Searching for an Entry-Level Job in Kenya? Here’s what you need to know…

For years now, we have come across various reasons why Youth Unemployment in Kenya has been on the rise despite Government Measures to ensure every young person has access to education. The results are obvious for anyone to see, year on year, graduands, like clockwork, are released into the job market. With that, the pressure for the job market to absorb them grew, and with that, complaints about half-baked graduates increased. Who would blame them when there is a total breakdown between what’s in the curriculum and what is needed in factories, board rooms and the streets?

According to the Kenya Youth Survey 2016, unemployment is the top concern for the youth at 63%. About 1 in 2 university graduates are out of full-time employment; youth aged between 18 and 25 are twice more likely to be unemployed; and unemployment among rural women aged 18 to 35 is about 62%.

It’s no secret that employers measure their KPI in numbers, can be sales, new customers, profit, market penetration, etc and with the current economy, they will always demands a holistic set of skills and competencies from employees. Your Degree, Diploma or Certificate on it’s own won’t hack it. In addition to relevant technical skills, employers need an injection of marketing skills, life skills and core values, from their recruits to stay competitive.

The Agha Khan University East African Institute did a survey of employers and employees in the formal and informal sectors to determine entry-level skills among youth (18-30 yrs) in employment Kenya. The survey was conducted in 24 counties, which are home to over 85% of Kenya’s formal sector business establishments. The aim was to generate evidence to support reliable assessment of the skills and competences possessed by youth in entry-level jobs (the supply), and the skills and competences needed by employers (the demand).​ Fifteen sectors, comprising agriculture, wholesale & retail, construction, health and ICT, which account for 90% of jobs in both formal and informal sector, were included in the survey.

The study revealed that Kenya’s labour markets are shaped by the dominance of sectors such as wholesale and retail, food and accommodation services and transport, which account for most jobs created in the economy. Consequently, it appears that there is less demand for hard, technical skills compared to skills such as marketing and sales and entrepreneurship.

The study also found that there is very little collaboration or coordination between employers and training/skills development institutions. Hence, according to employers, most of the youth hired at entry-level lack relevant skills and competences needed for the work place.

This post breaks down the study to better understand Entry-Level Job Search and Recruitment.

The Key Stats…

An estimated 78% of Kenya’s population is aged below 35 years (NCPD, 2017) with a median age of 19 years (World Population Review, 2019).

A survey conducted by the British Council on Youth Employment in Kenya, revealed that the proportion of youth is steadily increasing and is currently estimated at 9.5 million – more than 20% of all Kenyans (Hall, 2017).

36% of 138,190 formal sector (public and private) businesses are in Nairobi; five counties (Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu) account for 50% of businesses; 20 counties account for 75% of businesses.

71% of businesses employ less than 10 people; 26% of businesses employ 10-49 people and 3% of businesses employ more than 50 people.

The Service industry accounted for 82.2% of all the employment opportunities, Manufacturing contributed to 14.6% of jobs, and Production absorbed a paltry 3.2% of the workforce.

84% of businesses are in the tertiary or services sector, 13% are in the secondary sector, 3% are in the primary sector. 32% of businesses are in wholesale/retail and 21% are in education; 94% of wholesale/retail businesses employ less than 10 people.

Tertiary or service sector; retail, wholesale, accommodation, transport, finance, education, and food services employed 82% of those interviewed. Primary and secondary sectors accounted for about 18% of entry-level jobs held by youth. Wholesale and retail accounted for 31% of entry-level jobs held by youth.

Service sector is the largest contributor to Kenya’s GDP accounting for approximately 42.5% of the annual GDP; Production at 37%; while the Manufacturing sector accounted for 15.6% of the country’s GDP (KNBS, 2019a).

About 50% and 60% of youth in formal and informal sector entry-level jobs respectively, were recruited through referrals and social networks. Only 25% and 8% of youth in formal and informal sector respectively, were recruited through advertising.​ This means that if you don’t have a robust network, be it online or offline, your chances of landing an entry-level job are so low.

Youth aged between 18 and 25 are twice more likely to be unemployed; and unemployment among rural women aged 18 to 35 is about 62%.

Over 30% of youth cited low pay as a barrier to entry level jobs; 47% said lack of experience was a barrier; 50% cited corruption as a barrier to finding entry-level jobs.

