Today is International Labour Day. It’s a celebration of labourers and the working classes which is promoted by the international labour movement and occurs every year on May Day (May 1). They are also the bedrock of Kenya’s economic growth.
Consider this: Over 70 percent of Kenya’s population is less than 30 years of age. Three thousand Kenyans are born every day, over a million every year. And one million young people join the labour force every year.
This means that Kenya needs a million new jobs every year for the next 10 years to keep up with the rapidly-expanding youth bulge. According to the World Bank, only about one in five is likely to find a formal job, while the rest either being unemployed or engaged in some non-wage earning occupation.
Take a look at the landscape of the informal job market in the Kenyan economy – it is rich and vibrant with most youth looking at entrepreneurship as an option to build their careers and their future.
Youth in the current age and economy, especially Kenyans thrive on being their own boss, on being in control of their destiny. A large section of such youth engage in opportunistic trade, picking one skill or the other and starting an enterprise. Lack of adequate technical know-how or business vagaries or under preparedness to face business dynamics forces most of these enterprises to shut down even before they see the second year of operations.
With the under-readiness of the youth to thrive either in formal jobs or informal enterprises, the question is back to the basics. How can we create one million new jobs annually?
The answer lies in strengthening the informal job market, the budding entrepreneurs of the Kenyan market. The formal job market is not geared up yet to create job opportunities for the youth, especially at that rate. On the other hand, if the informal entrepreneurs are provided the right enabling environment, they would not only be able to sustain but would actually provide job opportunities.
The most searched key word on Google in the year 2016 in Kenya was “how to bake a cupcake.” It sounds very simple and straight forward that many young people in Kenya are looking at learning how a cupcake is baked. But it is much beyond that. In the year 2016, baking has emerged as one of the top rated professions amongst home based women entrepreneurs.
An independent survey done by Kuza Biashara on over 3,000 such women entrepreneurs indicated that baking started off as a passion and an interest among most of these women. And when they tasted success in the trade, they started commercialising their passion to make some extra income. When this started resulting in more positive results, this turned into a full time business for many. This community of online home based women bakers has now grown to over 125,000+. Most of them have picked up the core skill of baking from YouTube.
Research also shows that an average Kenyan youth is involved in two jobs. The portfolio of their work can be a combination of one formal and one side hustle (a business on the side) or both hustles. In response, the program has been providing this target group the skills around business of baking and most required communication and social skills.
Similarly, there are other skills that will open up large scale employment opportunities for young Kenyans around the country. These are the agri-business and livestock sector, infrastructure, travel and tourism. Small- and medium-scale enterprises like local tanneries, tailoring, t-shirt printing, boda boda (motorcycle taxis) services particularly in the rural areas of Kenya’s counties whose inhabitants in the past had fewer opportunities to higher education. This will also prevent the mass migration of young people to cities in search for jobs.
Informal enterprises have a higher potential to create and sustain jobs in comparison to the formal sector. The focus should be the business of helping youth and informal entrepreneurs realize their true potential.
Giving micro entrepreneurs the right tools, skills, knowledge and support through training, mentoring, apprenticeship and incentives, Kenya can fast track employment generation.
As President Roosevelt once remarked, “We may not be able to build a future for the youth, but let us build the youth for the future.”
Kenya is at the cusp of a demographic dividend and must realize Vision 2030.
With falling total fertility rates and increased life expectancy, with the right education and skills, access to quality public health and gender equality will transform Kenya into an economic powerhouse.