One of the Big Four agenda items for President Kenyatta’s second term is about manufacturing – which is a proxy for employment or job opportunities.
In the 2018 Budget Policy Statement, manufacturing is projected to increase its share of GDP from nine per cent to 15 per cent by 2022. This would be through revamping industries such as textile, leather, agro-processing, construction and oil.
It is expected that by expanding these industries, jobs will be created and subsequently wealth will flow in the form of wages and their ripple effects.
More specifically to ICT-related jobs, the budget statement highlights light manufacturing and assembly of phones, TVs, laptops and other electronic devices as a prospective source of job creation.
The ever-present agenda of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is also listed and projected to annually create 10 thousand jobs for the ICT-savvy Kenyan youth.
BPOs have been very successful phenomena, particularly in India, where corporates in Western capitals export back-office jobs to emerging markets where labor costs are lower.
Such jobs may range from low-skilled tasks like converting voice recordings of board meetings into text as minutes to highly skilled jobs like writing software for Microsoft, Apple or Google.
Kenya has over the past 10 years failed to break into this market despite the government’s aggressive marketing through initiatives such as the Ajira Program.
For some reasons, the youth are not joining this programme in numbers that officials expected. With a relatively high internet penetration and modest internet speeds, Kenyan youths should be comfortable working online from wherever they are.
Instead they continue to migrate and crowd into urban centres looking for the traditional menial jobs that are increasingly difficult to come by. There are possibly two major reasons for the continued poor performance in the BPO subsector.
The first could be lack of a data protection legislative and regulatory framework. Corporates in developed economies would not be comfortable surrendering their data and information for processing in emerging markets that have no guarantees or assurance that the information is safe from cyberthreats.
Once the pending data protection laws kick in, the BPO fortunes may begin to change for the better. But this may only happen if the second reason below is addressed.
Kenya must consolidate and structure its digital labour in scalable ways that can take advantage of big data-processing opportunities arising from abroad.
GETTING THE LAWS RIGHT
Think of a medical facility in the US that has 500 doctors, each manually scribbling out 10 prescriptions per hour or 5,000 prescriptions per hour.
These manual prescriptions may need to be electronically transcribed into their health information system within one hour and will therefore require getting and organising at least 500 transcribers to simultaneously execute the job on a 24/7 basis.
Essentially the BPO operation would be required to run in three shifts of 500 each and in the process create 1,500 jobs. To my knowledge, not more than three BPO facilities have this type of capacity in Kenya.
This means that the big BPO contracts will continue to evade the Kenyan market as they head to their traditional markets of India and Philippines where these types of online operations are well established.
In summary, we should get our laws right and the BPO sub-sector organised sufficiently to absorb large-scale BPO contracts before we can say that digital employment will contribute significantly to our GDP.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu