New collar jobs: The growing appeal for entrepreneurship among Kenyan youth

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What you need to know:

  • The ‘education is key to success’ mantra is out of tune with the reality graduates face.
  • The appeal of self-employment seems to be growing steadily. 

With hundreds of thousands of graduates being churned out every year into a shrinking job market, many young Kenyan professionals are finding themselves unable to find employment after graduating. 

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), at least seven million Kenyans are unemployed, with young people accounting for 70 per cent of that figure. 

Consequently, the number of young people turning to business has increased significantly. 

Despite some stereotypes and expectations from family members and society that hold white-collar jobs in high regard, entrepreneurship has proven to be a viable option for many jobless graduates. 

Wanjiku Muriithi holds a Bachelor's degree in communication and Public Relations. She sells cereals in Nakuru Town.
Photo credit: Pool

Wanjiku Muriithi, 28, graduate of public relations
Sells cereals 

Wanjiku knew exactly what she wanted to be when she graduated from Karatina University in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in communication and public relations – a PR specialist. 

But this was not to be, as she applied to several jobs but was never hired. 

Rather than mope over her state of unemployment, Wanjiku relocated to Nakuru and opened a barbershop, which, after seven months, collapsed.

She claims that the barbershop’s location was not ideal, and that she lacked experience managing the business, which she co-owned with a friend. 

“My partner and I sold the barbershop for Sh80,000 and we split the proceeds equally. Those funds served as my starting capital when I entered the cereals business. I purchased a bag of rice from my mother, who had a similar shop,” she says. 

Wanjiku thought it wise to put her PR and communication skills to use, so she turned to social media to market her products. According to her, this decision completely changed the trajectory of her business. 

“I began by selling just pishori rice when I started my business in 2020, and it worked well. Later, I met someone who was already in the cereals industry. Seeing tonnes of goods in his store inspired me. I opened a cereal store in 2022 as part of my diversification plan, and the business is still standing,” she says. 

In addition to the popular product, pishori rice, Wanjiku has since added many cereal varieties as well as honey to her store. She gets her clients through recommendations, in-person visits, and online marketing. She targets people who buy for home consumption as well as those who buy to resell. 

Wanjiku gives online marketing credit for enabling her to succeed in the competitive business.  

Wanjiku believes that the food industry is profitable since every human being needs to eat. 

“I source for premium products and deliver clean, well-sorted cereals to my customers on time. My shop is located in a strategic location, making it easy to net customers.”

She acknowledges that there are challenges associated with the industry, including con artists, attacks by weevils, and excessive rain which occasionally ruins the cereals. 

Wanjiku advises everyone, including fresh graduates, to start where they are with what they have, and not to be picky when it comes to jobs. 

“Be confident and steadfast in your quest for financial independence. My goal is to go into commercial farming and become a major national supplier of honey, pishori rice and cereals at wholesale prices,” she notes.

Wanjiku concludes that she has no regrets about missing out on a career in public relations and that her focus is now firmly on her business.

Victor Nyaoga graduate of film production

Freelance photographer
On the streets of Nakuru town, you might spot a group of youths standing with cameras slung on their shoulders, ready to click and have a shot towards a better life.

Victor is one of these photographers. He says he had to snap out of the fantasy of getting a white-collar job after he failed to get a job after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in film production and animation from Multimedia University. 

“As a self-employed photographer, I cover events, outdoor photo shoots, and on the streets to get random clients. I chose this path after giving up on finding a job”, he says.

As a teenager, Victor was always fascinated with fashion. During his university years, smartphones had just started becoming popular. He would dress up and ask his roommate to take photos of him on his phone, which he shared on social media.

“Campus life was difficult, but I was determined not to rely solely on my parents for support. My father boosted me by buying me a Tecno phone and a Nikon d5200 camera, which were my first pieces of equipment.”

To monetise his passion for photography, he decided to try to broaden his horizons by utilising his equipment, developing his brand, VICEYE, and charging his classmates Sh50 for every picture.

“My passion for street photography started when I organised intercampus outdoor sessions on weekends to draw students from other campuses to visit our school since Multimedia University was large and had a good ambience for photos and large walkways.” 

Victor notes that the process of looking for an office job after completing his studies was hectic and draining, and when he failed to secure placement, he moved from Nairobi back to his hometown Nakuru, and resolved to dedicate himself to photography. 

“Compared to Nairobi, street photography was not so popular in Nakuru. Whenever I went to town, I would carry my camera, walk around the streets looking for well-dressed individuals, and request them to take a picture. 

Since then, Victor has established himself as a successful street photographer, and has since served over 5,000 clients. He has also collaborated with some companies in Nakuru.

“Thanks to my camera, I have entered places I never thought I would. The biggest challenge in photography has always been the equipment. They are quite pricey. The industry has also become highly competitive due to the large number of photographers and their ability to offer high-quality work at lower prices.”

