When I was in primary school I remember we had a school artisan. His was not a part time job to come to school whenever there were repairs to be done. He was fully employed and he came to work every day. He was an all round magic man, roaming the school compound and sorting out just about everything. He even repaired lawn mowers and bicycles and if there were some leaking pipes, he was at hand with his toolbox to fix them. His name was Amos and as much as he had a natural hand at his kind of work, he was also a trained artisan.

Over the years, the likes of Amos have continued to dwindle in numbers since 2002 when in one of the biggest dis-service we have done to the youth and to this country, some bright soul thought it wise to convert polytechnics to Technical Universities and raise minimum grades for entry. This locked out thousands of young men and women from trainings and subsequent employment. As this happened, other industries that required hands-on skills were getting bigger and are now facing shortages in skilled labour.

Over time we shamed dress makers and customer service agents. We shamed the likes of Amos who spent their days tools in hand repairing things here and there and all the while providing for their families. We shamed restaurant workers and sales distributors. But all along while the system is churching out 1.2 Million youth per year, the same system can only absorb about half a million in jobs including those in informal sectors. The blue-collar jobs we so revere are only taking in about 50,000 per year.

Is it any surprise that the youth are getting more and more disillusioned by the day and many of them falling into a life of drugs and crime? I’d like to imagine that given a chance, just about everyone would like to make something of themselves. Just about.

Shadrak Okoth for example is a 28 year old who graduated from University of Eldoret in 2015 with a degree in environmental studies. Armed with his degree and full of hope, he hit the job market with enthusiasm, only for him to spend the next two years with no work. Then he heard about Generation Kenya where he enrolled for a 5 week program after which he immediately got a job in an events company. Unfortunately that was around the electioneering period that turns our country into a den of animals and that job died on him. He’s however now a supervisor in a leading supermarket in the country thanks to the skills he earned Generation Kenya.  There is no reason why Shadrack cannot work through the ranks to the top through hard work at the bottom over the years to come.

Yvonne Agnes’s is another case of hope rekindled and although slightly different from Shadrak’s because she did not have a university degree, the overriding thread is the same – that the youth want to make something of themselves through their hard work. Having been orphaned in 2017, she was not able to pursue college education and that made her work of looking for a job so very difficult. At a time when her life was supposed to be at its prime, she felt anything but, with no job and no parents to cater for her.  She later heard of Generation Kenya, joined, completed an 8 week sewing machine operator course and is now gainfully employed at Africa Apparel in Nairobi as a Machine Operator.

Shadrak’s and Yvonne’s are clear cases of why we must redefine jobs and provide opportunity for the youth to start earning through skills – as opposed to or alongside papers. We must stop belittling the hustle in the name of pushing our youth to only dream of working in the big offices or else. This is the most innovative and energetic group in our country and one that is capable of propelling our country forward and the levels of unemployment and disillusionment we’re looking at are staggering.

These are just two examples of Generation Kenya’s efforts, and by extension Safaricom Foundation who earlier last month partnered with them to implement Wezesha – a youth empowerment program under the Foundation’s 3 year strategy which entails Education, health and empowerment. In a few years, thousands will be empowered and the ripple effects will be felt in communities right in line with Safaricom’s Twaweza philosophy. This is certainly a brilliant way to tap into the energy that our youth has and to enable them forge forward in life.

Read about the foundations 3 year strategy here.

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