Okay, let’s face it; the youth unemployment rate in Kenya is at its worst in decades. Reliable sources place the youth unemployment rate at between 65 and 80%. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but here is the thing: only about 20 to 35% of us are going to be gainfully employed. If you are not among this lucky one third, then there are two scenarios. You could have a godfather waiting for you to clear school – which is good for you. Take the runway and don’t look back. As a friend of mine always tells me, if you get a chance to run away from poverty, run like a mad man. For the rest of us who are unlucky and godfather-less, well, we will be degree-carrying members of the jobless club. We will be the first generation of university graduates to move back in with our mothers because we are unemployed, broke and with no leads on how to make a living.
Now, before you consider yourself part of the 20 to 35% that lands gainful employment, let’s consider a common scenario first. Upon leaving campus, you type out your CV the way they taught you in that AISEC meeting, exaggerating your internship experience just like everyone else. You send your CV, alongside your certificates, to the best employers in town. And then the waiting begins. A few weeks later and you don’t have any reply yet, but you are still calm and optimistic – because you have a decorated degree from an ISO certified institution. So you send out a few more CVs because there is no harm in increasing your chances. More weeks pass, no responses. You don’t panic yet because you followed the system to the letter – you went to all the right schools, got all the right grades, and now you are waiting for that dream job. But ‘just in case’, you decide to send out some more CVs. Not many this time – about 120.
Before you know it, a year is already gone. If you managed to get a response, it either said that you were not qualified enough, or you were “overqualified”. You won’t be alone. Believe you me, my internship supervisor confessed to me that he tarmacked for eight years before he landed a meaningful job at the Ministry of Lands. Eight years. As desperation crawls in, it will matter less if you have an aeronautical degree; you will be lucky to land that job as a mortuary secretary. There are good chances that what you settle for eventually won’t be your 1st, 4th or even 100th choice in your career plan. And if by some grace you land a job in your top 50 choices, you will probably be the underpaid, overworked underappreciated, sent-to-do-odd jobs employee who is always mistaken for the posta guy. Welcome to the 9-to-5!
The truth is that the conventional path of going to the right schools, getting the right grades and ultimately landing your dream job has been travelled for so long, by so many people, that it is now full of potholes, if not dead broken. True, you did everything right to the letter, but here is the thing – the system never prepared you for the practical experience. You have a degree in electrical engineering but you don’t even know how to connect a coil! Heck, they never even taught you how to answer a phone in the Public Relations class. And you definitely won’t become a company executive on your first job just because you have a degree in management.
Before you go ahead and label me a pessimist, I would like to point out that there is a difference between a pessimist and a realist. I have no intention of dampening your spirits – I am only pointing out to the fact that there are better and more satisfying ways to make a living out there. If I got a shilling for every time I named a prominent entrepreneur who made it in life without graduating in college, I would well be on my way to the millionaires club. Talk of the likes of Henry Ford, Richard Branson, John D. Rockefeller and James Cameron. Heck, even Bill Gates quit college before completing his second year and has never been seen in school again.
No, am not saying you quit school. Am only saying that it’s about time you stopped placing all your eggs in the degree basket. Heaven forbid that you become another unemployment statistic. Find something you are passionate about, devote some time and effort into making it a living-earner. If you are truly passionate about something, you won’t require much effort or capital in making it a business. Move the “seek employment” entry on your To Do List to the bottom of the list. Take a stand and choose to become an employer instead. You will stand better chances of succeeding that way. Trust me.
You can also Read: Youth Employment: After Campus, What Next? Part II
This article was written by Walter Murimi
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