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Plight of Uni graduates: Why employers now prefer handy diplomas to theoretic degrees

By Gardy Chacha | Thursday, Apr 20th 2017 at 10:06
Diplomas that provide hands on experience have been preferred by employers Photo:Courtesy

Five years ago, George Kaindi graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Science from a local public university. Kaindi, 29, spent about three years after graduating looking for a job without success. Today, he is a tout on the Githurai 45 route in Nairobi. I had to find a way to fend for myself,” he says. “I reached a point where I couldn’t choose jobs.”

At the junction of Ronald Ngala Street and Munyu Road in Nairobi, you will find Kaindi banging the sides of a bus, calling for prospective travellers. He moves around in perfect camouflage and it is hard to know he is a university graduate.

“The job pays my bills,” he says.

According to Kenya Bureau of Statistics, about 400,000 graduates entered the job market in 2014. This was against 103,000 formal job opportunities available then.

Today, 40 per cent of Kenyans of employable age don’t have a job.

The problem, pundits believe, is in the way higher education is dispensed in Kenya.

Most jobs available in Kenya today, says Jacqueline Mugo, the executive director at Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), are blue collar: “At least three quarters of jobs the economy is creating are in the informal sector.”

University graduates like Kaindi have been forced to fight for the few white collar jobs. Result? Thousands of unemployed graduates.

Long before sitting her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2012, Lilian Wanjiku, 23, had concluded that there are no jobs in Kenya, at least for university graduates.

“I know so many people who graduated from universities and couldn’t find jobs,” says Wanjiku. “I decided that I would go for a technical course. That way, even without employment, I could start my own business.”

Wanjiku is due to graduate in January 2018 from St Kizito Institute of Vocational Training with a certificate in Automotive Technology.

Young people hoping to make something out of their lives will need to change their mind-set on technical and vocational training, says Austin Omeno, the principal of Eastland’s College of Technology, an affiliate of Strathmore University.

“Kenya needs to learn from Germany and Austria where dual training has ensured that every college graduate is ready for the job market or is sufficiently equipped to be an entrepreneur,” says Omeno.

The dual training system – practised by the most successful industrialised nations – offers a practice-oriented curriculum, with students spending about 70 per cent of their time at an industry and 30 per cent in class.

“The biggest problem with Kenya’s university graduates is that given an actual task, many cannot perform. Employers don’t have time to retrain graduates,” Omeno says.

Unlike university graduates, students coming out of technical and vocational training institutions have actual skills to perform tasks. This, Omeno argues, makes them a better – and ready – option for employers.

Fredrick Ouma, 26, one of Omeno’s students, no longer fancies a job in front of a computer dressed in sleek suits and sitting on an executive chair.

“There is prestige in a white collar job. But who has the luxury to wait for a white collar job? Here, I have a real chance at a successful career, albeit blue collar,” Ouma says.

Both Wanjiku and Ouma are beneficiaries of a scholarship project dubbed “Unda Future” by Simba Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of Simba Corporation.

The project is putting 60 students at St Kizito and Eastland’s College through dual training, with the students training at Simba Corporation’s motor sales and service department.

“When Wanjiku and Ouma graduate, they are guaranteed work. Every automaker would be interested in their skills – not because they are brighter than university graduates, but because they spent a good amount of their time doing the actual work an employer wants them to do,” Omeno says.

Simba Corporation CEO Adil Popat, a major employer in Kenya, expressed optimism that with the dual system of education, students like Wanjiku and Ouma have an opportunity to gain industry experience and on-the-job training, which makes them stand out for employment.

After graduating with bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, Irene Wangui found it difficult to find a job that matched her qualifications.

“I couldn’t find work. It was then that I decided to recalibrate my life and get a skill that was not employment dependent. I went to fashion school for three years,” Wangui says.

Today, Wangui runs a successful fashion business with robust clientele from Kenya’s middle-class.

After graduating from the university, she yearned for employment. However, after a few lessons in a fashion class, she vowed to stick to her new-found love: fashion.

“I knew I wanted to start my own fashion business so that I could create employment for others with corresponding skills,” Wangui says.

FKE’s Mugo believes that Kenyan graduates have to think like job creators and not like job seekers: “The truth is Kenya does not have so many jobs for our university graduates. Our folly as a country has been putting so much prestige on a university degree and forgetting that we ought to gear the training of our students towards meeting industry demands.”

Mugo argues that unemployment will only go down when graduates make wise career choices (not yielding to parental preferences) and becoming entrepreneurs.

“Generally, technical training has been viewed lowly. Only the best KCSE students join our universities. Those who “fail” are expected to attend technical and vocational training. In reality, however, these students graduate into the best skill pool employers are looking for,” Omeno says.

The best students in Wanjiku’s and Ouma’s classes have been promised jobs at Simba Corporation upon graduation.

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