They are young, full of life, and egotistical. But what really sets them apart from the youth of yesteryears is their indifference to corporate employment. While their parents went to school so that they could later find a good job that would pay them an average salary till they retired at 65 or 70, the Y Generation seems to have a totally different perspective on education and its co-relationship with careers.
“I cannot stomach the thought of working for someone from 9-5,” says a newly graduated 22-years old Mercy Njoki.
Mercy’s words are an incredible contrast to every young person (or parent) who cannot stop howling about the government’s failure to create employment opportunities for the youth. It is a story that is in direct contradiction with the more popular Hakuna Kazi version. Hers is the other side of the story that is rarely told; a story of young graduates who, for the love of their lives, cannot imagine spending the remaining quota of their productive lives locked in an office cubicle or chasing story leads in the field.
Mercy’s story is not an isolated one. Droves of young graduates, many with outstanding academic qualifications, are turning their backs on corporate employment. Some cite the low salaries paid by employers while others are concerned about losing the freedom of how they spend their time.
According to Mary Muchemi, a leading recruiter and headhunter in Nairobi, more and more young people are shying away from the perpetual pursuit of corporate employment, opting for the less traveled paths of self-employment and freelancing.
Mary says that a number of factors are responsible for this new crop of graduates.
“Most of them witness the struggle which their elder peers go through as their try to land jobs. Psychologically, they have already given up on the notion of landing corporate jobs even before they’ve graduated,” says Mary.
“Others want to feel that they have total control over their lives and how they spend their time. They do not want to answer to anyone but themselves, something which makes them an automatic mismatch for jobs in the corporate sector,” she adds.
Finding Joy Working Online in Kenya
So, where does this breed of corporate-employment-shunning fresh graduates go, and what do they want to do with their time?
Most of the young graduates who have shunned corporate employment are finding solace in online freelancing. It is the new way to find work and get employed, and, according to Mercy Njoki, if you you have not tried online freelancing, you are seriously missing out.
“I seriously get perplexed by guys that constantly cry ‘hakuna kazi’. There is so much work online. There is so much that you can do. You don’t need anyone to employ you, make you report to the office at 8, underpay you, and treat you like you are under their mercy,” Mercy rants.
Mercy, who works as a freelance writer with an online marketplace she identifies as Upwork, says that there are jobs for everyone online, and the best thing of them all is that the employers in these places do not concern themselves with your qualifications. You might be a form four dropout but as long as you can get the job done, you will get hired.
In Kenya, the idea of working online started a few years ago, but the information remained a reserve of a select few.
However, over the past two years, thanks to the wide penetration of low-cost internet and online social communities that are generous with information, the notion has gradually caught momentum and it looks as if there is no stopping it. Young undergraduates are being recruited into the movement years before they graduate. Apparently, there is a large market for their services in overseas countries where startups cannot afford to employ full-time staff. The startups turn to countries like India and Kenya for ‘cheap labor’.
However, what is cheap in overseas countries is a jackpot in Kenya where the cost of living is relatively low. Working online, Mercy pockets between Ksh. 90,000-150,000 per month. The lowest she has ever earned was 30K, and that was when she was young in the industry and still learning the hoops and crannies of the industry. On a good day, she makes about 5000/=, working for only 6 hours.
However, while the romanticism of working online is definitely attractive, HR professionals are afraid that the trend could shove the country into a labor crisis. Mary says that the country faces a possible worker-shortage problem.
“With the prospects that young people are finding online, it will soon be difficult to find qualified employees who are willing to work at the current salary rates in Kenya. Employers will either have to up their game or also resort to hiring online,” Mary explains.
The online jobs market also poses a nightmare for the revenue authorities in Kenya. While every individual is supposed to accurately file tax returns annually, many freelancers do not bother themselves doing so, and are, in fact, proud of flaunting the mantra ‘tax-free income’ to anyone who cares to listen. The government could be losing a substantial amount of revenue in terms of undeclared income.