Home East Africa The unemployment paradox: Available opportunities vis-à-vis competent skills

The unemployment paradox: Available opportunities vis-à-vis competent skills

by Brian Yatich

By Tullah Stephen

There is a hushed calamity across Kenya that is seeing an increased number of youths out of work or stuck in the lower cadres of their careers. Despite Kenya’s economy showing signs of resurgence over the last few years, job prospects for the youths have not improved. In fact, it is estimated that one out of every six Kenyans aged between 20-35 years are unemployed and sadly this situation is worsening.

But as this segment of the population struggles to land jobs, employers on the other hand, are finding it difficult to recruit the right people for the available positions in their firms. Employers are finding young people lacking necessary skills to make it in the job market. In some fields, employers have also complained of shortages of applicants.

Marylyn Kimeu, the country program manager for Generation Kenya a scheme run by the non-profit organisation McKinsey Social Initiative, says the problem lays in the huge disconnect between what employers want and what the young people know. This is especially in the initial stages of their employment.

“Five years ago we saw this gap and realised the need to develop a program that will offer alternative training for some of the on-demand product and services to the disadvantaged youths,” says Kimeu.

Since 2015, Generation Kenya has been running a program aimed at training individuals in low-cost, high attrition skills required in jobs. The four-to 12 week long courses are offered to anyone with at least secondary education.

According to Kimeu, the program aims at addressing the challenge in two ways. First, they design a training program that is scalable and works to prepare the young people for jobs in any middle-skill profession. Secondly, they prove their case for a return on investment for both employers in the program both in the short and long term.

Generation Kenya, currently offers six programs which include apparel manufacturing, sales, financial services, customer service and restaurant retails. The programs approach has seven components which include; employer engagement, student recruitment, training boot camps, mentorship and social service, community that follows graduate into the work place, proving return on investment and lastly data.  Data, explains Kimeu, is important to employers and trainees in order to help improve forge business growth and training improvements.

To sign up, students are requested to pay a commitment fee of KSh3, 000 (USD29.61). This according to Kimeu is a drop in the ocean considering full training of such expertise cost more than Ksh45,000 (USD444.1) per program. “Our aim is to ensure that we do not lock out and youth from the disadvantage areas. We want to give opportunity to everyone.”

The boot camp-style training involves technical training in classes and job sites training in the classroom and at job sites, along with behavioural and mind-set skills, which help students prepare overcome both workplace and personal challenges. “We try to ensure that our teaching meets the employer’s pain point. For example sales representatives in the market struggle with skills that complement the skills to build client relationship and close deals. We try to recreate that environment in the classes.”

To ensure quality of the program, Kimeu explains the teacher to student ratio is one to 25. Emphasis is also put on the delivery of the program by the tutors with constant assessment being put in place.

Generation Kenya today boasts of graduating some 7,200 students across Kenya. Out of which the organisation claims 90 per cent were employed within 90 days of completing the program. “For us we see the program as win-win approach that closes the gap between unemployed young people and employers through intensive boot camp-style training resulting in rapid job placements with our employment partners.”

In Kenya Generation partners with over 20 employer partners including; Sanlam, Britam, Barclays, Java House, Bidco, Carrefour, Woolworths and Old Mutual among others.

Funding the program is a partnership between the employers, students, donors, government and Generation.  Students pay KSh3000, employers’ part with USD250 per hire the remaining cost covered from donors and governments.

“We believe the issue we are addressing can only be tackled by effectively working with all the stakeholders. Business leaders also ought to help foster in young people the type of skills their company needs for their business to achieve sustainable success. Investing in young people should be a core business strategy, without which companies cannot continue to thrive and grow.”

The program is not only confined to Kenya but is also run in Kenya, India, USA, Spain and Mexico. The global goal is to prepare about 1 million young people with skills then placing them into relevant jobs by the year 2020.

While the concept is relatively new, the challenge has signing up partner employers. “Asking employers to pay the cost per hire charge is always a challenge especially those that do not understand the concept. However, the results we’ve achieved recently have helped persuade employers.”

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