Kenya has relied on tertiary institutions and universities to produce generations of 'ready-to-work' graduates since its independence.
According to a British Council survey conducted in 2017, Kenya has between 500,000 and 800,000 youth who graduate from primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions and enter the labour market. However, only 40 per cent of those who complete technical and vocational education and training find employment.
That means that having a degree or diploma is no longer sufficient to gain employment. In creating a successful career, relevant job experience and skills are now just as important as a degree and exam scores. Perhaps nothing puts a business owner or manager's leadership, vision, or patience to the test more than hiring the right employees. This is due to a lack of candidate options and overreliance on traditional methods of recruitment, which emphasise academic excellence and qualifications as the primary hiring criteria.
As a result, employers are frequently faced with individuals who are brilliant on paper but perform poorly in practice. This, combined with difficult working conditions, has revealed a lack of soft skills in many university and tertiary institution graduates over time.
It is no wonder then that today, a real concern for many recruiters is that the skills learned in our tertiary institutions do not meet the needs of potential employers. Indeed, according to a 2018 TIFA employer survey, there is a mismatch between the knowledge graduates possess and market demands, with 30 per cent of Kenyan firms complaining about having a poorly skilled workforce.
Resumes that reflect meaningful work history, whether through actual job experience, volunteer work, or having completed an internship at a company, are valued in today's job market. Internships and other work readiness programmes thus play an important role in bridging the gap between classroom theory and practice by providing the foundational skills required to enter the job market.
Collaborations between academia and corporate entities are one way to address existing job market gaps. As businesses, we have a role to play in preparing youth for employment by promoting internship opportunities or providing work readiness programmes through partnerships like the Ajira Digital Skills programme through which one million youth get online jobs. Ajira also aims to fill local job market gaps in industries that need youth with digital skills.
Ajira has gained traction with partners such as the MasterCard Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Absa Bank Kenya, and Emobilis joining forces to support the initiative. Kenya should regularly organise national dialogue forums where senior management teams from training institutions and employers can share their labour requirements, informing the development of a real-time curriculum that addresses identified workplace skill gaps.
The private sector can also participate in the formulation of youth and education policies that meet market needs, provide work experience and mentorships, and facilitate the access of youth to markets, capital, and networks. Investing in youth can only result in a win-win situation. It is also a way for enterprises to engage in corporate social responsibility initiatives. The stronger the recruited talent, the better for business.