Graduate hawker: What went wrong?

Saturday, February 29th, 2020 08:47 | By

A local TV interview of a “graduate hawker” rekindled the perennial debate on unemployed university graduates in Kenya.

This ignited memories of another jobless graduate who, armed with his First Class Honours degree in actuarial science, was lived on the streets of Nairobi for years. Sympathetic potential employers emerged and offered him a job.

For the graduate hawker in the interview, and armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, and while undertaking a Master’s degree in Bio-Statistics, he decided to hawk wares at Muthurwa Market.

He said several attempts to even obtain internship were unsuccessfull. This is also the case with 60 other students in his graduation class. 

From his testimony, many questions linger in people’s mind. Why did the promising graduate end up hawking? Did he and his classmates study a course that is no longer marketable?

Who should be blamed for a labour market whose absorption capacity continues to be limited?

What can be done to create more jobs for university graduates some of whom have been tarmacking for over four years? To answer these and related questions, here are some of the issues that should to be addressed to reduce unemployment among university graduates:

Reform the school system

Without crying over spilt milk, the graduate and his college mates are victims of an education system which is not in touch with labour market demands. A system in which acquisition of paper certificates gives people high hopes for white collar jobs that are no longer available.

A system, which until the advent of Competency- Based Curriculum (CBC), was overloaded with courses that prepared graduates for paid-employment, with limited depth on self-employment options.

A system that has ignored the impact of disruptive technologies on its curriculum reviews. In short, a system that is gridlocked in a past economic structure that has lost its relevance.

The introduction of CBC addresses the weaknesses that were inherent in the previous education system and prepare graduates for new employment realities.

Planners will be put on the spot to redefine work and develop policies that will promote employment creation initiatives. Hopefully, they will define work as ability to provide demanded goods or services in exchange for money.

However, we must not look down upon hawkers because of high academic qualifications. In yesteryears, a first degree was a passport for office jobs. But it has now become a confirmation of literacy that qualifies one to undertake further training for available types of work.    

Review University Courses

Universities are the first target when unemployed graduates increase. In a quick rejoinder, the universities would state that their mandate is to transfer knowledge and skills for the good of society.

They may further point out that the responsibility for job creation lies with the public and private captains of the economy. Yet the universities are expected to assume the role of interfacing with industry to review curricula that meets identified market needs.    

For example, why should universities offer courses that are akin to a single topic in a course? Graduates of courses such as Bachelor of Planning abound, not knowing the kind of positions qualify for.

Curriculum development at universities must therefore be inclusive to incorporate suggestions from all key stakeholders. University senates must have a brief on marketability of courses offered. The Commission for University Education must also verify current and future demands for university courses. 

Instead of developing a curriculum on single topic courses, the universities should inventively combine some courses giving them titles such as a Bachelor in Procurement with Human Resource or Bachelor of Communication with Commerce. The degree combinations will provide graduates with options instead of being locked up in one unmarketable discipline.

Undertake Internship Programs 

Gone are the days when fresh graduates would undertake a compulsory one-year orientation-to-life programme at National Youth Service (NYS). The programme was aimed at exposing graduates to the socio-economic realities in various parts of the country.

Today’s graduates need a similar programme, in the name of National Internship Program (NIP), to acquaint them with various operations at the workplace. The programme will prepare the graduates for employers’ expectations at work which is not taught in lecture halls.

It will also make the graduates employment-ready compared to the current unstructured industrial attachments. To encourage employing organisations to implement NIP, the government should provide incentives such as making the cost of internships tax deductable, for example.

Become Self-employed 

A first degree without further training in a professional area of interest will not enable fresh graduates to secure jobs in the ever competitive labour market. Professional training equips graduates with employable skills for the public, corporate sector and self-employment sectors.

Graduates who opt for self-employment will not only become their own bosses but also create jobs for others. Small enterprises are creating more jobs than the public sector which is hurting the economic development with ballooning wage bill. Concerned authorities need to promote the small enterprise sector through overhauling legislation that impedes entry and expansion of micro and small businesses.

Search for County Jobs

Although devolution was to enable counties to reposition themselves as investment destinations, the performance of some is regressive on this score. Others are worse in service delivery compared to the days they operated as county or municipal councils.

They boast natural resources awaiting extraction and processing into final products. But few or no industries have been established to enhance their competitiveness. 

The counties which offered investment incentives attracted manufacturing firms and succeeded in creating employment opportunities for the locals. Instead of flocking to Nairobi City, graduates from upcountry should either seek jobs in their growing counties, or better still, start small businesses there. 

Samson Osero, HRD Consultant and Author of Transition into Retirement, [email protected]

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