What you need to know:
- The number of jobless persons grew 2.94 per cent from 2.89 million according to data from KNBS released in April 2023
- Young people below the age of 29 were the hardest hit, forcing them to devise ways of navigating the shrinking job market
The transition from graduation to employment can be a rough one for students. A shrinking job market, dwindling economic fortunes and sky high rates of unemployment make this journey a long and frustrating one for many.
In 2020, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics revealed a stark reality – that 32.4 per cent of young people aged between 20 and 29 were unemployed. To make matters worse, majority of them were recent graduates.
This means that having the required academic qualifications is no longer a guarantee that one will find a job.
This week, four graduates who tried unsuccessfully to find good jobs in their areas of study share their experiences, and discuss what they have learnt about navigating the Kenyan job market.
Mathew Mutero, 23
Waiting to graduate as a Construction Manager
After completing my four-year Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management at Technical University of Kenya, I was excited and looking forward to enter the professional world. However, that was not my original dream. In high school, I dreamed of building a career in architecture.
Unfortunately, I didn’t attain the required grade to secure government sponsorship to study architecture after my final high school exams, and this forced me to settle for a course in construction management.
Thankfully, my initial apprehensions were quickly replaced by a deep passion for the field. As I continued with my studies, it became clear to me how important it was to take employment opportunities even before graduating.
Instead of spending hours watching TV series during my free time, I began to participate in expos, construction-related gala dinners, and site visits. While these endeavors did not guarantee immediate employment, they significantly boosted my chances in the competitive job market. My breakthrough came sooner than I expected. To my amazement, I was given a job immediately after completing my studies (this month). It was a miracle.
I believe this good fortune was as a result of consistent networking throughout my four years in school, and the good impression I had made to those who had given me opportunities as a student.
It proved that truly, good connections in the close-knit construction industry are vital. Networking had become second nature to me since my freshman year. I cultivated good communication skills and built the confidence to approach industry leaders and take on roles even when I felt I wasn’t qualified.
Additionally, I had the privilege of being mentored by Nashon Okowa, a renowned construction project manager in Kenya. His invaluable guidance became the cornerstone of my early success. Mentorship has also become an invaluable facet of my journey.
A good mentor not only imparts wisdom but also helps you avoid common pitfalls. In this regard, I highly recommend The Abnormal Student, a book offering 27 strategies for students and graduates who want to stand out in the competitive job market.
I have also learnt that to move ahead in life and in your career, you need to top competing and instead work on your strengths so that you can stand out. Many job seekers usually submit Curriculum Vitae (CV) riddled with avoidable errors. I would advise every job seeker to enlist the services of a professional designer who can help them create a strong, unique personal brand.
As someone who has benefited immensely from mentorship and networking, I encourage today’s youth not to hesitate when reaching out to professionals in their desired fields. In my journey, I faced rejection a couple of times. However, persistence and a ‘never say die’ attitude led me here. I once approached someone I really admired during a gala dinner, and the following year, I reapplied for a position at his company and was shortlisted. The person is now my mentor.
Ivy Jeptoo Kiptum, 27
I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Kiswahili from Moi University, a course that heavily focuses on communication. At that time, I had dreams of stepping into the world of media. I desired to create a career reminiscent of renowned Citizen TV news anchor Lulu Hassan or media personality and entrepreneur Betty Kyallo.
I greatly admired the two and often practised reading news in front of a mirror. I saw myself as the next prominent media personality. However, after graduation, the reality of joblessness hit me hard. It was a phase that neither my parents nor my teachers had prepared me for.
For six months, I found myself at home, diligently sending out job applications through my phone, only to receive countless “We regret to inform you...” emails. The disappointment was palpable, and my parents and neighbors began to get concerned.
In search of better fortunes, I decided to move in with a friend who was also job hunting. Together, we resolved to be proactive and apply for jobs by physically visiting various offices. To our surprise, many of the media organisations we approached revealed that there was a scarcity of opportunities for Kiswahili graduates.
Buoyed by this, we decided to volunteer our services at a local radio station, considering it an opportunity to build our names and portfolios. After a month of volunteer work, I secured an internship position at Radio Light and Life in Kericho. While it was an unpaid internship, I had a relative living in the area, so I could live with them as I gained experience in radio.
But after that I still had to endure a long period of joblessness, which was excruciating for me since I had expected a seamless transition from campus life to a job. It was a humbling experience that taught me valuable life lessons. One of the major challenges I encountered during this period was the issue of trust.
I came across people who offered me dubious job opportunities, suggesting that I needed to pay a fee to secure the position. Fortunately, I did not fall for any such scams even though I was desperate.
Volunteering at my university’s radio station while studying helped me get relevant experience. However, I soon realised that it was not sufficient to guarantee me a job in the competitive media industry.
