Whereas many learners have been affected by the closure of schools as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the most affected group is the cohort of final year college students who were expecting to graduate this year.
Since time immemorial, graduations ceremonies have marked the transition from school to the job market. However, for students who were expecting to graduate this year, things are a bit complicated.
Having completed most if not all classes required, online learning no longer applies to them. On the other hand, with many businesses making losses and employment opportunities dwindling every single day, their prospects of getting a job are even gloomier.
So how are they coping with all these uncertainties? Have they adjusted to the new realities?
Cindy Amisi, Strathmore University, bachelor’s degree in Information Technology
I was really looking forward to my graduation. In fact, I thought I would be working as a graduate trainee by now. I’ve seen other institutions hold virtual graduation ceremonies, but I don’t fancy that at all. I want to don my academic dress and sit at the graduation square. Walking to the podium to receive my token amid cheers and clapping when my name is called is an experiences I don’t want to miss. I’d rather have the graduation date postponed than having a virtual ceremony.
I was looking forward to completing my school projects and getting a job, but now most companies have frozen recruitment, which makes my future quite uncertain. I have had to accept this reality.
My four-year journey at Strathmore has been one of growth and self-discovery. Even though many who pursue Information Technology usually end up in technical fields such as programming, database management, network administration or business analysis, I was drawn to management consulting and enterprise risk management.
I once took an internship position at an IT firm and realised that I don’t really enjoy coding. Another internship opportunity at an Enterprise Risk Management department helped me confirm that I am enthusiastic about matters pertaining to audits, risk assessment and compliance.
Now that schools are closed, I have been running community empowerment projects in Kibera. I joined a few of my classmates and together we tried our hand in hydroponics – the cultivation of plants in a nutrient-rich solution rather than in the soil. Our goal was to increase the slum dwellers’ capacity to produce their own food. My ultimate aim was to play my part in creating employment by turning the project into a business. We received funding to run the project, but the pandemic scattered all our plans.
To earn money during this time, I have been doing lots of online writing. I have used some of my earnings to pay for an online course on data analysis and visualisation using Excel. I believe this will help me get the skills I need to get into management consulting. I have also been writing a proposal to seek more funds for our project because so many people have been affected adversely by the pandemic.
Additionally, I now read and cook a lot more since I no longer have a rigorous school schedule to adhere to. I also spend a lot more time with my family.
I intend to continue taking the online course while running the food project. Perhaps this is the right time to launch it as a business!
Caroline Omollo, Moi University, Bachelor’s degree in linguistics media and communications
I was meant to graduate last Friday and I had planned to get internship opportunities to help me hone my skills in video editing, writing and other media and communication skills, but that didn’t happen.
I believe that we can leverage on communication and digital technologies to advocate for good governance and sustainable development in the country, and that is why I studied media and communication.
My family and I were really looking forward to my graduation. This year carried special meaning for me because it would be the year when I would start my career journey. I have come to learn that whereas we can make plans as humans, God too has his own plans.
I know that some potential employers will expect me to present my academic certificate when making my application, yet I don’t have it. Some employers actually use such documents to filter through job applications, meaning that I will be severely disadvantaged right from the first stage of recruitment.
I have decided to channel my energy into running my blog, which I use to practice and improve my writing skills. I also edit videos and take online courses that are relevant in my career. However, I spend most of my time attending to my nephews as I help them complete their school assignments.
I understand that we are in the middle of a public health crisis, but I wouldn’t want to have a virtual graduation. Seeing is believing, and I want to create lasting memories on my graduation day. Wearing a gown will be more pleasant for me than sitting at home staring at a screen to commemorate the end of four years of hard work and sacrifice. Amid all the uncertainty, I trust that God will make everything good.
Once I graduate, I will take any job that comes my way, including an internship opportunity, just to acquire the hands-on skills I need to transition smoothly into the job market.
Samuel Opiyo Moi University, Bachelors in Communications and Public Relations
My troubles began last year when I was in my final year at Moi University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in communication and public relations.
My mother had formed a habit of sending me money, and then following it up with a phone call to remind me that from January 2020, I would be out of school and on my own. At the time, I panicked because the local job market keeps shrinking and I wasn’t assured of a job after college. I resorted to doing odd jobs after school as I waited for ‘real life’ to start in 2020.
Looking back, I realise that my parents taught me to be independent and to think outside the box.
This year, I expected to graduate and start a poultry business to make ends meet, but I am slowly learning to accept the situation.
My ultimate goal is to become a communications director at a reputable institution and I was planning to start building my career this year by getting a six-month internship role in customer relations which is a field I am very passionate about. To further advance this goal, I had planned to return to school to get a Master’s degree.
This pandemic has limited my ability to even save for the future. In fact, I have had to spend some of the money I had planned to use during my graduation day. I have been greatly disorganised.
To properly utilise my time, I have been reading novels and newspapers with the aim of improving my grammar and to stay updated on current affairs. I have also been exercising to keep fit.
Now that the internship role is not forthcoming, I have turned to offering free online marketing services to my friend’s poultry business. This is akin to killing two birds with one stone because I am learning a lot about handling and relating with customers, while at the same time getting tips on how to run a successful poultry business.
I am very willing to have a virtual graduation. I just want to get my degree and move to the next step. To me, what matters is the degree, not the ceremony. I can’t predict how this year will turn out, but being a believer, I have a strong conviction that God will guide me.
Where do we go from here?
Monicah Karanja, the HR and Administration Manager of Octagon Africa, says there are things final year students do during their free time, bearing in mind that most have no classes?
This is an opportunity for them to acquire more skills so that once the job market opens, they won’t need to play catch-up. They can do this through active learning or by creating business opportunities. There are lots of free or subsidised webinars taking place, and so much information is being shared on those online platforms by the various industry experts.
Pick one session that is relevant to your field and tune in to get a better understanding of what is required of you. Additionally, you could create a business opportunity or fill a gap.
For instance, many parents are deeply concerned about whether they children will complete the syllabus even though there are virtual classes being offered. That is a business opportunity right there. Start offering one-on-one remedial classes for primary and secondary school students.
How can they prepare themselves for the highly competitive job market?
They need to keep themselves plugged in on:
Versatile Work skills: Even if things get back to normal, the workplace culture has evolved and the labour market will have to devise new ways of doing things. Therefore, the graduates should keep abreast of the changes happening within their field.
Acquisitions of soft skills: This will enable them thrive in the new norm. Such skills include emotional intelligence, active learning, and critical thinking.
Multi-skilled employees will definitely attract the attention of any employer.
How best can these students advance their skills to increase their chances of securing a job?
By attending Webinars and getting online material that is relevant to their fields. They could also join professional groups from where they can network with more experienced colleagues in the industry.
How will they look for a job yet they don’t have the academic certificates yet?
There are various ways in which employers can counter this challenge – use of transcripts, letters of completion and engagement on short term contracts with permanent employment being subject to job performance and successful graduation.
What advice would you give to students who are just joining the work environment?
Adaptability and innovation will give them a competitive edge. No organisation is interested in people with outdated skills. Roles are evolving. Artificial intelligence, digital transformation and data management is the new language of work.
Also, they should try entrepreneurship. You don’t have to be employed. You can create an employment opportunity by starting a business. The coronavirus pandemic brought about some behavioural changes. For instance, vendors of sports items saw a huge increase in demand for gym equipment and virtual trainers. So why not take your hobby and create a business out of it?
What is your take on virtual graduations? Don’t they take away the pomp and colour of graduation ceremonies?
Versatility and adaptability are key competencies in the future of work. Time and tide wait for no man, so adapt or perish.