The “youth bulge” is already here with us. On the flip side, it means Kenya has achieved a certain phase of growth where there has been considerable success in reducing infant mortality but mothers still have a high fertility rate.
The rate of unemployment in Kenya is the highest in the East African region hitting a new high at 39.1 %. (United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) 2017). Unemployment among Kenya’s youth is estimated to stand at 17.6%.
Youth unemployment is a misfortune that was not caused by anyone specific. It’s a political, economic and societal problem. We have posed many questions as we try to wrap our fingers around this concern; is this generation lazy and entitled? Are they victims of the mistakes of an older generation? Can the government fix this alone?
Justin Yifu Lin, the former World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President, Development Economics had this to say about the youth bulge; “If a large cohort of young people cannot find employment and earn satisfactory income, the youth bulge will become a demographic bomb, because a large mass of frustrated youth is likely to become a potential source of social and political instability,”
Our youth present challenges as well as unique opportunities to our economic development. We need to exploit Kenya’s greatest asset for growth: its sizeable and rising population of talented young people.
In the 1940s, South Korea found itself in situation similar to ours today. They had a very young population and built their economies on the backbone of this labour force. The Koreans focused on investing in skills and education for the youth to power industrial revolution and economic growth that transformed them into today’s developed economy. If we properly exploit Kenya’s youth bulge, we can also control sustainable economic activity over the next 30-40 years, as in Korea’s case.
Many young people have grown up with the notion that to be successful, they have to have white collar jobs. The term white collar work used to characterize non-manual workers, but now it refers to employees or professionals whose work is knowledge intensive, non-routine, and unstructured. Historically, in the West, clerical workers wore white shirt collars but manual workers wore blue. This now labels work in the informal and/or manufacturing sector a “no collar” job, deeming it unattractive.
Our society needs to stop esteeming certain jobs because they are prestigious (insert finger quotes). I personally have gained immense satisfaction through my work in the manufacturing industry. A bottle design can win you customers and my biggest win is ensuring I reserve integrity in my business to preserve a company’s label and bottle design. This gives them confidence to market my products and business to their fellow business people. These are practices and values that across all types of job, whether formal or informal.
My aspirations for Kenyan youth remain very positive and revolutionary. I dream of creating decent jobs, reforming skills training so that youth are more relevant, efficient, and responsive to emerging domestic, regional, and international labour markets.