It takes more than a degree to beat unemployment

Why do we continue to witness skills gap? How do we create synergy between universities and technical and vocational institutions? How do we create research universities? PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The 8-4-4 system of education that has been unfavourably highlighted as one of the chief contributors to this situation of having graduates who are unable to secure jobs, focus on academic grades at the expense of moulding an all rounded individual being a major pointer.
  • Nevertheless, many 8-4-4 graduates have secured jobs, delivered to their employers impressively and risen through the ranks in the corporate ladder.

Every year, universities in Kenya churn out tens of thousands of graduates. Unfortunately, majority of these graduates remain unemployed for long because of scarcity of jobs, while others settle for whatever job that comes their way.

In worst case scenarios, some graduates are rendered unemployable because of the quality of their courses and, or overall relevance of their courses to the job market.

The 8-4-4 system of education that has been unfavourably highlighted as one of the chief contributors to this situation of having graduates who are unable to secure jobs, focus on academic grades at the expense of moulding an all rounded individual being a major pointer.

Nevertheless, many 8-4-4 graduates have secured jobs, delivered to their employers impressively and risen through the ranks in the corporate ladder.

There are others who, noting the challenges that they could have faced upon graduating, took deliberate steps that set them apart from every other graduate.

So, what are the variables that come into play; what is the difference between youth who are able to get jobs and successfully execute them and those who are either totally unable to secure jobs or those who, when they get the jobs, they are not able to deliver?

This feature sought perspectives of young people on what ails the 8-4-4 system of education as well as their opinions on what can be improved in terms of how they were prepared for the job market, and what deliberate steps they took or are taking to position themselves as assets at their places of work.


Sheila Waswa, 22

C.E.O, Chasing Mavericks Ltd

Sheila is a final year student and she cannot say for sure whether her training in communication and journalism is adequate for the job market.

“There is a big difference between what we learn in class and what employers expect us to know, because class is mostly theoretical,” she says.

Although a fourth year student, Sheila already has three years’ worth of job experience because for the most part of her university education, she has been working.

“My school has very long holidays so I took advantage of this to begin to build my work experience. In first year, for example, we had holidays for six months and during this time, I worked at an NGO, where I got hands on experience in communication, finance and project management in general. In second year I interned at the Bungoma County Government as a PR and events management person during the three months’ long holiday.

Sheila Waswa, 22, is the C.E.O, Chasing Mavericks Ltd. PHOTO| KANYIRI WAHITO

In third year, we had a one year and two months break for both the long holidays and strikes and I took up an attachment in cultural and arts criticism at Lola Kenya Screen and later volunteered at Africa Summit On Entrepreneurship and Innovation as a communication officer,” she says.

Sheila now feels ready for the workplace and has even started her own PR and marketing company, Chasing Mavericks Limited. “I learnt some of the most basic things such as research, summary skills, conducting interviews and analytical thinking when I was interning, skills that were not given enough attention at school, yet are very important for my job.

I believe that anyone depending on the degree alone to get employed will have a very hard time,” she says. 

She opines that the, 8-4-4 system of education as currently constituted does not prepare one well for the job market but believes that students can get ahead if they take the initiative to steer themselves towards their dreams.

 “When you get a chance to do something, whether as a volunteer or as an intern, take it up as it is the best way to get the practical skills not given at school. Also try to make worthwhile networks, “she advices.

Sheila is hesitant to welcome the new education curriculum that will replace the 8-4-4 system.

“If you look keenly, everything that is proposed in the new curriculum already exist – been in existence since the Moi era. We have other pressing needs within the education sector such as lack of infrastructure especially in remote schools. It would be better if the money being spent setting up the new system would be invested, instead, in enhancing proper implementation of the system that we have now because even with the new system, inclusivity is still a challenge and dealing with this is more pressing than changing the system,” she advices.


Jeffrey Kirumba, 24

IT Consultant

Jeffrey believes that the proposed curriculum change, if implemented well, could hand a life-line to many students. He believes that the system has a big role to play when it comes to setting up individuals for the job market and for overall life success. The current 8-4-4 system simply does not adequately address all these needs.

“I have been working for two years now and my biggest challenge, initially, was applying what I had learned in school to the real demands of the job,” he says.

Jeffrey Kirumba, 24, IT Consultant. PHOTO| COURTESY

But he is aware that the challenge of connecting education to the workplace demands is one that many graduates have to navigate because, in the current education system, there is a huge gap between what is offered and what the graduates are expected to deliver at the workplace.

“I think that transition to a competency-based system of education, which focuses on the wholesome growth of the individual, will better equip young people with the skills needed to succeed at the workplace. We also need more collaboration between the private sector and tertiary institutions of learning to better contribute to preparing graduates for the workplace,” he notes.

Towards the end of his undergraduate degree at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), representatives from KPMG visited his school and spoke to them about the available opportunities at the company, and what was required of them to get into the graduate programme.

“I got into KPMG through their graduate recruitment programme in 2016 and luckily for us (those recruited), the company has a very intensive induction period,” he says, adding that his thriving at his workplace has something to do with the set-up of the company.

