By Jane Waiyaki
Kenya has relied on tertiary institutions and universities to produce generations of ‘ready-to-work’ graduates since its independence 59 years ago.
According to a British Council survey conducted in 2017, the country has between 500,000 and 800,000 youth who graduate from primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions and enter the labor market. However, only 40 percent 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’s 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 an overreliance on traditional methods of recruitment, which emphasize academic excellence and qualifications listed on CVs 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’s 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% of Kenyan firms complaining about having a poorly skilled workforce. This mismatch between skills and labour market expectations acts as an impediment for young people to get jobs resulting in unemployment.
Resumes that reflect meaningful work history, whether through actual job experience, volunteer work, or having completed an internship at a company, are heavily valued in today’s job market. Internships and other work readiness programs 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. Work readiness also reduces the likelihood of youth unemployment.
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 our youth for employment by promoting internship opportunities or providing work readiness programs through partnerships.
As one perfect example, the government through the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs launched the Ajira Digital Skills programme to enable one million youth to get online jobs. Ajira also aims to fill local job market gaps in industries that need employable youth with digital skills.
Over the years, 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. Absa Bank Kenya, for its part, has trained over 200,000 youth since the program’s inception in 2015. Absa’s Ready-to-Work initiative is a free training curriculum that provides young people with work experience, people skills, money skills, and entrepreneurial skills that are required for employment or self-employment.
Furthermore, the bank launched an internship program that connects Ready to Work graduates with Absa Bank’s suppliers who have completed a sustainability training jointly organized by the bank and Strathmore Business School. The internship program’s goal was to successfully embed sustainable business practices in interns so that they could take up internships within the supplier network.
Second, Kenya should regularly organize national dialogue forums where senior management teams from training institutions and employers can share their labor requirements, informing the development of a real-time curriculum that addresses identified workplace skill gaps. Stronger, ongoing collaborations between academic institutions and employers will be really critical to improve the pipeline of new workers and identify curriculum gaps.
A change in the training curriculum used in higher education institutions will also reduce the need for on-the-job training that businesses provide when new employees are hired.
Lastly, 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 young people 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 the future of the business.
The writer is the Head of Sustainability at Absa Bank Kenya.