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Mass quest for State jobs signals ailing market

Constitution capped the number of ministries and by extension principal secretaries. [iStockphoto]

Why would 9,154 well-educated men and women apply for the 49 advertised positions for principal secretaries (PSs)?

Probability lessons from Form Three should remind you that you have half a per cent chance of being selected.

At 0.005 per cent, it is quite low by any standards. Confirm the decimal points to keep off the ghosts of 2022 polls. We should ask why such a high number. Was it expected? What does that tell us about the Kenyan job market and the economy? 

There are six possible explanations. One is that most applicants, and Kenyans in general, nowadays believe in meritocracy and have an equal chance of being selected into one of the most lucrative posts in the Civil Service.

That’s why the applicants were so diverse. The shortlisting criteria should, however, have been made more clear.

Teachers were shortlisted and professors were left out. The hustler narrative could have inspired this belief in meritocracy.

Two, upward mobility is slow for the vast majority and any opportunity to skip some rungs on the ladder is welcome.

Believe in lottery

The applicants hoped that given an opportunity, they would move up the ladder with more money and prestige.

Curiously, Public Service Commission  (PSC) gave the applicants’ names only and left the titles such as Dr and professor. But gleaning through the list left no doubt many citizens feel underemployed and want to move up. Three is that Kenyans believe in lottery! Why not try and see if I can be selected? Lots of applicants probably knew in the privacy of their thoughts that they could not get that job.

It takes more than academic credentials to get such a high-level job. Remember you are competing with old hands. 

With a change in the political regime, getting such jobs takes another dimension - loyalty and networks. It’s a political job. Who can contest that? Four, the number of applicants indicates the state of the economy - oversupply of labour. It is no wonder Kenyans are immigrating to other countries looking for economic opportunities.

We think it’s only those with average or minimum education seeking jobs abroad.

Even highly skilled citizens hope to get a better job locally. They hope to one day to land a job commensurate with their skills, aptitude, and dreams. Such jobs are rare.

Five, the Civil Service has about 800,000 employees; it’s a pyramid with only a handful of well-paying jobs at the top.

No wonder getting such jobs is more of a lottery. The aborted Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) wanted to widen the top of this pyramid. But technology makes the pyramid thinner; we need fewer workers.

Six, the Constitution capped the number of ministries and by extension principal secretaries. The laws of economics came into play.

The supply of such jobs decreased as the demand went up because of the population increase and high literacy rates.

If another high-level job is advertised, expect the same high number of applicants.

Seven, the government is the “oil” in Kenya, just like oil in oil-producing countries.

Its posts are lucrative and prestigious. They are shared out like proceeds of oil.

What else can you do in the public sector beyond big jobs? No more plots with all the land gone. What’s next? 

Instead of fighting for the 49 slots for PSs or 21 for Cabinet Administrative Secretaries (CASs), why not create such posts in the private sector? Think of CEOs of major corporations and the prestige and money they enjoy.

Few of us can name any member of the US Cabinet, let alone employees at lower levels.

But we know the titans of the industry such as Bill Gates (Microsoft), Sergey Brin (Google), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Elon Musk (Tesla), among others. Why not create such firms and become CEOs?

We can create as many as we can, with no limitations in numbers like PSs or cabinet secretaries. We have only one national government, and the county governments lack such prestigious jobs. The scramble for the limited civil service jobs indicates that our private sector has not grown fast enough.

We hope the new regime shall focus on this sector which can create unlimited high-level jobs. You can’t get a PS job in Uganda or the US but you can a better job in the private sector, anywhere in the world.