How do we remain relevant in the work place?

Monday May 25 2020

In one of my recent articles, I wrote that “good quality work is rare but demand for it is abundant.”

In the social media, some youths asked me to expound my statement.

Days later, we convened an online discussion not just focused on the statement but on the entire article which was about the future of work. In total, 23 people participated in the discussion.

So how do we get to provide a good quality job? Eddy (not his real name), started with the question.

“What I meant in that statement is that if you are given any job, first demand to know the employer’s expectations and try to meet them. This applies to any job,” I responded, adding that the process can be embarrassing and sometimes painful.

Introspectively, I quickly said that sometimes the employer might not even know exactly what you need to do for him or her to feel that the job has been done well.


However, employers do appreciate a good outcome. In which case you ask the experts or try and read what doing a great job in your respective field is.

I remember when I was appointed PS, the first thing I did was to ask the stakeholders what they expected. They listed many complaints including sector policy, connectivity and privatisation of the telecommunication sector. Others dismissed me as a daydreamer but in the end, we got a lot going.

There was a bit of silence, which I took to mean that the participants needed some example to carry the message home.

“Supposing I was hired today as a mower, should I look for a lawnmower and start working or should I seek to know what is expected of me and which tools I need to do the good job?” I asked.

“Pretty simple,” Dan (not his real name) said, “get the lawnmower and get to work.”

Dan’s response was archetypal cultural response where people always fear to ask what is right or expected. Yet if you check people’s lawns, there are multiple outcomes.

I then decided to give my rant on these mismatches. A good mower would ask for training. I say this from experience. In high school we used to have cooks not chefs since they were not required to have any training or experience. A simple meal like githeri had different outcomes depending on who cooked. None of the customers (students) liked the food.

The link between the teachers and customers (students and parents) failed too because the outcome was not defined. The consequence of our failure to train cooks and update teachers’ professional skills continuously led to the division between the haves and have-nots in education.


We have fundis (artisans) who are not really fundis but we continue to tolerate their work. When we need “good work” to be done, we import these artisans at a time when youths in the country have no jobs.

In South Africa for example, due to severe shortage of artisanal skills, the country had to import artisans from the Middle East and India to help put up facilities for the World Cup. Several other African countries are doing the same for major projects to deliver “good work.”

Artisanal work has been elusive for people who need to work either because of lack of training or failure to understand what good work is. Future jobs will be plenty but the distinctive differentiator will be the ability to do “good work” that meets the customer’s expectations.

Studies show that the causes of high youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa include inadequate skills, lack of experience, and a mismatch between education and training and requisite job skills.

The mismatch between skills and qualification is more pronounced in Kenya where a number of youths trained through apprenticeship system lack recognisable certification. The National Employment Authority (NEA) was supposed to rectify this problem through a process of equating skills and recognizing informal qualification through certification but the mission appears to have been lost somewhere along the way.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution becomes a reality, lack of adaptability will exacerbate unemployment among the youth.

That course, however, can be altered if African governments do two things. First, there is need to invest in modern Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutions that meet the requirements of the future of work.

This means that TVETS should offer courses in all emerging technologies in addition to artisanal training. The institutions must be well equipped and must collaborate with other international TVETS in order to keep pace with technology.


For a carpenter to produce “good quality job”, they need a 3D printer to develop a prototype for the customer to pre-approve what they need. Then they will need a computer numerical control (CNC) machines to do the cutting to specification. With these, a local carpenter will have a chance to compete globally and create more jobs as well as produce for exports.

Second, the governments must work towards removing the perception that TVETS are for those who failed in school and that they are a last resort solution. Perhaps it is time we changed the name TVET to universities of applied sciences just as Germany and other countries refer to them. Without the change, there will be no future of work. We’ll just be doomed to fail.

I concluded my rant by saying that governments are often slow. That leaves us – the followers – to do what is necessary to deal with the chronic mismatches that characterise our continent and seek to do a good job to remain relevant in the work space while at the same time contribute to our prosperity.

With every passing day, technology makes us irrelevant one way or another but we tend to keep up with where our interests lie. It is time we dealt with what makes us irrelevant in the global job environment and not just our interests. If we can do “good work”, the demand for our services will follow us to wherever we are.

After some silence, Dan asked, “Where do people learn all this?”

“Good question,” I responded. “Remember I said at the beginning that you must always be inquisitive and not to always take instructions that are not clarified. Reading widely helps too but more important sharing like we have done today summarises many books into the single hour we’ve met. Thank you.”

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.