The Kenya Forum | Kenyan Graduates Brandish Your Degrees but its Diploma Holders that are Taking the Jobs - The Kenya Forum

May 18, 2018


A 2018 report by the World Bank and the Kenya Promotion Council submitted that Kenyan graduates are missing out on good jobs because the quality of our university education delivers a mass production of graduates who have certificates without matching academic and technical competence.

More by Winnie Kabintie

Kenyan Graduates Brandish Your Degrees but its Diploma Holders that are Taking the Jobs

Kenyan Graduates Brandish Your Degrees but its Diploma Holders that are Taking the Jobs

I recently came across a job advertisement, which strictly emphasised that degree holders were not qualified to apply. I considered why they locked out graduates from the position and the only reason I could come up with was that perhaps they were offering an insignificant salary that would be an insult to a degree holder.

So last week when I read a report by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics indicating that there are more diploma and certificate holders engaged in the marketplace than degree holders, I brought up the subject in conversation with a friend who runs a publishing firm.

I mentioned the salary factor in the above scenario as the reason I thought that firm locked out degree holders from applying for the position but he just shook his head.

Skills and Expertise

“See that right there, that’s the problem with graduates and especially people of this generation. You are more concerned with the salary, which has to match your degree holder status, than the skills and expertise you bring on the table”,  said Francis Akuka, Managing Editor, Aura Publishers.

“While a degree is a good thing to have in terms of academic qualifications”, he went on… “Today’s productivity in the marketplace is highly pegged on skills not papers”.

I decided to do more research on the subject, seeking to understand the reasons why degree holders are missing out jobs to diploma holders. Three key reasons stood out: half-baked graduates; an inflated sense of entitlement that graduates bring to the marketplace; and tangible technical experience from diploma holders that gives them a competitive advantage in today’s job market.

Half-baked Graduates

Several reports have indicated that Kenyan universities are churning out half-baked graduates, who don’t have the requisite technical skills for the market place.

A Research from the World Bank and the Kenya Promotion Council submitted that Kenyan graduates are missing out on good jobs because the quality of our university education delivers a mass production of graduates who have certificates without matching academic and technical competence.

These failings arise from inadequate teaching and learning facilities, inadequate and poorly trained academic staff, and increasing academic fraud and poor governance

“This means that the education delivered by universities must not only be accessible, equitable and relevant to the needs of the economy and society, but must also meet high quality standards. In our view a quality university education should be one that produces graduates who are fit for (having the requisite skills to discharge) their roles and responsibilities in the labour market”, the report stated.

Practice Beats Theory

Some university programmes dwell more on theory and have little practical content and some institutions even lack the necessary facilities for practical lessons.

Some years ago for instance, a diploma holder from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication was more seasoned than a graduate from The University on Nairobi, which didn’t have a fully equipped studio then.

In 2016, the Commission for University Education (CUE) findings revealed that some campuses lack sufficient physical and teaching facilities, which saw the government bar public universities from setting up satellite campuses.

Then the Education Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i, while announcing the restriction, underlined concerns by employers and the private sector on the mismatch between the education provided by public institutions and the needs of the dynamic labour market.

The Kenyan culture of focusing on grades has not helped either and students are more focused on passing exams to cut the graduation mark, which has led to academic fraud, consequently producing degree holders with limited intellectual capacity.

A Degree of Entitlement!

The majority of the employers and HR practitioners I spoke to were of the opinion that most degree holders are driven by an inflated sense of entitlement and even at the entry-level, they will not settle for some job positions owing to their level and pay while for Diploma holders, who are always cognizant of the fact that they have an academic disadvantage compared to their graduate counterparts, tend to be less selective.

These sentiments were echoed by Evans Kithuku, the CEO of Binary, a local IT firm offering mobile payments solutions.

“Possessing technical skills is a very crucial job requirement in our firm and so for us the capabilities and experience a developer brings on the team matters more than the papers they have and I can actually tell you for a fact that some of our best software developers don’t even have degrees

Experience and Skills Cuts it

As I came to learn in the course of my research, Binary’s approach of focusing on the skills and experience of employees is actually a method that is being embraced by multi-nationals.

In 2015 Ernst & Young, one of the UK’s top financial services advisory companies, revoked the degree requirement for graduate-level jobs, saying there is “no evidence” success at university correlates with achievement in later life.

“Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone is too blunt an approach to recruitment. It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken,” Maggie Stilwell, Ernst & Young’s managing partner for talent told the Huffington Post.

A recent job advertisement posted by Conservation international for a communications officer, clearly highlighted that they would consider an experience of 5 years in lieu of a university degree.

So there you have it; a skilled, experienced certificate/diploma holder who has never seen the doors of a university is more employable than a degree holder who has nothing more to show than just a certificate.

Shortage of Technical Workers in Kenya

Unemployment continues to be a big challenge in the country but did you know that there are actually some job opportunities in the country but no suitable candidates for the jobs?

There is a huge demand for skilled technical workers in Kenya but a massive shortfall between that and the supply of trained electricians, plumbers, mechanics and construction workers, which has resulted in thousands of these jobs going to imported skilled labour, particularly from China and India.

Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani recently called on county governments and businesses to set aside more funds for technical and vocational training to help reduce youth unemployment.

Technical and Vocational Education and Trainning (TVET)

The government has acknowledged the fact that what the country needs in order to achieve the envisioned growth is a highly skilled rather than highly-educated human capital and has initiated a vocational programme to address this need.

The programme, announced by the Ministry of Education in March, seeks to recruit more youths into middle-level colleges and oversee their placement in the job market within six months of graduation.

The master-plan aims to raise training opportunities in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions to 3.1 million, up from the current 180,000.The government also has plans to create one million enrolment vacancies annually for graduates from secondary and primary schools.

Last month Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed announced the placement into technical colleges of 500,000 students who had missed the cut off points to enter degree programmes at university level.


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