During a technological exhibition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology a few weeks ago Cielo Mutuku stood out.
The young innovator, who is pursuing a degree in Finance at the university, stole the show by explaining how a computer numerical control (CNC) machine she had developed together with another student works. The two had made the CNC machine from scratch using motors, controllers and other locally-sourced materials with the aim of coming up with an affordable machine for engraving images and texts on various surfaces.
Where an imported CNC machine costs upwards of Sh1 million, the two are making one that sells for nearly half the price.
Cielo says her course in university doesn’t limit her from exploring other opportunities. “The fact that I am a business student doesn’t limit me from coming up with scientific innovations,” she says.
And as she feeds a piece of wood into the CNC machine to demonstrate how the apparatus engraves text on the wood, Cielo’s ambition is replicated of hundreds of students in Kenyan universities struggling to fit into the rapidly changing career field. She hopes to graduate with an additional skill that will give her an edge over other graduates in the crowded business field.
Students who are keen on standing out from the crowd are honing their skills outside their regular specialisations at the university to earn extra points when they graduate.
For decades, many career fields have followed a linear pattern where one studies a particular course, gets a first job, climbs the career ladder and then retires in a career based on a similar education scope.
Most employers were comfortable with this format as they would hire staff based on their specialisations and watch them grow, giving them on-the job training based on their line of education. But this system is slowly dying away as employers struggle to align themselves to technological changes, especially in the growing digital space.
In an age where particular skill sets can become obsolete any time as new realities emerge, many employees are scrambling to stay ahead of the changes.
Why banks are cutting down on hiring
Francis Nyamasyo, a Relationship Manager at a leading bank in Nairobi says the once esteemed careers in banking are threatened as the traditional work of banks can now be performed by technology.
“Entry and survival in the banking industry is very slim for future job seekers. Whereas the major purposes of banks was selling loans through door to door visits, this feature has today been automated and one can apply and get the loans online without having to physically step into a bank” says Nyamasyo.
He says a cashier’s job in a bank is increasingly becoming unnecessary as banks have ATM machines even in remote areas where clients can withdraw and deposit money via the devices. Additionally, these teller machines are more convenient as they work faster and can perform more tasks than humans.
The banking sector has witnessed a major shift in the operations from the traditional across-the-counter transactions to new channels such as mobile banking, agents and online banking. These changes have also made basic functions such as withdrawals, deposits, payment of bills, loan applications to be automated.
As a result, there has been a major cut in staffing of financial institutions with banks closing some branches to cut costs.
But there are jobs in banking that will still require graduates who have honed their skills in customer relations and sales, says Nyamasyo.
“Graduates who will survive in the field are those who will be internet savvy and those who are aggressive enough to go out there and look for new customers,” he says.
It helps to be a jack of all trades in journalism
Hillary Orinde, a news sub-editor at Standard Digital faults Kenyan universities for encouraging journalism students to specialise while still in school.
He says the media environment has evolved and can only work for all-rounded journalists.
“It has always been a tradition in many universities to encourage media and communication students to specialise in either print or broadcast journalism. The field, however, has evolved and requires journalists who can do everything that entails print, broadcast and even digital media,” says Orinde.
The Standard journalist who graduated from Moi University in 2016 says the media environment is no longer what it used to be a few years back.
“A few years ago, it was the sole responsibility of a journalist to report breaking news but this has been taken up by social media. Today, journalism requires people who can report what people can’t easily find on social media. It requires people who can give a fresh perspective and wider picture to ideas and information that is readily available and free,” says Orinde.
He says that with the growing digital space, media companies are now keen on hiring people with good with digital media skills.
Orinde encourages journalism students to invest in learning digital media tools such as social media monitoring tools and the various ways of creating content for online platforms.
“Learn the proper use of social media. Connect with subjects that matters on social media and follow them on their platforms. Be a jack of all trades while still in school and know that no one will teach you the little things about mobile journalism,” he says.
“I remember the joy of getting published when I was still in school. Sometimes, this was not paid but it eventually gave me an edge over other students,” he says.
While at secondary school, where Orinde was the chair of the school’s journalism club, he says students interested in art-based courses rarely received mentorship.
“During the career talks and career guidance, the school only focused on science-based careers while students interested in arts were left to their devices,” he says.
But at the university, Orinde started writing opinion pieces and letters to the editor which he sent to leading newspapers. His skills at the university where he pursued Communications and Public Relations were honed the moment he joined The Communicator, a popular student news publication at the Eldoret-based University and became the publication’s Editor-in-chief.
At Moi University, Third Eye was, for years, the leading student publication, only rivalled by The Communicator.
Orinde would later work around to beat the university’s publication giant. He started by enticing best writers from other publications at the university to work for his product.
Good articles were sent to mainstream media where some were published. This would raise the spirit of writers.
For his aggressiveness, Orinde landed in The Standard media training programme for young journalists at Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications.
This would provide him with a ticket to work for the leading digital platform even before he graduated from university.
Medicine will always be medicine, but with lots of technology
Medicine is perhaps the most revered career, isolated from the rest by the high qualification requirements to pursue it and the lengthy duration students take to complete their courses before they are allowed to practice.
Hinting of the intensity of the programme, Dr Duncan Mutava, who graduated from The University of Nairobi School of Medicine after six years of training says medicine students in first year study anatomy to understand the human body and physiology to understand how the human body operates.
In their senior years, they are introduced to functions of distinct organs in the body such as the liver, the heart and the kidneys.
They are also introduced to complex medical operations such are surgeries, pathology, pediatrics, and psychiatry.
Medical students in their senior years also learn clerkship that entails various communication methods with patients and other parties in the medical field.
“Medicine is like a staircase where information builds up on some other. Everything in First Year is useful in the subsequent years,” he says.
Unlike other courses where students spend few hours in class, medical students report to school at 8am and rarely leave the lecture rooms before 5pm. This rigorous training, the 24-year-old says, denies medical students a “normal” social life.
“Studying medicine is just like being in high school. You go to class at eight and leave after five to proceed with discussions and projects in study groups. This is besides the personal research that every student is required to engage in,” he says.
Dr Mutava, a general practitioner at Machakos Level Five hospital hints at the increasing disruption of the medical field with the growing digital space, and urges medical students to embrace digital technologies.
“Many innovations in the medical field, including apps like MedShare and teleconferencing platforms to encourage doctors to share knowledge and consult about a medical case, are making medical training even better. That’s why there are ICT classes at First Year to encourage students to embrace the available digital tools in medicine,” he says.
However, not all innovations and other digital resources in the medical field are developed by medical students.
Many people with no background in medicine are developing disease diagnostic tools and forming online support groups where people with various medical conditions share information and their experiences with specific diseases. This is continually taking over roles traditionally performed by doctors who charged a consultation fee.