• As coronavirus changes the workplace, jobseekers are worried about their prospects
• Experts urge calm, versatility and holistic development to stand out from the crowd
In the past, it was possible to get a job at the age of 20 and work uninterrupted until retirement. But now tenures are shrinking, says a former communications employee.
Gibson Kisaga* (not his real name), 42, says most people joining the job market today will not get permanent and pensionable jobs.
“The future of employment is freelancing, short-term contracts and online jobs,” he says.
In a sense, that future is already here. Millennials are constantly job hopping. But the growth and satisfaction they yearn for are becoming increasingly elusive.
For graduates, years of ‘tarmacking’ only to get a job that pays less than Sh30,000 is a daunting reality. But now the coronavirus has threatened even that prospect. Companies are firing, not hiring.
Student life counsellor Tasha Amadi says it’s only natural to be afraid. A pandemic is holding the world hostage, with no end in sight.
“Focus on what’s in your control at the moment,” she says. “What opportunities can you get or create? What skills can you sharpen or begin to learn?”
Human resource adviser Rachel Ndana says it is important to be multi-skilled and competitive. Qualifications and experience alone won’t convince an employer you will add value, when so many people have similar credentials.
“Employers prefer a candidate who has cross-functional skills, which is the ability to understand a business holistically,” she says.
A little research goes a long way. “Some candidates attend interviews and they know nothing about the company they desire to work with,” she says. “When given an opportunity to ask a question, they say, ‘So, what do you do?’”
Ndana calls on universities to impart life skills and positive attitude. “Many qualifications they emerge with are technical (grades), but one needs behavioural competencies as well.”
Picking up on that point, business adviser Sunny Bindra terms the recruitment process “broken”. “We hire on the basis of pointless credentials, pieces of paper that say you studied something irrelevant at somewhere prestigious,” he says.
This will change in future, he says, as education finally equips people with real-life skills and employers seek evidence of character and likelihood of fit with their work culture.
One thing that’s changed already is the office culture, with lockdowns leading to remote working and virtual meetings. Bindra expects this to remain the new normal to maintain social distancing.
And just as technology has played a part, it will influence recruitment, too, he says. Artificial intelligence will be used to study a candidate’s digital footprint and suitability, making the process more efficient than human judgement.
“We are very bad at gauging the potential of other humans because of our inbuilt biases and faith in outmoded institutions and systems,” Bindra says.
Another lapse is in post-interview communication. Ndana says companies may struggle to contact everyone, but taking time to give feedback builds goodwill. “It is appropriate to inform the candidates the outcome so the endless wait ceases,” she says.
While the pandemic has shone a light on unemployment, truth is it has been a long-term problem in Kenya. Rapper Mwafrika sang about it as far back as 2004 in Itakuaje (How will it be?):
Mwaka huu namaliza shule nipate degree / Chances za kupata job ni small kama thigiriri (This year I’m finishing school to get a degree / Chances of getting a job are as small as an ant).
Successive governments have failed to bridge the jobs gap. Jubilee has tried luring students to technical training institutions, which lead to instant employment in blue-collar jobs, but many shun them as the preserve of academic failures.
Meanwhile, human capital is wasting away. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, others to crime. A ticking time bomb that leaves the country on edge every election year.
More articles by Tom Jalio