Currently, I am pursuing a different career path at Kenyatta University, where I am pursuing Bachelor of Education (Home Economics).This shift in focus was informed by the realisation that without a well-thought-out fallback plan, I could end up investing a lot of time and effort into a career that might not be worth it in the long run.
Reflecting on my journey, I have learnt that sometimes, life doesn’t unfold exactly as we envision. The job market can be unforgiving, especially for graduates aspiring to work in their specific fields of study. It is crucial to be adaptable and street-smart, recognising that experience will follow as you enter the job market. Many graduates, like myself, initially aim to secure a job aligned with their academic background, but the reality is that you’ll often be required to explore different fields.
Joy Akinyi, 24
When I graduated, I embarked on a challenging job search that lasted four months. It was a period of frustration and uncertainty, as I faced numerous rejections despite having earned my degree.
However, these challenges ultimately shaped me into a more determined and resilient job seeker. One crucial turning point in my journey was when a mentor reviewed my Curriculum Vitae (CV) and told me I needed to change how I presented myself. Armed with this valuable feedback, I resolved to master the art of crafting an impressive CV and cover letter. This shift in my approach made a significant difference in how potential employers perceived me.
Another hurdle I faced during my job search was knowing how to excel in aptitude tests during the recruitment process. Initially, I struggled with modern assessments due to lack of preparation and poor time management, but later I learnt the importance of staying updated on industry trends and being well-prepared for every step of the application process. During my time in university, I had not explored any part-time jobs or internships because I was on a tri-semester schedule and believed I did not have the time.
Looking back, I realise I had more time than I thought and should have sought out opportunities to gain practical experience, which would have boosted my chances at employment. Eventually, I got a temporary job as a data liaison officer for a company, after I saw the advert on a jobs notice board.
It was a small step, but it gave me a foot up the ladder. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and have been working diligently to prove my worth. This dedication paid off, and after my three-month attachment, I received a full-time job offer from the same company.
This experience taught me the importance of seizing any opportunity that comes, regardless of whether you are being paid or not. I chose to focus on long-term growth and building a strong foundation in my field, and that led to a rewarding career as a quantitative analyst. Looking back, I wish I had explored volunteer opportunities and internships during my university days to gain experience and build my resume.
That could have significantly shortened my job searching process after graduation. I would advise recent graduates to continue networking and sharing their job search journeys with friends and classmates. Many job openings are filled through internal referrals, so don’t underestimate the power of your networks.
Additionally, be open-minded and willing to learn, as your first job may not align exactly with your academic background. Embrace opportunities for growth and development, and remember that hard work truly pays off.
Joseph Nyongesa, 28
Part time Kiswahili Tutor
I graduated in August 2021 from Moi University with a Bachelor of Arts in Kiswahili with a clear career aspiration – to become the editor of a prominent print or broadcast media outlet. I also had my sights set on working as a Hansard reporter or editor in Parliament, the Senate, or any of the 47 county governments.
But the job search process after graduation wasn’t easy. In Kenya, finding a well-paying job is a big challenge, and I knew I had to be courageous and determined in order to find a breakthrough.
Thankfully, I secured a contractual position as a BOG (Board of Governors) trainer at Kisiwa Technical Training Institute just a month after graduating, in September 2021. While not a permanent position, it provided me with a source of income to sustain myself. I continued to actively seek job opportunities wherever and whenever they were advertised, and recently attempted to join the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF), albeit without success.
The speed at which I landed my first job, within just one month, surprised me. I considered it a blessing and a testament to my persistence. The challenges I faced during my job search include lack of information about vacancies in various organisations, and the prevalence of nepotism, where individuals favoured relatives for job positions.
However, I refused to be deterred by these obstacles, and maintained my focus throughout the job search while relying on prayer to help me overcome challenges. While in school, I had the opportunity to complete an internship at the Trans Nzoia County Assembly as a Hansard reporter and editor, which provided me with valuable experience relevant to my field of study.
Despite my initial desire to work in the media, I found employment as a Kiswahili and communication skills tutor at a TVET institution. I had to be flexible and take it. During my job search, I found various strategies and resources helpful, including my current employer’s website, online platforms like myjobs.com, and the Public Service Commission (PSC) website.
I think recent graduates who are struggling to find jobs should be proactive, keep abreast of job opportunities, and diversify their skills. Seeking exposure and exploring income-generating activities can also be helpful. Looking back, I believe that accepting and adapting to the realities of the shrinking job market in Kenya was crucial.
Sometimes, what you have in hand is more valuable than what you wish for. In the evolving job market, I have noticed that certain requirements, such as professional certifications and clearances from various authorities, can contribute to delays in finding a job.