Jobless and burned out: Why we gave up looking for jobs

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • The pride and confidence that university graduates used to enjoy is waning due to high levels of employment, which was pegged at a horrifying 5.74 per cent as of 2021. 

  • Good academic credentials no longer guarantee a good life.

In today’s world, it can take five years or more of rejection, depression and anxiety before a college graduate gets a job. This is due to various reasons, including an already saturated job market, a bulging youth population, and an economy in recession. As such, many educated job seekers have had to devise creative ways to stay occupied and earn a living. 

The pride and confidence that graduates used to enjoy is waning due to soaring levels of employment. Impressive academic credentials no longer guarantee graduates a good life. Universities churn out thousands of graduates each year, but only 52 per cent of them get absorbed into the market. 

So, who is to blame? Four graduates share their heart wrenching experiences of job hunting.

Photo credit: Pool

Bill Clinton Muguai, 25
Electrical and electronics graduate from University of Nairobi

“I have decided to dump not a girl, but papers,” reads a post on LinkedIn by Bill Clinton Muigai. Due to frustration, he decided to vent about the challenges of job hunting on the professional digital space.

On that post, he added that he would be venturing into content creation despite the fact that he had a wealth of knowledge in engineering. That post quickly gained traction and went viral. Bill went on to fault the Kenyan education system, saying that the curriculum offers nothing but false promises. He finished by encouraging young students to drop school if they have an opportunity to make money.

In his high school final exams in 2014, Bill attained grade A of 83 points. The following year, on September 14 2015, he was admitted at the University of Nairobi to pursue an electrical and electronics engineering course. The prestigious and demanding course took five years to complete, and he graduated in September 24, 2021 with First Class honors.

It was during job hunting that reality dawned on him. For half a year, he applied for internships and job opportunities but none was forthcoming. The high cost of living in the city and numerous bills began weighing him down, yet his email inbox remained dry, with uncountable rejections and no job offers. It was at this point that he decided to relocate back to the village, where he has remained to date.

At the beginning of this year, with nothing better to do, Bill resolved to diversify his skills. He took online courses on software engineering and web development with the hope that the two would lead him to a rewarding job, only to have his dream shattered once more.

“If job application were a skill, then I have the highest distinction. There is no recommendation or opportunity that I haven’t tried,” he says.

Before he made the post on LinkedIn, American multinational technology company Microsoft was recruiting university graduates for roles in programming. Bill felt equal to the task since he had been practicing it for a year, and tendered his application. He was however rejected.

“That refusal really triggered me,” he reveals. “I know I am no guru in electrical or software engineering, but I have the knowledge and skills. I wonder why I was rejected,” he adds.

Bill doesn’t consider himself just book smart. He believes he is also street smart. Getting a First Class degree was no mean feat and attaining the grade required to join the Nairobi University was a lifetime achievement to him. He was good at mathematics and sciences, so he felt engineering would be a safe and rewarding career.

He believed that his good grades would guarantee him a good life since he grew up being told that education is the key to success.

On whether he plans to pursue a Master’s degree so as to better his prospects, Bill says that an individual should master their hands-on, problem solving skills, and not just their theoretical skills.

“I would have taken this route, but I really want to get an internship or a job first,” he says.

And so Bill plunged into the unknown and opened a YouTube account. He always had an interest in videography and briefly after high school, he recalls shooting videos that his relatives really loved. He is now in the process of purchasing a camera and microphone so that he can offer lessons on engineering on his page.

“This was not an easy decision, but it is a practical one. I have no choice,” he notes.

Photo credit: Pool

Eldonnah Khendo, 27
Communication and media graduate from Kisii University

Five years after graduating from university, Eldonnah has nothing to show for her academic papers. The job hunting process has been tough, especially the act of shuffling between interviews.

“You can apply for 10 jobs, be invited for seven interviews and still fail to get a job offer. I had high hopes that six months after graduation, I would get a good job,” she remarks.

Eldonnah has tried her hand in jobs outside her communication background. She applied to be a centre manager for a government organisation and a customer care attendant at a local bank, but nothing came out of that. In 2020, to upskill, she learnt transcription skills offered by Ajira Digital, but the field was crowded with many jobless individuals looking for online jobs.

She has no kind words for the 8-4-4 education system. She says it is dysfunctional, and that it is the reason universities churn out half baked graduates.

