How NEA Bungled Uhuru Kenyatta’s Youth Jobs Agenda, Part 2

Photo/ Bizna Kenya

At least one in every three Kenyan youths are jobless.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) show that as of December 2020, 34.27 percent (4,066,362) of the Kenyan youth were jobless. 

The situation is so dire that jobless graduates lost over Ksh.200 million within 10 months to syndicates promising them jobs in government parastatals and blue-chip private companies. A report from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) revealed one parent lost Ksh.900,000 trying to secure jobs at KenGen, Kenyatta National Hospital, and Kenya Power for her daughter and two other relatives.

How did we get here?

In the second part of the “How NEA Bungled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Youth Jobs Agenda” series, we look at how the National Employment Authority sabotaged the Jubilee government plan to create at least one million jobs locally.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s agenda for the local economy

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the Kenya Generation Unlimited (GenU) Partnership virtual launch. Photo/ UN Kenya

The manufacturing sector alone was to create one million jobs per year for the Kenyan youth. The other pillars of the Big Four Agenda would also lead to job creation besides spurring economic growth. Affordable housing, for example, was going to see 300,000 new jobs created in the construction sector.

The food security pillar was to create 600,000 new jobs while allowing the growth of 1,000 agro-processing small and medium enterprises (SMEs). 

To support the Big Four pillars and enable job creation, some of the programs the government sought to implement include developing a Labour Market Information System (LMIS) to support labour market actors and stakeholders, establishing new industrial training centres, and implementing the National Internship Program.

In a nutshell, the Jubilee manifesto was centered on rapid industrialization and massive job creation.

“We will create at least 6.5 million jobs over five years so that our youth can secure good jobs so that they can enjoy a decent life,” president Uhuru Kenyatta said while on a drive to popularize the manifesto.

Foreigners taking over Kenyan jobs

While the government has kept on its promise to deliver on infrastructure, most of the mega infrastructure projects are done by foreign companies which hire foreigners to do the work. 

In May 2018, a video circulated of Interior CS Fred Matiang’i complaining about foreigners taking over Kenyan jobs.

“You are giving a person a work permit to manage a construction site, how many Kenyans can manage a construction?“ he asked.

Matiang’i was concerned that foreigners were being issued with work permits for jobs that Kenyans could do. He said it was unacceptable. As of 2018, the Department of Immigration had issued 34,000 work permits to foreigners. Hundreds of thousands more foreigners were working in the country illegally. 

But employers cite a skills gap in the local labour market as one of the reasons for hiring foreigners. While over 92 percent of the Kenyan youth have formal education, very few have the relevant skills for the job market.

What NEA has not done

The NEA mandate

One of the mandates of the National Employment Authority (NEA) is to “conduct periodic surveys on labour market skills requirements and advise training institutions and job seekers appropriately to ensure that training and skills match the job market requirements.”

Labour.Watch spoke to a few HR professionals from the private sector and government agencies on whether NEA has ever contacted them to take part in any labour market skills requirements survey. All of them said they are unaware of any survey having ever been conducted by NEA.

“The only time we hear from NEA is when they need employee data from us,” one of the HR professionals said.

There are also no public records of the authority having organized forums to engage job seekers on appropriate skills for the job market. Neither are there any known forums to provide counselling for unemployed Kenyan youth as outlined in its mandate.

NEA was to establish job centers across the country to enable the youth have easy access to opportunities. The first one was to open in Eldoret this year. Labour.Watch is unable to establish whether it’s operational yet. 

All we have are Ajira Centers- a program initiated by the Ministry of ICT to help 1.2 million Kenyan youth leverage the global shift towards a digital economy.

Collecting sensitive employee data

Instead, NEA has been collecting sensitive employee data from Kenyan employers each year without telling them the purpose of the data. Neither does it release labour market insights from the data collected. 

NEA also demands that employers with over 25 employees should submit records on vacancies, abolished positions and job terminations within two weeks from date of effect. According to the authority, this is to help it update its database of job openings and redundancies so it can be able to bridge the skills gap and make Kenyan graduates valuable in the global jobs market.

“We do not know what they do with this data. We have never received any insight report on the data submitted. In fact, the only communication we get from NEA after submitting the data is the notification that the data was successfully uploaded,” another HR manager told Labour.Watch

“NEA has never held consultative meetings with employers or stakeholders to address youth employment. In one meeting with employers they could not explain what they do with employee data they collect, nor did they seem to understand why they need the data.”

Employers who fail to submit the data risk facing a penalty of up to Ksh.100,000.

The employee data NEA requires from Kenyan employers. Photo/ Labour.Watch
The only feedback Kenyan employers get from NEA after submitting employee data. Photo/ Labour.Watch

Incompetence at NEA

When the National Employment Authority Act was passed in 2016 and NEA established, there was a lot of optimism that it would help drive the Kenyan youth job agenda and address unemployment.

Five years down the line, there is nothing to show for it. 

As reported in part 1 of these series, it’s apparent that staff seconded from National Employment Bureau (NEB) have had nothing new to offer Kenyans. In fact, many industry players opine that NEA is a continuation of NEB. Those who constituted NEA have not received return on investment. Parliament has failed to hold NEA accountable despite calls from various stakeholders and activists.

Kenyan youths are still languishing in unemployment and poverty. NEA has shown very little political goodwill to tackle the problem. 

The effect is that even employers are now shying away from advertising vacancies to avoid dealing with huge volumes of job applications. They instead rely on referrals and networks to identify and recruit new talent, locking out even more Kenyans out of employment opportunities.

In the next part of the series, Labour.Watch will discuss how NEA sabotaged the Kenya labour export industry, danced on the graves of over 90 Kenyans who died in Saudi Arabia, and now wants to be both player and referee in matters of labour migration.

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