Thousands of youth graduating from colleges and universities during the Covid-19 pandemic face a tough job market amid massive freezes in recruitment and downsizing of staff by firms seeking to survive economic chaos.
With industries that typically hire youths like hotels, restaurants and entertainment outlets badly hit by the pandemic, prospects of fresh graduates landing jobs have greatly dimmed.
Already, some 771,439 youths lost their jobs in the three months to March even before the imposition of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, which have led to further layoffs and pay cuts.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data shows that the number of Kenyans between aged 20-34, who are in employment or running a business, dropped 9.89 per cent to 7.02 million.
This situation of youth unemployment is expected to get worse as the pandemic drags on, causing more economic turmoil while fresh graduates enter the fray later in the year.
Christopher Karani, head of Workforce Africa, a human resource consulting firm, says the statistics warn of the mile-wide storm ahead for the graduates joining the saturated labour market. However, all hope is not lost.
“The challenge has always been the market is filled with unemployed and those who have lost their jobs,” he said.
“The advantage is that a graduate can get to pick a niche area despite the course pursued.
“They still do not have experience in any field, making it easy to learn new skills and knowledge,” he said.
Mr Karani adds that there is a need to be open-minded in pursuit of a career.
Nicholas Kasidhi, head of talent at Diageo, says due to the current disruptions in work patterns and ever-shifting market demands, fresh graduates should engage a different lens in their job search strategies — such as learning and practising how to interview via video.
“The future of the job market is a big unknown right now. The chances are good that a lot of companies and industries will suffer. As that happens, and as people begin to recognise which companies are still growing and hiring, the competition will drastically increase,” he said.
“One becomes open-minded at a graduate-level by looking for different options, learning as much as you can while exploring different skills before finding the most interesting area. At the end of the day, the aim is to have some saleable skills that will make headlines in future.
“There are people who want to join entrepreneurship and hence can scout for support frameworks. Make relevant connections through mentors, coaches and aspiring professions.”
The consultant marked niche areas and future skills in software development, computer design and artificial intelligence whose demand is skyrocketing globally.
To this, the reach beyond Kenyan borders would help to gain the opportunities.
World Economic Forum report on Future of Jobs 2018 marked jobs including data analyst and scientists, operations managers, sales and marketing professionals and information technology specialities as top emerging roles by 2022.
Roles expected to decline include administrative managers, factory worker, bookkeeping and payroll clerks.
“At the risk of simplifying the whole situation with the unemployment rate in the country, differentiating would push you out there. The way the learning environment is packaged nowadays allows one to learn without parting with lump sums of money,” said Mr Kasidhi.
Graduates need to equip themselves with the in-demand skills to offer some of these services through global freelancing platforms.
Research by the consultancy revealed the existence of more than 98 freelancing platforms including Pundit Space, Upwork, Guru, Paydesk, Truelancer and Xplace.
Even as freelancing gains traction in the Kenyan market, it is also grappling with uncertainty due to the pandemic.
According to Mr Karani, Kenyan companies are yet to embrace the remote working module.
“One of the challenges we have is that most companies have not accepted freelancing because they think the work is very fragmented.
“There is also the need to maintain a certain culture, including the need to upload profile and vetting,” he said.
Mr Karani adds that some companies struggle with packaging work such as finance projects for freelancers jobs.
This approach will offer graduates short-term opportunities to earn a livelihood.
He says there are a lot of freelancing opportunities in government agencies, for instance, transcription in Judiciary or data entry jobs.
The government-backed online jobs platform, Ajira Digital shows freelancer jobs currently at 15,544, with this number expected to rise due to the crisis.
“However, such a programme calls for a need to develop a mechanism to package the jobs as well as rules and regulations on giving these jobs to people,” said Mr Karani.
“You can tell people to volunteer but how long will it be?” he says.
“From a career point of view, those who volunteer should join the job with a purpose for connection or mentorship. This allows them to get a paid gig in the short term.”