Massive youth unemployment disaster in waiting

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019 07:46 |
Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet secretary Margaret Kobia on GBV cases.
Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet secretary Margaret Kobia. PD/FILE
Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet secretary Margaret Kobia. PD/FILE

As Kenyans go through a difficult economic period compounded by an acute unemployment crisis, urgent measures are required to avert a looming demographic disaster.

The youth constitute the largest population of the unemployed, yet economic planners and policy makers seem to overlook the group by failing to provide solutions to the situation. Other than denying the youth a basic human right, unemployment robs them of the dignity of earning an income after years spent getting an education.

Experts aver that women, children and the youth are the most vulnerable to the vicious cycle of poverty that has defied national development plans and aggravated the unemployment crisis. Unemployment among the youth not only contributes to economic deprivation, but also spawns social ills such as crime and insecurity.

Every year, thousands of young people transition from one level of learning to another, with hope of ultimately landing jobs—which simply do not exist. Indeed, the number of unemployed university and college graduates long reached alarming proportions. Many have been forced to device survival tactics to earn a living, including venturing into activities such as hawking, menial jobs and becoming boda boda riders. That is not to suggest the jobs mentioned above should be a preserve for the uneducated, but it was not what graduates hoped for when they  put in hours of hard work in school.

Structured youth empowerment programmes, realignment of the education system to more competency-based practical curricula, financial inclusion and deliberate efforts to leverage on agriculture and industrialisation hold the key to unlocking the youth unemployment crisis.

Matters have been made worse by the freeze on unemployment in the civil service at a time when many officers are leaving their positions due to natural attrition and attainment of retirement age.

For the sake of continuity of public service that performs a vital role in the execution of social and economic policies that foster national development goals, the government must ensure the many young qualified Kenyans without jobs replace exiting officers.

The authorities should also dwell on “low-hanging fruits” that don’t require huge capital investment to establish. Top of the list is agriculture. The State needs to focus on attracting the youth to farming that has the potential to generate the growth of agro-processing and agribusiness and create employment opportunities.

By leveraging on ICTs and the rise of the digital era, agriculture is increasingly becoming an important avenue to reach the millions of smallholder farmers who form a large percentage of Kenya’s economic mainstay. 

The successful cooperative movement, a product of the agricultural sector that has since diversified into other key segments of the economy such as financial services, can be a key driver in mobilising the youth into income-generating activities.

Organised in a structured manner, the youth can be motivated and funded in the establishment of cottage industries for local products that will significantly help in the alleviation of the unemployment crisis.

Agriculture and industrialisation are the best bet to lift Africa out of the depths of poverty.

And to avert the ticking youth unemployment time bomb, public and private partnerships are needed. The government must devise ways of reaping from the huge youth demographic dividend.

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