Bleak future for graduates as employers get picky

A survey shows that nearly half of Kenyan employers are dissatisfied with the skills level of university leavers joining the job market. This means that while thousands graduate each year, their qualifications are no guarantee of a job as employers opt for highly skilled employees who are in over-supply in the market and shun new graduates.

The findings by market research firm CPS International in a study released last week indicate that a majority of employers (60% of those polled) prefer graduates from business and economic studies-related courses and social and behavioural sciences-related courses.

This means those studying sciences and other technical courses have fewer opportunities in a country where youth unemployment is estimated at over 60%. Additionally, a third of the employers are not satisfied that new graduates hired in the last 12 months meet the skills needs and knowledge expectations of the industry.

The study aimed to assess the employability of Kenya’s graduates, with employability referring to the ability of an individual to obtain and maintain employment as a result of not only acquired knowledge, skills and competencies but also personal values and social networks.

“It’s not an easy space for graduates. The demand for suitability and employability is rising, chasing fewer and fewer job opportunities. For every 10 jobs available, eight are likely to be taken up by public university graduates, while the other two will likely go to [those from] private institutions,” said Professor Herman Manyora, the lead researcher at CPS while releasing the results.

Employer expectations

Regarding some of the expectations that employers have of new graduates, the study found that a majority (84.8%) of employers consider work experience as a crucial asset for new graduates, followed by skills, hobbies and talents, volunteerism internships and having studied overseas.

Employers who took part in the study ranked basic skills (numeracy, writing, reading and ICT skills) as the most important requirement when hiring, followed by team working skills, the right work-life attitude, communication skills and the ability to adapt and act in new situations.

The study shows that 81% of employed graduates were from local universities while 17% were from both local and international universities. At least 54.3% of employers perceive graduates from universities with a good reputation and ranking to be more employable, while 26.1% of employers were not sure whether reputation and university ranks affected employability.

However, employers were also increasingly taking into consideration the credibility of universities, measured among other parameters by years in existence and the level of specialisation in various fields.

According to the findings, the University of Nairobi, the country’s second largest by student numbers, was ranked the top university with the most continuing students who were employed nationally. It was followed closely by Kenyatta University, the largest by student numbers, Moi University, Mount Kenya University (the largest private university) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

The rest in the top 10 were Maseno University, Egerton University, Technical University of Kenya and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. Closing the list was United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa), which is popular with international students.

Fast-changing skills requirements

“The fact that most universities are still focusing on programmes which are not cognisant of the fast-changing job market skills-set requirements is something to worry about. There are thousands of graduates who are getting lost in the process. They later struggle to secure informal jobs or self-employment,” said Dr Gitau Ngigi, a human resource consultant based in Nairobi.

Among the top five public universities with most students employed while studying, the University of Nairobi had about 26.8% of its students either employed or self-employed, compared to Kenyatta University which stood at second with 21.3%. Moi University (18.1%), Jomo Kenyatta University (15.2%) and Maseno University (13.6%) came in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Among the top five private universities with most employed continuing students, Mount Kenya University was ranked first with about 17% of students working while studying, compared with 6% at USIU-Africa, 5.8% at Strathmore, 4.9% at Africa Nazarene University and 4.9% from KCA University.

The report said universities should increase the employability of their graduates by equipping them with professional communication and critical thinking skills, develop courses that are more relevant to employers’ needs and improve cooperation between universities and organisations when designing curriculum and study programmes.