Top qualifications that employers are seeking

Only 12% of Kenyans have studied beyond secondary school

In Summary

• There is a gap between the skills of job seekers and the needs of employers

Job search
Job search

The common belief among job seekers is there aren't enough vacant jobs in Kenya because the economy is not growing fast enough. Ironically, amidst unemployment, some vacancies remain unfilled because employers can't find suitable persons.

It is now becoming clear that there is a difference between the skills possessed by job seekers and the needs of employers. As has often been reported, the number of Kenyans looking for jobs is in the millions. In reality, only about 12 per cent of Kenyans have educational qualifications beyond secondary school.

According to the 2019 national census, 8 per cent of Kenyans reported having attended middle-level, technical and vocational training institutions. Only 4 per cent of Kenyans had a university degree!

One could reasonably argue that the national census counted everybody, including children and elderly persons in retirement. An independent poll conducted in 2023 among adults produced almost similar findings on the education levels of Kenyans. Only 9 per cent of adults had a university degree, according to the poll by the Radio Africa Research Department.

"High school certificates are at 45 per cent, with tertiary/college education being 21 per cent and primary education being 20 per cent," the pollsters reported.


In essence, a large number of job seekers are not qualified for 21st-century careers. The technical term for this phenomenon is 'skills shortage', variously described as a situation where employers struggle to find qualified workers. 

"Many employers report difficulties finding suitably skilled workers, even though the unemployment rate is high," Jacqueline Mugo, CEO of the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), recently said.

Mugo says employers are adopting new technology at a rapid rate, including the use of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, analytics and machine learning.

These technological changes are evolving so fast, hence the mismatch between skills among job seekers and those required by employers.

"Training programmes must fill skill gaps and address imbalances between supply and demand to meet the dynamics of the labour market," Mugo says.

In November 2023, FKE revealed the top five careers in demand among employers. These are information technology, business management, engineering, transport/logistics and law. These career fields require a tertiary or even a university education.

FKE found that 20 per cent of employers had job vacancies that were difficult to fill. Affected employers resorted to hiring job applicants with lower qualifications than the original specifications for those jobs.

In 2022, the Ministry of Labour revealed a list of jobs that employers were struggling to recruit. The affected positions were for pharmaceutical officers, computing professionals, primary school teachers and accountants.

The most common reasons why those jobs were hard to fill were a low number of applicants with the required skills and job applicants demanding higher wages than employers were willing to pay.

"It was particularly difficult to hire workers with high skills (professionals and technicians) than workers with low skills," the Ministry concluded.

Interestingly, the common strand in both the FKE and Ministry of Labour findings is that ICT (information communication technology) jobs are the most affected by the skills shortage. Does this mean there are not enough Kenyans with the qualifications to do ICT jobs?

ICT professionals are described as those who develop and improve information technology systems, such as hardware, software and digital databases.

The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training provides a list of ICT jobs. They include systems analysts, software, web, and multimedia developers, programmers, database administrators and computer network specialists.

The centre sees an increased demand for professionals skilled in artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing.

ICT professionals are in great demand across the world, further opening up opportunities for Kenyans with the relevant skills. Indeed, there already are Kenyan professionals managing ICT systems in international organisations and multinationals, such as Google, Huawei and Microsoft.

The Ministry of Labour has provided useful insights into the fastest-growing occupations. These are protective services (private security and law enforcement), teachers, accountants, nurses and business service agents. Business service agents include jobs in customer service, sales and clerical work.


Apart from professional qualifications and technical know-how, social skills are a key consideration among employers.

The top social skills employers are looking for as listed in the FKE report are effective communication, critical thinking, collaboration, time management, creativity, problem solving and conflict resolution.

"Social skills are essential in achieving a harmonious workplace environment. Lack of or inadequacy of social skills among employees presents a challenge in cultivating synergy in an enterprise," FKE said in its report.

The bad news for Kenyans who have only a secondary school certificate is that over two-thirds of jobs in the formal sector require a tertiary or university qualification. Only 25 per cent of formal sector employees said they have a secondary school certificate as their highest academic qualification.

What do all these statistics mean for jobless Kenyans? The reports by the Ministry of Labour and the employers' federation suggest that many Kenyans will languish without jobs because they do not have the minimum academic qualifications that employers want. Millions of Kenyans will remain unemployed even if the country's economy were growing faster than the current rates.

The lack of jobs affects all age groups, but it is especially dire among those aged 18-35 (the youth). This is an age group that should be building a foundation for its future.

Unemployment denies the youth the income they need to raise families and invest for retirement. If the unemployment situation does not change, today's youth will some day become elderly men and women without stable families, no savings and no property.

Now that employers have stated which kind of jobs are available, it is up to jobseekers to gain the necessary qualifications. Career counsellors should update themselves on the needs of employers to better guide students in choosing marketable courses when they join institutions of higher education.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star