It is no secret that in recent times, Kenya has been grappling with unemployment especially among the youth.
A survey conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) last year indicated that seven million Kenyans are unemployed, with nine in every 10 of them being below 35 years.
For the millions of unemployed youth in Kenya, joblessness has presented a harsh reality especially because even those with a high level of education are not guaranteed jobs in their area of specialisation.
The result is that many qualified university graduates find themselves doing menial jobs or working in positions that are below their academic qualifications or capabilities.
For Fredrick Jagala, 33, the challenge has been overcoming other people’s negative attitudes towards his job. Despite graduating from Moi University with a Bachelors of Arts in community development three years ago, Jagala is operating a charcoal business within Maseno area of Kisumu County.
“People see charcoal business as a dirty business that should only be done by the elderly. I’ve had other people sympathise with me, thinking that with my education, I shouldn’t be doing this,” he says.
But Jagala, who chose the business after two years of unsuccessful job hunting, is convinced that he is in the right place.
Currently, he owns a store that holds up to 15 bags of charcoal.
“Every day I sell at least three sacks of charcoal. This brings me a daily income of at least Sh1500,” he says.
With the business, he is able to pay rent both for his house and business premises, put food on the table for his young family, support his mother, and also fuel his motorbike, with which he transports charcoal. Jagala believes that life is all about making the most out of a tough situation. He is hopeful of a bright future in the business world as he plans to expand his venture.
Pauline Kiraithe, the Executive Leadership and Career Coach at [email protected], insists that education is never a waste of time, energy or resources. She, however, points out that it is important to understand one’s passion or preferred career, because not all jobs require formal training.
“It would be unwise to invest in a degree that will not add value. It would be best if individuals pursued courses that are relevant, so that they can become productive upon graduation.
“It is important to invest in the process by acquiring a career coach, or individuals trained to assist you to make better informed career choices, so as to remove guesswork from career selection and guidance,” she says.
While it may seem a struggle for some, there are graduates that have opted to venture into business and make the best out of it. Risper Kerubo, 28, is one such person.
After graduating with first class honours in Health Service Management from Kenyatta University in 2015, Kerubo thought she would automatically get a good job. But she learned the hard way that this is not always the case.
“I job-hunted for a few months, and then realised that I had to do something with my life,” she says.
In 2016, she decided to venture into business, selling fruits in Nairobi’s Imara Daima estate.
“I own a small shop where I sell green bananas and avocados. I usually place orders in bulk from Kisii ad then sell them off at retail prices,” she explains.
Her customers include small vegetable vendors within the estate, as well as individual households. In a day, she sells up to two 90-kilogramme sacks of bananas, and nearly five crates of avocados.
Her typical day begins at 4am when she goes to Muthurwa Market to get her stock.
“I then head to my shop to sort out the goods and get them to the customers. This takes up to five hours. I spend the rest of the day selling the rest of the stock from my shop, and taking care of my two year-old before returning home at around 7pm, ready for the next day,” she adds.
From the business, she makes a daily net profit of Sh1,000.
“I get this after deducting all the costs, which include transport, capital and a daily wage of Sh500 for my employee.
“My husband, an accountant, works as a mathematics teacher at a local private school, and together with his earnings we are able to meet the financial needs of our young family,” she says.
Although she wouldn’t mind working in her field of study, her love for her business is unmatched.
“I have always considered myself a business person. I can always do this as my part time job, however, the main challenge has been convincing the society that even though I went to university, there is nothing wrong with getting my hands dirty especially since I haven’t been able to secure employment,” she says.
Kiraithe points out that at times, to get to the career you want, you may have to do that.
“It is important to have a clear career path, so that you know what you need to do to take yourself back on track. So ‘the less’ isn’t wasted as it has helped align you to your area of passion. In the less, one gets to acquire other work skills that only enriches ones experience once they find their dream career,” she adds.
To go back to your dream career in future, she says, you need a lot of planning and preparation.
“This is the chance to get a career coach who will guide you on how to best manoeuvre your current career and eventually get to your dream job.”
Isaac Kilongi, 27, graduated from Egerton University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry. After hunting for jobs in his line of study for a few months without success, he got a chance to work as a machine operator in a local company that deals with renting of equipment and machinery.
Currently, he is based in Kisumu, and his job involves maintaining the machines such as tractors, combined harvesters and driers as well as supervising his fellow machine operators.
Although he did not land in his preferred career, Kilongi says he is happy because his earnings are enough to foot his bills, and also because he is gaining valuable experience with the machines.
“I have gained knowledge on how and why machines are able to do what they do best. It has also improved how I interact with clients of different levels, as well as given me a different view of different aspects of life,” he says.
But it wasn’t easy at first. Kilongi’s main challenge was having to make the decision to put his academic certificates aside and get his hands dirty.
He says that if given a chance, he would go back to do what he studied at university, but because options are few, he is concentrating on how to get to the next level with what he has at hand.
Kiraithe says that a bird in hand is better than two in the bush. And that there are no wasted experiences in life.
“I am all for graduates starting out with the opportunities available, as this is what will eventually take them to what they are passionate about. Jobs are few and hard to come by, so it is very important to grab the opportunity that first presents itself.
Valentine Ochieng, 29, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in Civil Aviation Management, works as a casual labourer with a local power company.
“I started working in that capacity earlier this year, where we repair damaged electricity poles. To fit in properly, as well as nurture my skills in this line of work, I have gone back to study the lowest grades of electric engineering. With my good high school grade, I could have easily qualified to study a degree in electrical engineering,” he says.
Ochieng, who also has a young family, supplements his income by selling samosas every evening after work.
“I start preparing them at around 6pm, after which I sell them in my neighbourhood. Before then, I would sell smokies and boiled eggs.”
He adds, “After getting this job I had to let go of this side job since the depot was far, thus I couldn’t find time to juggle the business - ingredients for making samosas are easily available,” he says, adding that he earns an extra income of Sh500 a day from his samosa business.
“You need not abandon your dream career, but whatever your current predicament you need to reinvent yourself often,” Kiraithe says.