Only about 2 % and 10% of informal and formal sector employers reported any involvement with TVET and other training institutions on training or curriculum development or internship placement. That means that there’s a high probability whatever you’re being taught in the lecture halls won’t be needed in your dream job.

The Problem…

The Kenyan labour market is associated with slow growth in the Manufacturing industry leading to low job creation and non-permanence of jobs.

Also, over the years, there has been concerns regarding inadequate preparation of youth for the workplace. Employers attribute this inadequacy to lack of soft skills among youth – despite having academic qualifications and technical training.

Skill gaps and mismatches can be associated with lack of accessibility to tertiary education as well as the inability to provide the necessary technical and soft skills needed in the job market. A recent study conducted by CAP- YEI on “what employers think about soft skills”, reveals that; according to the majority of the employers (42.8%), lack of soft skills in potential employees is the key factor influencing the skills mismatch problem in Kenya, followed by negative attitudes (22.4%) and lack of technical skills (12.6%).

Industry players attribute this lack of adequate preparation of the youth for the job market, to lack of conversations between training institutions and employers, outdated training facilities, incompetent trainers and institutions offering programs without conducting a job-market skills analysis.

72.4% and 60.9% of surveyed entry-level staff in the formal and informal sectors agreed with the statement that their skills matched the job they were recruited to perform, while 13.9% and 20.3% in the formal and informal sector respectively disagreed with that statement. This implies that skills mismatch exists to a certain extent in the job market especially in the informal sector.

For the self-employed youth, 31% and 40% in the formal and informal sectors respectively, have experienced skill gaps in their businesses.

This raises concerns on the integration of Whole Youth Development (WYD) –The range of capabilities needed for youth to access, create and retain jobs, lead fulfilled lives and contribute to the common good of society – in the education system and in preparation for the labour market. WYD entails spirituality, life skills, values, academic knowledge and social & emotional learning. The study explored the WYD gap among entry-level employees in the labour market.

According to KNBS 2019 Census report, 35.7 million Kenyans (75.1%) are below 35 years. The youth population increase has an adverse effect on available employment opportunities resulting in inadequate means of earning a living.

What Employers Need…

The study found that Employers look out for: education qualifications, soft skills, minimum work experience, technical skills, attitude and values, in that order, as they recruit their entry level staff.

Employers in the formal and informal sectors demanded for life skills, core values, social-emotional skills and technical skills. In addition, employers in the formal sector demanded for marketing and sales while those in the informal sector demanded for literacy skills.

Core work skills including learning to learn, communication, problem solving and teamwork, are of critical importance to both workers and the enterprises that employ them.

A report by CAP-YEI on soft skills reveals that the five most valued soft skills by employers are communication, integrity, discipline, teamwork and leadership (Ondieki, Kahihu & Muthoni, 2019). However, the skill sets and aspirations of Kenya’s young generation are disconnected from the realities and demands of the actual labour market (Ndayambaje, Ntawiha, Ngigi & Ampofo, 2016).

Wholesale & Retail industry mainly demanded entrepreneurship skills; Education demanded literacy skills; Construction demanded technical skills; while Finance and Insurance activities demanded for financial planning & management as well as literacy skills.

Information & Communications Technology (ICT) and Accommodation & Food services did not demand for highly specialized skills. Soft skills such as life skills, core values and social-emotional skills were demanded in equal measure across all the industries.

What Youths Lack…

From the Study, Marketing and sales, financial planning and management , life skills, and entrepreneurial skills were the top four skills identified by employers as lacking among youth in entry-level positions.

Marketing and sales, core values, life skills, numeracy, basic computing and social-emotional skills were lacking across all the industries.

Employers expressed facing challenges when trying to get the right person to do a job efficiently and productively. Some of the skill gaps encountered by most employers were attributed to soft skills such as basic communication skills and presentation, integrity and attitude towards the duties allocated. Stakeholders were keen to point out that the current education system syllabus lacked some core skills such as integrity and communication hence some institutions had HR Manuals that required every new staff to undergo the induction program and management courses along the way.

What Youth Want…

The survey reveals that more than 50% of the youth interviewed attributed an ideal job to good income and stability/job security.

