Is it really possible to milk stones? Because this is what is being asked of jobless Kenyan youth.
The debate on unemployment has raged online and offline ever since Kelvin Ochieng, the first-class honours Actuarial Science graduate who washed cars for a living, stirred the hearts of Kenyans with his #FirstClassBetrayal story. A flood of job offers came his way.
As did an avalanche of pitiful stories that followed a similar vein as his which demanded equal if not more attention.
Lately, the conversation has shifted slightly to noisy demands for youth to shift their mindsets, become creative, volunteer, take up internships.
Volunteering and internship have been touted as the “first step” to securing a job. In short, they are being asked to milk stones.
I was one of the people who shouted loudly that stories like Kelvin’s taught our youth to turn up their noses at blue-collar jobs.
Thankfully, I caught myself when I realised that I was speaking from a point of privilege.
And that as a salaried employee, I had no moral authority to ask anyone who wanted what I had to shift anything, really. Especially after having once been exactly where they were.
It’s true that jobs are rapidly becoming an illusion for most Kenyan youth. A World Bank report released recently indicated that the unemployment rate in Kenya is set to rise this year, meaning we haven’t seen anything yet.
It has been suggested by a number of opinion leaders that Kelvin, for example, should have been given car-wash machines, instantly turning him into an employer.
But who said that all it took to become an entrepreneur was a couple of machines and a change of mindset? Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.
Besides, the education system already set up the youth to be employees. This was drummed into their hearts and minds ever since the days of Henry Makobi’s song "Someni Vijana", which waxed lyrical on the good things education would bring with it, like a “very good job”.
The youth have also been asked to be “more creative”. Does this sound odd to anybody out there? The education system that the graduates are coming from has consistently been fighting creativity.
With those students who dare colour outside the lines being labelled slow or unproductive, how can we then expect the same people who were taught to robotically follow instructions for 16 years to change in a few months after graduation?
And lastly, volunteering and interning seem like reasonable solutions until one remembers that unless the young man or woman plans on doing it at the Mama Mboga kiosk in the neighbourhood, it’s most likely that he or she will need bus fare and lunch money to travel to the workplace.
So, who is supposed to facilitate this? And we all know about the “payment with exposure” option that they often have to deal with.
The burden of ensuring volunteering and interning works for the youth should lie with the employers who control the purse strings.
Perhaps the tens of organisations which offered Mr Ochieng employment could consider this as a long-term solution as opposed to random, short-lived, publicity-driven acts of kindness they have displayed in the past.
Let’s cut our jobless youth some slack because the truth is, they’re also responding in the right way to this country’s reality.
The story of the Sh52 million bank heist in Thika in 2017 brings this to sharp focus. The father of two of the suspects, who were straight A engineering graduates, said he was not shocked about the alleged robbery because they were a reflection of the corruption and scandal that they had been exposed to.
“I know my sons did not get any formal employment after clearing university. I have heard about many scandals in this country and I am, therefore, not surprised that it happened. What prevents them from engaging in that kind of vice if they can also get away with it?” he asked.
If there are any fingers to be pointed for the staggering levels of unemployment in this country, then they should be directed at the government.
It has betrayed our youth by failing to create a conducive environment for the economy to thrive.
The education system, too, has failed them. Let’s blame ourselves, too, for judging them too severely.
The writer is the editor, ‘Living’ magazine; [email protected]