We Graduated, Abandoned Our Degrees – What These Kenyans Did Next

  • Of the thousands of young Kenyans who graduate from institutions of higher learning every year, many end up in fields far detached from their studies.

    Why is this the case? Well, the high youth unemployment rate in Kenya, the highest in East Africa according to World Bank Data, is mostly to blame.

    Conversations kenyagist.com had with a number of recent graduates, as well as an analysis of experiences narrated by Kenyans revealed the dire situation.

    Many of the young graduates revealed that, when they enrolled for their undergraduate courses, they expected to build careers in their fields of training upon graduation.

    UoN students celebrate after graduating in December 2019

    Endless job searches combined with difficult economic conditions, however, led them to shelve their degrees to focus on ventures that could help them generate an income.

    From engineers in farming to lawyers creating content for online audiences, many have found their footing in fields unrelated to their studies.

    Brian graduated from a leading public university in 2019 with a Bachelors Degree in Project Management. Like many other campus students and new graduates in Kenya, however, he does online and academic writing for a living.

    “I’ve been doing this academic writing thing since second year. I didn’t plan on continuing with it after graduating but after seeing how hard it was to secure a job, I decided to stick to what I know and I was already earning.

    “Academic and online writing is preferred by many graduates because of the low entry barrier. As long as you have a decent level of understanding and an internet connection you can take on jobs,” he stated.

    Joseph, who graduated with a Journalism degree in 2019, disclosed that he was working construction jobs in Bamburi, Mombasa.

    He noted that an internship he secured at a local radio station was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic which forced him to look for something else meaningful to do.

    “They let people go, at least at the station I was getting experience and a small stipend. At one point I couldn’t raise the rent and I ended up sleeping for some time in a boarding school because students are home during the pandemic.

    “Of course I would prefer to work in media but I need to ask myself what will put food on my plate today, I can’t eat dreams,” he stated.

    Cynthia, who graduated in 2018 with a Bachelors Degree in Graphic Design, has been running a digital store, selling shoes and clothes.

    “I mostly operate on Instagram and Whatsapp. I have shoes, clothes and now I’m adding wigs and hair extensions. I’m a very talented graphic designer so I still do such jobs as a side-hustle, people ask me to design logos and other small things sometimes. 

    “But I sent so many CVs for design jobs to different companies and heard nothing back so I decided to work in fashion which I’ve always loved,” she stated.

    2019 census data from the government revealed that 5,341,182 or 38.9 percent of the 13,777,600 young Kenyans are jobless.

    The worrying situation has been compounded by the pandemic and its adverse effects on business, with many organizations freezing hiring and undertaking wage cuts and lay-offs.

    The value of a degree, however, cannot be understated as education has also offered many Kenyans an opportunity to build successful careers in their preferred fields.

    Questions have also been raised, however, on the suitability of new graduates to the demands of the job market.

    Some employers have complained of having to retrain new graduates as they lack skills required for the jobs, fueling the long-running debate on ‘half-baked’ graduates.

    Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha speaking at a graduation ceremony.
    Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha speaking at a graduation ceremony.

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