All hype, no hope

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What you need to know:

  • Coming of age during this season of dwindling economic fortunes has set millennials back significantly.

  • They lag behind in almost all aspects. They are delaying in getting a job, settling down, having children and even buying their first homes.

  • Did they get the wrong degree? Are the really as entitled as they are made out to be? Well, this is how it feels to be young now 

By Mercy Chelangat

Despite the fact that he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Moi University, looking for a job is nowhere in Albert Maloba’s plans. He has never gone job hunting for the simple reason that he doesn’t think he will ever be successful. 

Photo credit: Pool

His friend graduated with First Class honours in engineering from the University of Nairobi but has never found a job despite attending over 15 interviews since March 2020. That friend, Maloba explains, is now depressed and angry at the fact that he isn’t getting any reward from his efforts in school.

Albert, 25, has now decided to focus on politics. He will try his luck in the coming polls where he will vie for the Member of County Assembly position for Karen Ward. After all, he has a background in politics having been the president of the student organisation at Moi University as well as the chairperson of the Universities President’s Council of Kenya (UPC).

“The government is only interested in getting students to complete primary, secondary and university education. After that, there is no structure to ensure graduates get jobs. We saw the Cabinet Secretary for education visiting homes and asking parents to take their children back to school even if they don’t have school fees. Why can’t he go to graduates’ homes and drag them out to job opportunities?” Albert wonders.

He says his decision not to go job hunting is informed by the fact that he has met educated 40 year olds who have never found employment, so he is simply devising alternative ways of survival.

He wishes that the education ministry could establish a commission to look into the issue of unemployment and come up with practical solutions. This, he says, would ensure that graduates know where to go after the fires of their graduation parties die down.

“The Kazi Mtaani programme was launched at the right time to cushion the youth against the effects of Covid-19, but it doesn’t address the needs of unemployed graduates. As a youth leader, I have met some of the programme’s participants and they tell me that they feel embarrassed doing menial jobs for meagre pay. They are also mocked by uneducated colleagues who question the value of their university education. We need another alternative programme for graduates,” says Albert, adding that the millions stolen by government officials should be recovered and put to better use.

“Instead of funding youth empowering programmes, public administrators spend a lot of money on needless benchmarking trips abroad. Most of them are also old and when they return, we don’t see any notable changes,” laments Albert.

This, he says, is one of the reasons he wants to join politics. Should he be voted in, Albert promises to create a website where job opportunities will be shared regularly and youth in his Ward can then apply for suitable positions.

“Kenyan youth must have dedicated representatives in Parliament because we are the majority in this land. We cannot keep relying on the current crop, most of who have acquired illicit wealth through corruption, to care for us. We must stop receiving bribes to vote in incompetent leaders,” he warns.

Photo credit: Pool

Peter Mwangi, 26, echoes Albert’s sentiments, saying that the government has failed to implement policies that can help the youth start businesses.

“The environment is not conducive for aspiring entrepreneurs. The Kenya Revenue Authority demands high taxes, bank loans have high interest rates and permits are expensive. That is why we need to elect sensible leaders. If our parents had done so, we would be in a better pace. It is now our responsibility to make good choices and safeguard the future of our children,” he explains.

Peter Mwangi, who pursued a Bachelor’s degree in technology at Moi University but is yet to graduate, is currently working for a family friend as a management trainee. He says he started looking for a job while still in campus, but was put off by the high qualifications that employers demanded from potential candidates.

“Kima Hotel, the three-star hotel where I have been working for the last three months, was hit hard by Covid-19. I feel that I am underpaid, but I cannot do much considering the fact that the business is still struggling to get back on its feet. I don’t think I can work here for another year because of the pay. But then, the starting salary for the course I studied for is even lower than what I am getting now,” he says.

Not that he dislikes the course he undertook. He says he is passionate about technology and computers and is good at it, only that the pay is very discouraging. And, even if he were to get a job in that field, he would need some work experience and he doesn’t know how to get it.

“If I get a salary raise, I will continue working here. Although I would like to build a career in the field of technology, I have to survive. It would be unwise to venture into something that I am unsure of. Here, as a management trainee, I have the opportunity to build on my skills and experience, and I can enroll for a course in management and climb up the ladder,” he says.

Even then, he foresees challenges. He has observed that most company owners prefer having their children manage their businesses. He also laments that a disconnect exists between the amounts of money students spend to acquire education, and what they eventually earn once they get employed. This, he says, is bound to discourage many from going to college.

He also explains that parents expect support from their educated children, and this weighs heavily on those who are unable to deliver. 

“Beside my parents, my younger sibling depends on me. I have to spare something from my little salary to send them, yet I still have to pay rent since I live far from home. Also, I am paid daily, which means I can’t make money if I am not at work. So, to earn more, I also have to work on my rest days, and my lack of free time has negatively impacted by relationship with my partner,” he adds.

