Information technology, oil and gas, mining, structural engineering and manufacturing are some of the emerging sectors that those wishing to pursue higher education should consider if they want to be guaranteed employment once they graduate, economists and employers have said.
These sectors are continuously registering growth and have been projected to be the main contributors to the country’s economy in a matter of years. So far 66 minerals have been discovered in Kenya and the government in February announced it intends to grow the sector so that it contributes 10 per cent of the GDP by 2020.
The contribution of geothermal electricity and renewable energy sources to the national grid has grown significantly.
The country is also expected to soon mass produce oil while massive infrastructure projects are underway.
The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) thinks these sectors should be highly considered by those pursuing higher education.
“Currently all these sectors import most of their workforce as Kenyans lack the technical expertise. The indications are this is where the economy is moving to,” the federations CEO Jacqueline Mugo told the Sunday Nation.
Technical jobs including carpentry, electricity, plumbing and agriculture are also in demand and can guarantee self-employment as more companies resort to use of sub contracted workforces ostensibly to reduce labour costs.
However, it appears the number of those enrolling for such blue-collar courses, mostly offered by technical and vocational institutions, is low. Instead many students opt to study courses that attract mass enrolment in the universities largely due to the cheaper tuition fees charged and prestige associated with university degrees.
“There is a huge disconnect between the courses being offered in institutions of higher learning and the needs of the economy as we seem to have an oversupply in some sectors while others have just waiting to be filled,” said Mrs Mugo.
She added, “Parents are pushing their children to do courses in universities because they think getting a degree will guarantee them a job without considering whether there are jobs in that sector.”
University enrolment has doubled from 218,000 students in 2011 to 443,000 this year according to the 2015 Economic survey. The number of courses being offered too has tripled over the same period from 109 to 333.
A majority of these new courses, according to Mrs Mugo, have been driven by the commercialisation of higher education meant to produce job seekers as compared to job creators.
“The reality is that only a quarter of the working population is in the formal sector. What we need right now is to equip our young people with entrepreneurial and agricultural skills as this is what the country needs,” she said.
According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, the economy created only 103,000 formal jobs last year while 400,000 graduates entered the job market. On the contrary 696,000 jobs were created in the informal sector.
Most of the skills required to get a job in the informal sector, according to Dr Samuel Nyandemo of the University of Nairobi, are offered by technical and vocational institutions.
“There is a perception that technical institutions are for people who failed and this is even a government policy. Industrialised nations in Asia have grown their economies with graduates from these institutions,” said the economist.
Figures released by the Kenya Universities and College Placement Service on Friday show that despite a drive by the government to expand technical colleges only 11,523 students who sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations last year applied to join them. This is against an available capacity of 41,550.
This is as university first-year enrolment grew to 67,790 from 57,250.
“According to economic theory, labour flows from agriculture and other labour intensive primary activities to industry and finally to the services sector as a country develops. Agriculture, which is still the largest contributor to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) should, therefore, be given prominence, then the manufacturing sector in that order,” said Dr Nyandemo.
According to government figures, agriculture contributes 30.3 per cent to the country’s GDP while industry contributes 17.4 per cent. However, most of the industrial sector is informal.
The reality on the ground shows agriculture-related courses to be among the least attractive to those joining university.
The popularity of some courses such as masters degrees in business administration (MBA) is growing. This shows an emerging trend where the degree is increasingly being seen as a shortcut to getting a job for those with degrees but are unemployed and a better salary for those with jobs.
But Mrs Mugo urges caution in pursuing such popular degrees just because everyone was doing them.
Also, courses which were popular a few years ago may not be in high demand today as the market and technology keep changing. A good example is accounting, where emerging computer applications have cut down on the number of accountants in many companies.