Additional skills demanded by the youth to remain competitive in future in the formal and informal sector were sales and marketing, financial planning, technical skills, entrepreneurship and life skills (formal sector) in addition to basic computing skills (informal sector). Majority of entry-level employees in both the formal (41%) and informal (51%) sectors, pointed out that they would like to acquire these skills mainly through self-sponsored courses.

Additional skills demanded by the self-employed youth to remain competitive in the future were life skills, marketing and sales, financial planning & management, core values and entrepreneurship.

Further probing on why marketing and sales was highly demanded revealed four main reasons;

  1. Marketing and sales is very critical for entrepreneurship and hence a fall back plan in the dire situation of unemployment
  2. There is a lot of money (commission) in sales and marketing
  3. More people want to get into digital marketing, which is an easy space to get into
  4. Training institutions do not offer practical marketing and sales skills.

Notably, those who had completed TVET/ colleges reported that they would like to acquire entrepreneurship (34%) and financial planning and management (35%) in the future.

This shows that despite having technical training from TVET, Entrepreneurship, financial planning and management are critical skills that graduates felt they would need to acquire to remain competitive. This was replicated in the University graduates, with 29% of the graduates saying that they would like to acquire entrepreneurship skills in the future.

Where do I get an entry-level job with my qualification…

The Kenyan economy is only able to create 800,000 jobs per year, against the 1,000,000 young people joining the job market in the same period. And if you thought your degree is enough to stand out from the crowd, 32% of the unemployed youth have post-secondary education.

71.2% of entry-level staff in the informal sector have either secondary education (38.1%) or tertiary education i.e. TVET/college (33.1%) as their highest level of education attained; whereas 50% of employees in the formal sector had tertiary education as their highest level of education. University graduates on the other hand were a smaller proportion at 19.1% in the formal and 4.9% in the informal sectors.

Technical Training: The Kenyan workforce reveals a homogenous sequence in the level of technical training across the formal and informal sectors. The formal sector consists of 88.4% skilled and 11.6% unskilled workforce whilst the informal sector has 70.2% skilled and 29.8% unskilled workforce. Among the skilled employees, 51% of formal and 40% of informal entry-level staff have attained either a diploma or a certificate as the highest level of professional training.

How to find entry-level job…

How big is your circle, both online and offline? How active are you in your social networks? Who are you following? The study found that, in the current job market, referrals and social networks (friends and family) were cited to be the most common forms of recruitment in both the formal and informal sector, standing at 87% in the formal and 81% in the informal sector.

Where the entry-level job are…

The formal sector mostly employs the youth in:

  • Management – as assistants (44%), junior executives (38%), graduate trainees (18%), software/web developers (18%), service attendants (3%) e.g. waiters, laundry etc. and others (13%);
  • Non-management- as support staff (57%) e.g. receptionists, administrative assistant, office messengers, drivers etc., cashiers (36%), customer care (32%), sales executives (31%), clerks (26%), artisans (15%), technicians (12%), crafts (9%), teachers/trainers (8%), call centre agents (7%), trainer of trainers (5%), community nurses (4%), researchers (3%), others (5%).

The informal sector mostly employs youth as/in;

  • Wholesale & Retail in agro-vets, chemists, hardware shops, supermarkets, M-Pesa shops etc. as salespersons and cashiers (28%)
  • Informal Services and Transport & Storage as matatu conductors and drivers, taxi drivers, boda-boda riders (22%)
  • Construction as technicians, engineers, mechanics, electrical technicians, draughtsman, builders, brick makers, plumbers (17%)
  • Artisans & craftsmen e.g. woodworkers, potters (17%)
  • Food and Beverage as bakers, cooks, food kiosks attendants (14%)
  • Teacher/trainer (9%)
  • Subsistence farmers, graders (4%),
  • Street traders (2%)
  • Small-scale miners (1%),
  • Others (6%)

What is the entry-level job pay like…

The study showed that 74% of entry level staff in the formal sector earn between KES 10,001 – 50,000 (USD 100 – 500) per month; whereas 81% in the informal sector earn a monthly income of KES 5,001- 25,000 (USD 50 – 250) from their entry level jobs. This may thereby explain the unwillingness of educated youth to work in the informal sector. Notably, less than 0.5% of employees in both the formal and informal sectors earn above KES 100,000 (USD 1000).