“KPMG encourages continuous learning and skills improvement, a detail useful for green-horned graduates joining the workplace. I am currently taking some company sponsored professional courses that are relevant to my field. We also have regular learning hours amongst our teams for continued shared learning,” he says.

From his observation in as far as the graduate recruitment programme goes, academic qualifications are the minimum requirement. Attributes such as being proactive, having soft-skills, ability to properly communicate ideas, public speaking and just being respectful are important skills if one wants to set themselves apart from thousands of people with academic credentials like theirs.

“In the current job market, there are very many other people with similar qualifications. The way to distinguish yourself is by putting in effort to learn new skills and keeping abreast with emerging trends in your field. However, this in itself is not sufficient. On an industrial scale, I believe that this issue can only be fully addressed by reforming the education system,” he says.


Jacqueline Wangui, 26


Jacqueline graduated in November 2017 and believes that her schooling prepared her well for the work- place.

“We had many college-sponsored workshops and sometimes I sponsored myself to attend other professionally relevant functions. Therefore, apart from the book knowledge I got in school, I was able to extensively interact with the field and learn the practical side of teaching,” she says, but adds that getting a job was not easy because the job market is heavily flooded by the number of people looking for the same jobs.

Luckily for Jacqueline, she had previously worked as a part time teacher while still in school, so having that experience on her CV smoothened out the path for her.

Jacqueline Wangui, 26, Teacher. PHOTO| FRANCIS NDERITU

“But working part-time was not easy because a lot of people at the school treated me badly. I felt that they did not value my work despite the fact that it was a heavy workload; added to my school work.” she notes.

On the brighter side, because of this intensity – practicing before graduation, attending career-relevant functions and adhering to a tight work schedule during half of her college days, she was aptly prepared when she became formerly employed. Still, she notes some bottle necks such as the long wait before one finally gets a TSC number and the process of getting into the payroll. “I wish people who are responsible for making these decisions can review the process, so that the transition from school to the job market is smoother for graduate teachers.”

Jacqueline says that prospective teachers should be aware that there are challenges but they should tap into the positive side; like volunteering and taking up internships to build their skill set.


Victor Mwenda, 22

Student, Software and web developer

Currently in his final year, Victor says that it took a six-month ICT internship for him to realise that whatever he was learning at school was not really preparing him adequately for the job market.

“There was a big difference between what the employer expected from me and what school had prepared me to do at the workplace,” he says.

Victor feels that although the 8-4-4 system had some very bright spots that made him hard-working and helped him build character because he was expected to take in and handle heavy workloads from an early age, the challenge with the system is the abrupt transitions and in that sense, he felt rushed. Additionally, he feels that one stage of learning had nothing to do with the next.

Victor Mwenda, 22, software and web developer. PHOTO| KANYIRI WAHITO

“Implementing a new system might not have immediate benefits or may not have any benefits at all if the execution is hurried or done without having proper people to do the job. We also need to have deliberate measures to align the education system with the needs of the market and the real life,” he says.

To keep himself updated and in a place where he understands the job market, apart from his classwork, Victor is registered for a field-related mentorship program with KamiLimu and he is also on an on-going Google Udacity program to help him build a professional edge over his peers.

“I think that some companies understand that the market is different from what is taught in school, and take the initiative to bring trainings to the students. If all employers also stepped in, we will build a pool of better graduates and improve delivery at our places of work.  On the other hand, students need to take the initiative to learn about their fields of interest and improve their skills because more often than not, what the school gives is just a fraction. Everyone has a role to play,” he says, and continues to note that whatever system of education Kenya chooses to go with, “it must be more practical than theoretical. On the other hand, employers should invest in their employees to make them better workers”.


Kendi Jacqueline, 23


Kendi feels that she needs much more than she is currently learning at school. “Although I have not worked anywhere yet, I feel that the school is giving me the theoretical side of training only. And because of this feeling, I have registered for on-the job mentorship programmes. I am a beneficiary of an on-going Google Udacity scholarship and I am also registered with IBM for further training on programming”, she reveals.

According to her, what one can achieve out of education is heavily dependent on where they come from because if the inequalities in the system are transferred to another system, then we might not have any meaningful gains out of it.

Kendi Jacqueline, 23, student. PHOTO| KANYIRI WAHITO

“The government needs to play a role in ensuring that resources are equally spread across all learning institutions. However, most people move ahead in life depending on whether they have parents who are enlightened enough to show them the way or even financially able to support them with extra trainings,” she says.

Kendi is currently working on android applications.

“I have already started putting my work out there and actively building my skills for whatever direction my career will take – self-employment or a job in a company,” she says, and adds that the company that one keeps also plays a very big role in preparing one for the job market – “if they challenge you to be better, then you get the drive to put in that extra effort”.

Change of system or not, for Kendi, urgent measures that can make education better is ensuring that all educators are competent to handle their subjects, skilfully helping students identify their areas of strength and begin specialising earlier as opposed to wasting time on weak areas, as well as providing infrastructure and all necessary equipment to facilitate meaningful learning,” she concludes.