A past survey by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) claimed that more than 50% of graduates in the (East Africa) region lacked employability skills. The graduates also lacked other skills such as technical mastery and basic work-related capabilities.
In Kenya, the report found that 51% of graduates were unfit for the job market. The report seems to support certain claims employers make that a huge number of graduates are unemployable. The report laid blame on the reducing quality of education in tertiary institutions to:
- universities admitting more students than they can handle, and
- lack of adequate teachers.
To make matters worse, employers are sidelining youthful graduates in favour of more skilled personnel. They claim the graduates are ‘half-baked’ and out of the league with the needs and trends of the market.
Employers said most graduates lacked self-confidence, could not express themselves properly and lacked the technical mastery required in the jobs they are seeking.
While these claims are very alarming, no one should blame the graduates and tertiary institutions (alone). Kenyan organisations also have a part to play in the deteriorating skills and potential of these graduates.
Blaming the graduates as ‘half-baked’ does not solve the problem of their inexperience.
Kenyan organisations are responsible for developing the potential skills of students. They should offer them internship opportunities before (and after) they graduate. However, many among them have negated the main essence of internships, which is to gain essential skills.
Some Kenyan organisations exploit their interns. The internships fail to become a source of hands-on experience for the interns. The interns become work ‘slaves’ under heavy workloads and with minimal free time.
The organisations treat interns like office messengers. The interns run errands for other staff in the office while others serve menial tasks such as serving tea and filing. These tasks are way out of line with what they learn in the lecture halls.
When the internship is over, the interns barely learn anything that they study in class. If the cycle continues until they graduate, they will not have any meaningful job experience. Therefore, they will not fit anywhere and the organisations will lay unnecessary blame on them.
Kenyan organisations should have graduate training programmes for new graduates. These programs are essential because they provide entry-level work experience for many graduates. Some organisations do not provide this training anymore.
Graduate training programmes are necessary to kick-start careers for new graduates. They bridge the gap between what the employers want and what the graduates can offer.
The programmes provide a pathway for the candidates into the job world. They also provide the skills that are important for the graduates to become part of the bigger working community.
Fortunately, some organisations in Kenya still provide this training. That is a sure way to address the issue at hand from within the organisation.
Some organisations fail to provide graduate training programmes and give meaningless excuses. One excuse is that the graduates will leave for other organisations. This (for them) means a ‘loss of resources’ they used to train them and the skills the graduates gain from the organisation. Another excuse is that the whole exercise is expensive.
The other issue concerns payment for interns. Many Kenyan organisations would not like to pay their interns. They want the interns to find means to cater for their own expenses during the period of the internship.
However, a substantial number of interns in Kenya come from poor families. They cannot afford to finance their expenses during the period of the internship. They may really want to do their internship at the organisation of their choice, but they cannot afford it.
Most of the expenses that interns incur relate to transport and food. That is why Kenyan organisations should set aside some money from their budgets to pay the interns. The money is not a salary, but a small stipend that enables the interns to perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.
The stipend provides morale for the interns. They are able to pay their daily bus fare and afford some lunch. They can also cover other small expenses like phone airtime and even entertainment.
Just because internships are work placements or work experience does not necessarily mean that interns should work free. Even the Kenyan government understands this very clearly. In its internship policy for the public service, organisations should pay the prescribed stipends to interns.
For those organisations that pay their interns, it is prudent that they pay them above the minimum wage.
Therefore, organisations need to ensure that they set aside funds to pay their interns. In addition, employers should stop treating interns like slaves or casual workers.
Apart from that, organisations need to train their interns. They cannot cry foul that graduates are unemployable when they ask for 2-5 years’ experience. Yet, the graduates have no substantial training whatsoever because the organisations failed them during their internships.
If that falls through, then Kenyan organisations will have played their role in supporting our graduates. They shall take pride in having fewer ‘half-baked’ graduates and an efficient pool of skilled workforce.