Those who were self-employed had a higher income than the employed youth with 7% earning between KES 50,000 – 100,000 (USD 500 – 1000) and 1% earning above KES 100,000 (USD 1000).

In addition, 22% of employees in the formal and 15% in the informal sectors supplement their incomes through side jobs, such as their own businesses, part time jobs, family businesses or consultancy.

Entry-Level Professionals Profile…

Mobility: It’s no news that the current generation of young adults don’t like to settle unless their biggest need is fulfilled. We are always in search on a job or workplace the best suits our needs and societal rank. The study found out that, the higher the education level attained, the higher the chances of one switching jobs more often. University graduates between the ages of 27 – 30 years had held two jobs prior to the survey, whereas most of those who had completed secondary school were in their first entry-level job. Most TVET/college graduates between the ages of 23 – 26 years had only one previous employer.

Gender: The study found out that, among the surveyed employees, there were 41.5% females and 58.5% males. Employers had an even bigger gender gap with 31.1 % females and 68.9 % males. The KNBS Census 2019 report painted a different picture though, with women accounting for 50.2 per cent of the working population.

Pertaining to Gender distribution in the workplace, the study found out that, as the size of the organization increases, the proportion of females to males decreases.

What’s stopping Youth from Getting a Job or starting a Business…

From an employer and employee’s perspective, the study showed that, the two main factors preventing the youth from acquiring jobs were corruption and lack of required experience by employers among others. Self-employed youth cited lack of capital, lack of required experience and corruption as the top three barriers to starting their own businesses.

Lack easily accessible training institutions was also a barrier to acquiring skills with majority of all the graduates who had completed TVET and college education having studied outside their home county. The opposite was true for job distribution with majority working in their home county.

So what are the findings…

Regardless of whether you are a Student, Recent Graduate, Employer or Policy Maker, this study showed that

Kenya is a service driven economy: Given the distribution of jobs and the skills that employers and youth need, this study confirms that Kenya’s economy is predominantly driven by the service industry; skills of a technical nature are less demanded.

High demand for marketing and sales skills in the labour market: This trend reiterates the above finding that the economy is not generating sufficient demand for technical-oriented jobs such as Manufacturing despite the drive towards growing this industry. This trend is supported by economic data (KNBS, 2019a), showing that Manufacturing growth is out-paced by sectors such as Wholesale & Retail, Financial, Accommodation & Food, and Construction & Real Estate. For example, Accommodation & Food grew at 16.6% in 2018, as opposed to Manufacturing which grew by 4.2%; compounded by factors such as heavy imports favouring manufactured goods.

Skills mismatch: The gap between the skills possessed by youth entering the workforce and the job market has widened due to the growing dominance of the Service industry. This indicates that attention needs to be paid to the trends driving the future of work and to re- examine national priorities on training and skills development. For example, in the case of TVET, is it informed by reliable evidence of current job trends and future workforce needs? This study and other economic data suggest that technical skills may be necessary but not critical in enabling youth to find relevant jobs in a service-dominated economy.

Responding to trends in the job market: The fastest growing sectors in the economy are:

i) Wholesale & Retail,
ii) Accommodation & Food,
iii) Financial & Insurance, and
iv) Construction & Real Estate.

Trends indicate that these jobs and those that are manual and routine will be replaced by automation and technology, systems that require less human capital (Chui, Manyika & Miremadi, 2016), these are condiserations that have little traction in the assement made by this survey. Manufacturing jobs for the future will demand social and emotional skills as well as cognitive capacity, in addition to technical and technology-based skills. The implication of this is highly tied to the courses available and accessible to the workforce, especially at a technical and vocational level. Traction must be given to motivate dialogue between industry and training organizations to respond to the future of work.

Sector distribution across the counties is homogenous: The top sectors (Wholesale & Retail, Education, Construction, Accommodation & Food & Other Service Activities) employing the most youth are similar across the counties/regions. This accentuates the need for:

a. Earnest dialogue on the implementation of the Kenya National Spatial Plan to drive both regional specialization and diversification of enterprises and growth drivers;

b. Expansion of TVET and skills development should be informed by regional specialization and diversification plans.


The Complete Study Report can be downloaded here

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