Photo credit: Pool

Rebecca Kemunto is another frustrated youngster. Being a young person, she says, is very hard. A life of waking up every day with no plans for the day, laying about and staying on social media all day only to go to bed in the evening having accomplished nothing, greatly frustrates her. 

Aged 24, Rebecca studied law at the University of Nairobi and is planning to join the Kenya School of Law. She wasn’t sure which profession she wanted to pursue growing up, but that she had a clear picture in her mind of the woman she wanted to become. But now, becoming the woman she envisioned has become an uphill task. This year, she made six job applications and attended three interviews. Sadly, none was successful.

She was a student leader in campus, and the connections she made have helped her get various short term engagements. This, she says, is how she sustains herself, besides the pocket money she gets from her parents, and the little she gets from selling groceries from her kitchen garden.

“Getting a job is hard. The government blames us saying young people do not like taking internship opportunities, yet when we do, we don’t get any stipend. How would you travel to your place of internship if you do not have fare, food, and are being overworked?” she wonders.

Besides drug abuse, she opines that unemployment is contributing to rising cases of depression.

Growing up as a teenager, I thought stress and depression only afflicted rich people. But I have since realised that it can happen to anyone. The situation is made worse by the fact that therapy is expensive so seeking professional help is not an option for everyone.

 “We are told to go to Mathari Hospital for free counselling sessions, but the stigma surrounding the facility is so bad that if you were to be seen there, people would say you have gone mad,” adds Rebecca.

Solace from parents, she says, is not always guaranteed. And when it is offered, the success of the conversation is dependent on the child’s level of education, status in society and the understanding of the parents in question.

“When I was younger, one of my parents told me that I was there to be seen, not to be heard. They said it only once, but that statement stuck with me. Now I know there are circumstances where my voice isn’t welcome. Now imagine a child who always believes that. If this child has a problem, it is going to be hard for them to reach out,” she says.

Rebecca dreams of someday getting married and starting a family, but she says it is hard to approach parents to discuss issues of romance and relationships.

“I am at an age where most of my friends are dating, getting married, and having babies. However, I can’t ask my mother for advice on how to solve relationship problems because we don’t have an open relationship,” she elaborates.

“Most parents believe their work is done when their children join university. They don’t know what we go through daily and they probably don’t understand our generation. They want us to live according to their script, not remembering that we live in a different era,” she adds.

She believes this is the reason the country is witnessing an increase in dysfunctional romantic relationships and intimate partner violence.

“My mother never offered me any sex education. She never talked to me about infections and diseases, or about the importance of keeping one partner at a time. She only told me not to get pregnant while still living under her roof,” she says.

However, she knows that her mother taught her what she felt was important – to get a good man and avoid divorce.

All this, she says, has made her a bit reluctant to settle down in a long term relationship. To avoid failing, she has developed a checklist which she uses to assesses all her partners instead of just looking for genuine love.

“When I eventually have children, I hope to be a present parent. With technology, I feel like parents are not really present in their children’s lives, more so mothers. I also want to inculcate the culture of reading, so that I minimise on screen time at home. But most of all, I hope to be a parent who listens,” she concludes.

Photo credit: Pool

For 26-year-old Larry Shikanda, a graduate of public health from Kenyatta University, life has been hard. Since he graduated in 2018, he has filed countless job applications and been called for eight interviews, but was successful in only two instances. Both opportunities were short term engagements.

He did his internship at Mathare North Health centre at the height of the pandemic, yet he and his colleagues worked without pay even though they were frontline workers. When their internship ended, they were not absorbed.

“Before starting the internship, I had to pay Sh27,000 for the professional exams at Public Health and Technician Council, then wait for three months for the results. I used to spend Sh200 daily on fare to the hospital. When Covid-19 struck, the workload increased, but we were never paid and never recognised by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services. And after the internship, most of us had to apply for jobs because we weren’t retained. 

Even though Amos* (his identity has been protected because he could lose his job) was lucky to get a job at a multi-national organisation five years ago, he has never been promoted.

As a field engineer, the 34-year-old’s role is to provide technical support to the organisation and its clients. He is frustrated that despite his excellent performance, he has never received any recognition.

“My colleagues and I have had very marginal salary increases, of eight per cent per annum,” laments Amos, adding that the amount is insignificant when measured against the country’s inflation rate. When he and his colleagues joined the organisation, they had no families. Now, half a decade later, their households and needs have grown yet the salary doesn’t match up.

He expected to have moved to a senior position within five years, or to just rise up the salary grade. But neither of that has happened, and he and his colleagues can only watch in dismay as new, younger employees under probation join their pay grade.

“I have realised that the management prefers hiring expatriates instead of promoting internally. Those are always paid way better than us.

“We feel demoralised, which has led to high turnover of employees. We have raised complaints through surveys and other forums, but no action has been taken. We no longer feel that dedicated to work. We get to work late and leave early, to attend to our side jobs that will give us more income,” he says.


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