Youth Missing Out on Entry-Level Skills Needed for Work Today

Hon Johnson Sakaja, Nairobi Senator, PS Julius Korir, Principal Secretary for the State Department of Public Service, and Dr Alex Awiti, Vice Provost East Africa, Aga Khan University, at the launch of the ‘Job Entry-Level Skills: Seizing the Moment, Securing the Future’ report by Aga Khan University

There is a widened gap between the skills possessed by youth entering the workforce and the current and emerging needs in Kenya’s job market today. This is according to the ‘Job Entry-Level Skills: Seizing the Moment, Securing the Future’ report by Aga Khan University’s East Africa Institute.

The study, which was conducted in 24 counties and interviewed over 9,000 people – employers and employees, found that the service sector in Kenya is growing fast, far outpacing manufacturing and agriculture which have in the past been perceived to be offering most of the level entry opportunities to Kenyan youth.

The report, however, shows that while youth leaving tertiary institutions and universities may have technical skills, they lack the soft skills that are critical to the operations of the service sector, causing a mismatch between education and the job market.

“Given the distribution of jobs and the skills that employers and youth need, our study confirms that Kenya’s economy is predominantly driven by the service industry, where skills of a technical nature are less demanded,” said Dr. Alex Awiti, Aga Khan University Vice Provost East Africa, “however, youth said they were unable to acquire employment due to corruption, lack of required experience by employers and lack of capital to start their own businesses.”

In five counties; Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu, four out of five of the youth surveyed were employed in the service sector which includes, retail, wholesale, accommodation, transport, finance, education and food services.

Speaking at the report launch on 6th November 2019, Hon Johnson Sakaja, Nairobi Senator made a commitment to rally support within the government to ensure that the recommendations of the survey are implemented.

“The soft skills are what employers are looking for but can’t find it. For instance, our system has put down creativity. We, therefore, need to focus on how we build these skills and grow our service sector more. We also see indicators showing that the economy is growing, but at the same time jobs are shrinking, making security one of the biggest threats to this country, as a result of disillusioned and disengaged youth,” said Sakaja.

Speaking at the event, Principal Secretary for the State Department of Public Service, PS Julius Korir commended Aga Khan University for the survey and committed that the ministry will use the current data and insights in the report to inform policy interventions aimed at addressing youth unemployment in the country.

The study highlights the dire need for collaboration and coordination between employers and training institutions. According to employers, most of the youth hired at entry-level lack the relevant skills and competencies needed for the workplace, such as communication, marketing and sales, numeracy and entrepreneurship.

Youth interviewed in the study cited low pay (30%), lack of experience (47%) and corruption (50%) as barriers to finding entry-level jobs.

The report recommends the need to build human capital for the future economy; one fueled by Vision 2030 – newly industrializing middle-income country and what will define the future of work – the 4th Industrial Revolution, where robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are transforming businesses, leisure and work.