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The challenge of creating jobs for young Kenyans

As Kenya’s election looms, presidential candidates are keen to show their concern about youth unemployment, which affects over 1.8 million young Kenyans.

This is a sizeable potential block of voters and campaigning about job-creation is therefore a high priority. For example, one of the eight candidates has promised to create one million jobs for young people in the next two years.

A recent discussion paper from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ‘Kenya’s Youth Employment Challenge’, highlights how unemployment among young people is running at double the national level of 12.7%. Young Kenyans joining the labour market at 15 or 16 years of age face unemployment rates of over 20% and the rate climbs even higher for those aged 18 to 20 years, with over a third of 20 year-olds out of work.

These high rates of joblessness have resulted from significant population growth over the last three decades. This has created a ‘youth bulge’, with nearly four-fifths of Kenyans younger than 35. The country has seen rapid economic growth, but it has not been enough to keep pace with the dramatic demographic shift and most unemployed people (80%) belong to the 15-34 year-old age bracket.

The government has already made efforts to address youth unemployment with schemes such as the Youth Enterprise Fund, aimed at fostering entrepreneurial skills among the young and the ‘Kazi Kwa Vijana’ programme, which employs young people on labour-intensive public works projects. Nevertheless, politicians admit much more needs to be done.

In the short term, pressure on the labour market would reduce if young people stayed on longer in school. Though tuition is free at primary and secondary education, parents still have to pay for food, transport, uniforms and school materials such as books. Promises are therefore being made by some presidential candidates to remove these charges so that education is completely free. This would hopefully encourage more youngsters to stay in school and gain a better standard of education to enhance their job opportunities.

Some are also calling for Kenya to introduce more part-time apprenticeship programmes. Currently there are only around 30,000 young people in apprenticeships across the whole country. Since apprenticeships can help young people gain the right skills and experience for jobs, many would like to see programmes which provide businesses with incentives to take on young trainees.

Young voters know whatever promises are made before an election may come to nothing. Nevertheless, they will still be looking to see which candidates appear to understand their plight and hoping that at least some of the election pledges will translate into action.

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