permanent job,” added Ms Wangui.

William Wachira is another frustrated youth. But, unlike Ishmael, he has not let the shortcomings of the local job market get the better of him.

Mr Wachira turned to web development after failing to get a job relevant to his training in supply chain management from the Siaya Institute of Technology.

He had initially joined the National Youth Service (NYS) after high school, but things did not go according to plan.   

When no job was forthcoming after leaving college in 2019, Wachira tried his hand at different odd jobs, including as an auto broker before deciding to take online courses in web development.

“Looking for a job was a full-time job for a long time,” he said. “I have been a motor-vehicle broker, but it was not sustainable.”

Going into web development has since paid off as he has in the last year designed and developed major projects such as e-commerce platform

KNBS data show that as employable people grow older, they are more likely to secure jobs. [Courtesy]

Ishmael and Wachira represent millions of young people in the country unable to get a foothold in the formal job market amid a worrying unemployment crisis worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest quarterly report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that in the first three months of 2021, the number of unemployed graduates remained worryingly high.

“The age groups 20-24 and 25-29 continued to record the highest proportion of the unemployed at 16.3 per cent and 9.1 per cent respectively,” read KNBS’ Kenyan Comprehensive School Health Program (KCSHP) report.

KNBS had, in its 2019 census, found out that those attending middle-level college/technical training institutions stood at about 500,000, with those attending universities at 471,000.

In that year, universities in the country released approximately 30,000 graduates.

Data on Youth Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) for the first quarter of 2021 was the highest in the age bracket of 20-24 years. Many graduates fall within this age group.

Out of 4,588,793 people in the age bracket, 1,265,477, or 27.6 per cent, fell under the NEET category.

KNBS data show that as employable people grow older, they are more likely to secure jobs. 

This is mainly attributed to companies’ preference for experience over academic qualifications. According to the BrighterMonday Kenya Employee Satisfaction Report 2021, 53 per cent of employees aged between 18 and 24 were happy with their employer.

This is compared to 41 per cent in the 25-35 years age bracket. 

But only a fraction of those seeking employment in the two categories was lucky to get hired. Monicah Karanja, head of human resource and administration at Octagon Africa, said younger employees are more likely to change jobs compared with their older counterparts.

This may explain employers’ hesitancy to hire them. “A lot of these young people have little to lose. When you consider someone just above 18, that is most likely someone who has just completed their secondary school education or who has taken a diploma course,” said Ms Karanja.

“These are employees who are just getting started, and nothing prevents them from trying out new things.” Employers are keen on those aged between 25 and 35 years, according to Karanja.

These are young and energetic people who have had a year or two of work experience.

They are more likely to take their jobs seriously because they are at an age where they have started taking up responsibilities, such as paying their bills or taking care of their own families.

The age bracket between 36 and 45 is the most attractive to employers. [Courtesy]

“You will realise that at this age, they have children and have generally started making crucial decisions that will anchor the rest of their lives. At this stage, work makes more sense to them,” said Karanja.

They are unlikely to leave their jobs without a good reason, seeing the difficulty they might have faced in securing their first job, which makes them fear they might not immediately secure another.

The age bracket between 36 and 45 is the most attractive to employers, according to Karanja.

This is made up of employees who have the relevant experience, have children in school and thus have a clearer purpose and are thinking about career progression.

“They are serious people, are mature and are settled, with the responsibilities outside the workplace making them better employees,” she said.

“They are now thinking about pensions or are paying their mortgages and seeking job security more than anything.”

Some of them are in managerial positions and have already tasted the thrill that might have seen them move about earlier in their careers. They are thus settled and unlikely to move as much as their younger counterparts.

With some of the courses offered locally not immediately marketable, many young people have had to reskill to fit into a growing gig economy. This writer asked one such person if she knows a youthful person who has graduated and is doing a job whose requirements are completely different from their qualifications.

“Is there anyone doing anything related to their course?” she responded, alluding to the fact that there is a skill mismatch in the country.

The economy has in the last two years been shedding jobs with Covid-19 putting some companies under. Official data showed that the economy lost 737,500 jobs in the private and public sectors in 2020.

However, a slow economic recovery has created optimism. The World Bank in December said overall, economic performance is expected to be robust at 4.9 per cent in the 2022-23 financial year, similar to the pre-pandemic pace.