From events to fashion shoots to weddings, business gatherings, and family portraits, Victor’s target market is diverse. 

“We charge Sh250 for an outdoor street photo session and up to Sh100,000 for corporate events. The future looks incredibly bright and exciting. I have no regrets, what I do is better than sitting idle at home.

Kennedy Ndungu Wairimu owns Dope Empire Entertainment.
Photo credit: Pool

Kennedy Ndung’u Wairimu, 30, studied computer science
Dope Empire Entertainment

After high school, Kennedy completed his CPA-K and IT diplomas before pursuing a computer science degree at Pwani University.

However, he was compelled to drop out in 2018 while in his third year due to financial difficulties. He worked as a disk jockey (DJ) in Mtwapa under the stage name DJ DOPE 254 before joining campus.

“When I realised I couldn’t afford my college fees, I chose to work as a Master of Ceremony (MC) during campus events to earn money. I also worked with corporates like Imarika Sacco and other private organisations at the Coast.” 

Kennedy had the same career dream as most young graduates – he wanted to become an IT guru.  

He opened a cyber café in a bid to pursue this dream, but he eventually closed it.  He believes his struggle to find employment stems from the fact that he lacks a college degree.  

“I have been self-employed for four years now, and my main priority is to grow my business and build my brand. I collaborate closely with my friends because I have not yet acquired all the necessary tools. Purchasing a laptop, DJ equipment, microphones, and sound system is my immediate need. My business is called Dope Empire Entertainment, and it allows me ample time to spend with my loved ones. 

Kennedy acknowledges that there are challenges in his area of work, but says he has no intention of looking for a white-collar job given the high unemployment rate in the country. 

“I want to give all my attention to building my brand. With time, I hope to work with a wider range of clients,” he says.

Even in these hard economic times, Kennedy says he provides for his family comfortably. 

He advises young people looking for white-collar jobs to use their skills even while studying because one never knows where their destiny lies. 

“Don’t just sit back and complain, do something and God will reward your hard work.”

Elsie Omondi Netia is the founder of REACH PR Agency.
Photo credit: Pool

Elsie Omondi Netia, 32, diploma in graphics design
Reach Prime PR Agency

Elsie acknowledges the frustrations of job hunting. She graduated in 2011 with a diploma in graphics design from Graffins College.

“I was brought up to believe that the most competent candidate usually gets the job, but I quickly found out that networking mattered more than knowledge. I could fill a library with the number of regret letters I have received while looking for a job. 

“Unfortunately, it matters more who you know than what you can do for the client. I have always known that I wanted to run my own company as a CEO, but I was not sure about the field. I tried my hand at fashion since I have always enjoyed it, but I eventually changed my focus to public relations and communications,” she explains. 

Elsie runs a communications and PR agency, Reach Prime, based in Nairobi which she launched in 2017, specialising in digital brand strategy and digital communications for SMEs. She is in the process of launching a second PR firm.

“I enjoy what I do, and I pay my expenses too. I have been able to move my family to a better neighbourhood and send my children to school thanks to my work.

“I say to anyone who can listen that the world has changed. You cannot just wait for a job, you must expand your network and build your CV,” she advises.

Franklyn Andiavo, 25, is a mobile barber who resorted to self-employment after failing to secure a white-collar job.
Photo credit: Pool

Franklyn Andiavo, 25, IT diploma 
Mobile barber

Like every young graduate, Franklyn had lofty aspirations of becoming a pilot, physician, or lawyer. Now, looking back, he believes those were his parents’ aspirations and not his own. 

“As I grew older, my passion for beauty, fashion, and grooming increased, which is how I ended up becoming a barber. Yes, I tried to find a job especially in the IT field after I graduated with a diploma in Information Technology from Aviation College, but luck did not favour me despite my numerous applications. 

However, this turned out to be a blessing for him as it pushed him to focus on his business.

“I decided to become a barber as I needed a source of income and also because I realised how much I loved fashion and grooming. I run a mobile barber service that is like Bolt or Uber, but for haircut services. My clients can get my number through my social media platforms and call me, then I go to their locations to render the services. 

“I carry all tools of trade in my bag, which includes a foldable mirror, a camp chair, and a rechargeable shaving machine,” he says.

Franklyn has been a mobile barber for a little more than a year, and a barber for more than four years. He says he enjoys his work and finds it satisfying to watch clients’ confidence soar after receiving a haircut. 

He claims to have lost track of the number of clients he has served over the years, but he finds fulfillment in the affirmations and praises he receives from those who become new friends or develop ties with him as a result of his haircuts. 

“My business pays my bills, but at the moment I am investing in new equipment to expand my clientele. In addition, I sell watches and branded merchandise such as Tshirts and sweatshirts online. I co-own this company with a friend. It’s called Sydney Collection,” he explains.

He encourages young people to embrace self-employment because technological breakthroughs like AI and machine learning are automating many jobs.

“Start your own business instead of waiting for traditional jobs.”