“The system focuses too much on theory rather than the practical skills. In the field of media, for instance, it is common for an untrained comedian to get a job at the expense of a graduate of journalism whose only failure is that he or she lacks practical skills.

She has held a yearlong internship position with a local TV station where she learnt about TV production and videography, which are things she wasn’t exposed to during her four years in university.

Eldonnah says that job seeking shouldn’t be the arduous task that it is today.

“Nobody should ever have to bear the frustrations of being educated and unemployed. Despite having a robust social network, I still haven’t found a breakthrough.

“It reaches a point you put your papers aside and just hustle. You cry often after a long day of job hunting, but you have to wake up the next day and find a means to put food on the table.” She says. To survive, Eldonnah recently opened an online shoe selling business.

Photo credit: Pool

Rita Dominic Anyango, 25
Bachelor of education graduate from Moi university

In December 2020, after a six-year-long wait, Rita eventually graduated. She had a baby while in campus, so she was doubly motivation to find a teaching job and work hard. But a job took too long to come. First, she struggled to get a number from the Teachers Service Commission due to a delay in her cohort’s graduation ceremony, and this made it difficult for her to get a job.

The following year, she decided to take a risk and took a teaching job in Garissa. She needed a source of income and was passionate about putting her teaching skills to practice. A year into the job, she was replaced unceremoniously with another teacher who had the TSC number.

“I was gutted by the job loss and depression kicked in. I had to see a therapist. That was my turning point. I decided to set aside my academic papers and find practical ways of surviving.

“Graduates should be psychologically prepared for a tough life after graduation. The people around me feel sorry that I, who was once used as an example of an ambitious woman who is focused on her studies, is now jobless. The government should introduce internship opportunities to enable fresh graduates gain experience.

“Yes, TSC announces vacancies and internships regularly, but there is stiff competitions for these jobs, with thousands looking to get them,” she says.

Rita says that there needs to be a change in how people view education.

“That degree is meant to enlighten you. It shouldn’t tie you down to just one job or one field. You can achieve anything. The obsession with white collar jobs, which is instilled in many people’s minds while growing up, ends up limiting them from using the skills they have to solve real life problems.

“It is high time we created our own jobs and dropped the ego and entitlement that comes with academic qualifications. For instance, I believe there is money to be made through farming,” she says, and urges parents to avoid forcing their children to take certain courses.

“Teaching is no longer the illustrious career choice it was in years past. You can be offered a starting salary of Sh8,000 as you await a permanent and pensionable government position, and that amount is just too low,” she says.

Late last year, Rita ventured into fish mongering business, but before that she took a short course in business management to advance her knowledge.

Photo credit: Pool

Yvonne Osebe Mosiria, 25
Water resources management graduate from Maseno University

Yvonne was passionate about studying media, but the odds were stacked high against her. She unsuccessfully tried to change the course, so for four years, she learnt about a field she had no interest in. She felt she didn’t belong, and that inspired her to start an organisation.

In October 2017, together with her friends, Patrick Kingori and Lewis Kanyiri, Yvonne founded a TV station called Bliss. The following year, in 2018, she worked for more than 20 organisations, volunteering and offering mentorship to young people. Bliss TV blossomed into a media company and last year, during its fourth anniversary, Yvonne and her partners had mentored more than 4,000 youth. They plan to empower even more young people. 

“It is really hard for young people to navigate the current job market. The 8-4-4 system has failed many, including me. Few graduates recognise that there is more to life than academic excellence.

“For me to get where I am, I had to leverage on my skills, not my qualifications. I believe entrepreneurship is the way to go since the unemployment rates keep rising,” she says.

She says that through her interaction with the youth, she has learnt that most of them want a job so that they can earn the money to cater for their needs, instead of looking to thrive in a specific area of interest.

Most of her friends, she says, are very picky when it comes to jobs. 

“I apply to any job opportunity that I feel well qualified for. In the last seven days, for instance, I have sent out 20 job requests, but I have not received even a single reply.

“I think most youthful job seekers have given up, but I also believe that better days are coming. What matters is what you do while awaiting a breakthrough. Self-motivation is also key to unlocking opportunities,” she adds.

Yvonne observes that a degree does not necessarily dictate one’s career path. To her, if you are skilled, you can get any job.

“In my involvements with young people, I encourage them not to focus on big companies, but on youth organisations which absorb fresh graduates.”