To be young, educated, unemployed, or underemployed – please meet the new Africans

There are 800,000 job seekers in Kenya against an estimated 50,000 jobs advertised each year.

DAVIS Ananda works the night shift dispatching packages for a logistics company in Nairobi.

Three years ago, at his graduation, he never thought this would be what he would be doing. He has a degree in environmental science and expected to be working as a leading scientist in the region.

Six months after graduation, he still had not found a job and he had a little girl to feed. He took the job at the logistics company to make some money as he continued his search for work in his field. He is still there more than three years later.

He has not given up, and continues applying for jobs in the environmental science field, but he never gets called in for interviews, as he has no work experience in the field

He makes about $400 a month, most of which he sends to his mother in rural Western Kenya to care for his daughter.

According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report G lobal Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A generation at risk, [PDF] global youth unemployment is at crisis levels, with 12.6% of young people currently unemployed, roughly 73 million youth.

South Africa and Namibia have the highest rates of youth unemployment in the region at 48.2% and 41.7%. An often forgotten segment of the population are the underemployed; young people whom, according to the report, are “less selective about the type of job they are willing to accept due to prolonged job searches”.

Sometimes dreams don’t come true. (Photo/AFP).

Noel Mugo graduated in 2011 as well. He has not been as lucky as Davis; he has not found a job at all and now conducts research for Masters students, and writes project papers for a few university students. The last part of his job is a grey area; undergraduates are supposed to write their own but they find it cheaper and easier to hire someone to do it.

He is able to pay his rent in a one-room flat in the Kahawa suburb in Nairobi and save a bit each month. He applies for jobs every day and is still hopeful he will find full time employment soon. “I have to stay hopeful or I won’t be able to get up each morning,” he says.

Not what they hoped for

Meet Africa’s underemployed; young people whose current jobs either do not match their skill set or do not pay them enough. The ILO estimates that up to two-thirds of the young population is underutilised in developing economies - either unemployed or with irregular employment.

Their predicament seem to, yet again, call into question the “Africa rising” story. There is no doubt the continent is doing better economically than decades ago; with massive infrastructure projects and oversubscribed Eurobonds to pay for it all. The problem is that it is leaving a lot of young people behind. Kenya for example churns out 100,000 new university graduates a year. A recent World Bank report said there were 800,000 job seekers in the country against an estimated 50,000 available advertised jobs each year. 

The World Bank report  Unemployment and Job Mismatch in Sub Saharan Africa found that members of households that do not have resources to withstand prolonged unemployment are either forced to create their own jobs or to accept wage jobs whose remuneration, skills match, social security, job security and other features are inferior to jobs they held before or expected to have.

Grateful for small mercies

Ananda tells me after graduation, he had big dreams. “I wanted to buy a car after 6 months at work, live in a 2-bedroom house and make enough to hire a nanny to watch my daughter while I was at work.” He is grateful to have a job; most of his graduating class is still searching three years on and subsisting on research work like Noel. His life now looks nothing like the dreams he had. He has a plan however, to go back to school for an MBA with the hopes that it will get him promoted at work. “There is always hope, thankfully”, he tells me.

Noel’s bedsitter is in a building that is full of university students. He lived there while in school and had ambitions of moving on up after finding a job. The building has a huge crack on its side and often has no running water. To him it is a daily reminder that dreams do not always come true.

Living in Nairobi is expensive. Public transportation costs about US$5 a day and can be raised arbitrarily. Affordable housing is hard to find. There are two broad options - unaffordable middle and upmarket housing, or slum dwellings.

All around Nairobi new apartments are sprouting everywhere. Many of them have expatriates who have their rents paid by the organisations they work for.

Rent for the apartment is between $1,000 and $3,000 a month, far beyond the reach of most young people in the city. Things are wonderful, just not for these two.

Jobs that are non-jobs

The job advertisements tell an interesting story. What should otherwise be full-time positions are sometimes advertised as internships. This means employers can choose whether or not to pay you or simply say the internship is over in a year. They also do not have to pay you any benefits such as health insurance. This is against the law, but nobody checks and most workers are just grateful for some income.

The situation is the same in Uganda. Purity has a business degree but had to move back to her village, as she had no job in the city. She now sells peanut butter in her village. She cannot afford to live in Kampala; relatives got tired of her living with them and not contributing,

Because she lives a long distance from the capital, she cannot show up for job interviews that do not give her a lot of advance notice. She is just back from an interview, she believes it went well and she will get it.

‘My life feels like it is in limbo’, she says. “I cannot get married and have children because I cannot afford it. I cannot get a higher education for the same reason. I just want it to get better.”

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