Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Creating jobs for youth must be a priority

If the legion of jobless youth does not find work the consequences could be dire – from increased poverty and inequality and economic decline to social and political instability. 

The sponsors of the National Youth Employment Bill understand the fierce urgency of the unemployment crisis, especially among youth. The Bill is intended to enhance access to employment as provided for in article 55(c) of the Constitution. The authors of the Bill regard youth as a marginalized and minority group under article 56 of the Constitution and must be provided special opportunities for access to employment as stipulated in article 56(c).  

The Bill seeks to create the National Youth Employment Authority, which will maintain a database of unemployed youth and facilitate increased employment of youth in the public and private sector. Moreover, the Authority will facilitate counseling of youth to improve absorption in employment as well as providing national and county governments with policy advise on youth employment. The Authority will also facilitate internship placement for college students and graduates.

In my view, maintaining a national database of jobseekers and information on available job vacancies is critical. This would the first time we have reliable information on labor market dynamics­ – who is looking for a job, which sectors are hiring, skills needed in the labor market and skills job seekers posses.

However, I am not sure that we need a law and a publicly funded money guzzling bureaucracy to link youth to internships and jobs and to maintain a labor market database. This is a function, which can be performed by the Huduma Centres. All one needs is a mobile application to submit their resume to a database linked to vacancies and they will receive appropriate notifications.

More importantly, the reason we have an unemployment crisis is not because we do not have a National Unemployment Act or Authority. The reason is there are no jobs, period. The recent impressive GDP growth figures is largely due to expansionary fiscal policies, which do not create jobs for school leavers and college graduates. The reason there are no jobs is because Kenya’s export sector has been sluggish for the past 25 years. Tourism has been buffeted by insecurity and poaching, especially over the last couple of years.

The reason there are no jobs is because we have become a warehouse for cheap imports goods from China. Kenya’s average share of manufacturing value added in GDP is estimated at 10 percent, unchanged from the 1970’s. Our manufacturing sector employs on 280,000 people. The reason there are no jobs is because agriculture is comatose, rural productivity has been in decline for more than four decades. 

The reason there are no jobs is because on average 56 percent of graduates from East African universities lack basic and technical skills needed for the few jobs that exist. Moreover, our schools are not places for forging curiosity, critical thinking, complex reasoning, creativity and innovation.

Even with high unemployment, Kenya faces a crippling skills shortage. Talk to anybody in construction and they will tell how difficult it is to find a good electrician, plumber or mason. Those of you who bother to maintain your cars understand that it take lots of prayers and luck to find a good technician. It is not surprising that we have Tony Blair leading Mr. Kenyatta’s Presidential Delivery Unit. And look who is building our roads, railway, pipeline and ports.

A revitalized smallholder agriculture and livestock sector can create millions of jobs in production, value addition and marketing. The boom in the construction sector could create hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs for engineers, plumbers and masons and project mangers. The nascent oil, gas and mining sectors will demand thousands of highly skilled workers: welders; electricians; plant operators; technology specialists.

We could learn from India’s network of institutes of technology and Brazil’s focus on vocational training, which saw spending on vocational training soar from $385 million to $3.8 billion in one decade. We need incentives for “Made in Kenya” and “Make in Kenya”. We must provide incentives for private sector to investment in training and hiring.


Most of all, to create jobs and build the requisite human capital, we must align our education and training programs and tax incentives with development policy, the labor market, as well as with the needs of industry, business and the creative sector.

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