Speak to anyone on the streets of Nairobi and they will tell you they know of at least one skilled youth who is seeking employment but is unable to get decent work.
A report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2018 revealed that nine out of every 10 unemployed Kenyans are 35 years and below.
The 2019 Kenya Economic Survey reports a total of 78,400 jobs created in 2018 compared to 114,400 in 2017. This decline in job creation has continued to be felt in 2019, adding to the crisis of youth unemployment in the country.
The situation is no different on the global scene. A briefing on the world’s economic situation and prospects in 2019 by the United Nations states that young people are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to adults.
It puts the global youth unemployment rate at 11.8 percent, a situation that is not expected to change substantially in the near future.
Kenya has the largest youth unemployment rates in the region despite its gross domestic product growing by 6.3 percent last year. The continued emphasis on economic growth despite high unemployment numbers has left many a youth wondering where all the wealth is going.
Their concerns reflect an unequal distribution of wealth in the country, resulting in poor social development.
Where is the growth if it is not trickling down to those who need it the most? The expectation of growth as reported by the government comes with the assumption of employment creation more so for the growing number of graduates produced by universities in the country each year.
To try to address these expectations, the government has over the last few years invested billions of shillings in programmes, funds and different trainings to support the youth. These include Kazi kwa Vijana, the Youth Enterprise Development Fund and the revamped National Youth Service.
The initiatives have had short-term effects. This is mainly due to their temporal nature and the long bureaucratic procedures for applying for the funds.
The initiatives also encompass low-wage seasonal jobs with poor working conditions and little social protection, which do not provide the intended beneficiaries with any means of securing their future as would salaried, pensionable employment.
The question arises, whose job is it anyway to provide access to employment? Many would argue that it is the responsibility of the government, but is that really the case?
The government in its delivery of services has enabled job creation in the public sector. But these alone cannot meet the needs of the citizenry.
To cater for all, it should create a conducive environment for the private sector, individuals and others to set up businesses thereby promoting entrepreneurship. Has this been the case?
Despite the World Bank’s 2020 index placing the country at position 56 out of 190 globally in the ease of doing business, investors still feel like they are getting a raw deal from the government.
At a recent Senate round table with the private sector, high and double taxation coupled with a lack of State support to the private sector were cited as some of the reasons making investors shun the country, resulting in job losses.
The informal sector, which accounts for close to 80 percent of total jobs, also faces similar challenges.
Their informal nature means they lack access to adequate financing and more importantly the regulatory support they need to flourish.
Employment is driven by the informal sector. One way the government can boost productivity in this sector is by simplifying tax procedures so as to rope the informal businesses into the tax base.
Education levels and their impact on youth access to opportunities and jobs also play a part.
Are the youth taking the right courses in university? The continued emphasis on market-driven courses, more so at the university level. Programmes offered should align to current and future market demands.
Much of the focus has been on business administration, humanities and the arts at the expense of science-oriented programmes, creating a glut in one sector.
A major flaw in our education system is that it does not train learners to embrace innovation, experimentation and entrepreneurial acumen.
The focus should not only be on theoretical knowledge but also on equipping learners with practical skills. This will enhance the personal and career development of the youth ensuring they are employable and skilled to create jobs for themselves.
Ouma is the communication and knowledge management officer, Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies based in Nairobi
This opinion piece was published in the Business Daily on Tuesday, December 31, 2019 and Standard Newspaper on Sunday, December 29th 2019.