Why youth unemployment problem require more than a strait jacket solution


The youth unemployment and underemployment in Kenya is now an undisputed fact.  Statistics from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicating that about 1.7m more people have lost jobs due to Covid-19 pandemic wiping away some of the informal jobs and also triggering a slowdown in the economy, it is expected that the problem is going to get worse with the level of unemployment expected to double to 10.2 per cent in Kenya.

Despite all these challenges Africa best opportunity lays in its youthful populations and with the statistics showing that the median age in Africa is approximately 19.7 years while here in Kenya is about 20.1 years, the continent still is in a pole position to becoming an economic giant if the energies of these youth is optimally utilised. While this is the case, the problem of unemployment in Kenya is not new and neither needs a one straight jacket solution. This is because the problem manifests itself in different ways catalysed by education levels, social status and the environment in which they live.

First, we have a group of unemployed youth who never pursued education due to different challenges in their upbringing. They have no skills and in our education-oriented system that has little options for other capabilities such as talents, this means they have limited opportunities in the formal sector. It, therefore, means that the interventions needed to help these youths to harness their capability is either helping them to employ themselves through the apprentice system and the vocational training institutions training. This category suffers the same predicament with the youth who never pursued education beyond primary school and the only route to gain skills is through apprentice courses in vocational colleges which are available at the county level.


The second category are those youths who have a high school education but are not able to join tertiary colleges. While the government has created a system where these young people can benefit from government incentives by offering them money to pursue skills-oriented courses both at the TVETs and county-based tertiary institutions, this information seems not disseminated well for them to take advantage of the offers. In addition, some of these institutions still remain in a deplorable state with no skilled manpower and poor technical training infrastructures to help in skills development. The third category includes those who have pursued their graduate studies at tertiary colleges but lack jobs.

While statistics show that this group is less in numbers, in an experience-driven job market their main problem is usually getting the first job opportunities and therefore any solution must be in line to either provide internship opportunities to gain working experience or incentives to start their own employment. This can be done either through funding start-ups for those who have viable business ideas or incentives to develop and grow cottage and small businesses. Lastly, while gaining skills is important, utilization of these skills is more important and should be prioritized.

This may be done through development of skills utilization programs such as lean start-up and design thinking where young people are trained how to identify problems in the society, creating value using their skills, talents and experiences to solve the problems, delivering this value created to the targeted people and lastly creating a revenue system that can pay them back for solving problems. Platforms should also be created to help the youth to showcase their capabilities at all levels in order to expose their capabilities. 

-Dr Kabata is the Founder of Start-up Kenya Foundation and a Lecturer at Kirinyaga University.