Skills supply and skills demand in the Kenyan economy

Mark Talmage-Rostron
November 10, 2023 · 11 min read

Access to quality higher education in Kenya is constantly proving to be the difference between the supply of skills needed to float an already struggling economy and jobs being filled.

There is a lot more to Kenya than just game lodges and beach holidays. Agriculture that includes forestry and fishing is one of the biggest money spinners. As the largest economic sector by a country mile, the industry contributes to about one third of Kenya’s GDP. In fact, about 75% of Kenya’s population work within the agricultural sector.

That said, not every person is a farmer, and not every student is looking to study agriculture at university to get into this very competitive sector. And as they say in the classics, ‘never put all of your eggs in one basket.’

Therefore it would not be amiss for students to also concentrate their efforts on getting a foothold into the other top industries in the country which include technology, mining, manufacturing, construction, real estate, transportation, energy, and financial services.

Top 5 Industries In Kenya

1. Mining

Mining and quarrying added approximately $773 million to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021. The annual value increased compared to 2020.

2. Manufacturing

Manufacturing added approximately $7.4 billion to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021. The annual value increased compared to 2020.

3. Construction

The construction sector added approximately $7 billion to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021. The annual value increased compared to 2020.

4. Service Industry

Travel and tourism contributed $5.4 billion to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021. Increasing by nearly 35% compared to 2020.

5. Transportation

Transportation and storage added approximately $11.7 billion to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021. The annual value increased compared to 2020.

However, for students to get into these industries, they need to procure the necessary skillsets that will enable them to get a foot in the door in these and other industries and then ultimately increase their chances of getting promotions and pay raises.

Do Kenyan graduates have the necessary work skills?

Experts and surveys all point toward the fact that skills shortages are negatively impacting recruitment in Kenya and leaving holes in the job market that employers are struggling to fill. Although the size of the skills gap in Kenya is unknown because detailed research hasn’t been done, industry sources have made it abundantly clear that they are struggling to fill posts. This is in all likelihood due to the fact that most Kenyan universities are not focusing enough on practical skills.

Other challenges lie in outdated training curricula, and inadequate facilities to cater for the large number of students looking to procure vital job skills. This is definitely having a negative impact on the quality of individuals being channeled into the labor market.

Employers concur and have reported concerns with the level and relevance of skills amongst job applicants workers already in jobs, demonstrating that these jobs don’t have the necessary skilled workers to meet relevant KPIs.

Unfortunately Kenya’s situation is not unique in Africa. Other countries on the continent such as Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria are also finding that the skills gaps across all industries are widening.

So what is the answer? Sadly there is no short-term one. Some experts have intimated that the answer lies with producing more specialized training centres, whilst the majority have said that the way to plug the gaps is by developing more internationally recognize universities. The latter does however come with a range of challenges that include cost and flexibility of learning, amongst others.

But finding an internationally recognised university or useful program to study in Kenya is proving harder and harder for young Kenyans, especially programs that use a skills-based curriculum to allow people to walk into a job hard-baked and able to hit the ground running. Therefore, online universities such as Nexford University are gaining increasing traction in the Kenyan market right now as they serve up a tried and trusted competency-based curriculum. Nexford learner Rachel Endota attests to this.

However for these programs to be useful for current and future students, university curricula must be modelled on global standards. The quality of teachers must also be improved and technical and vocational training institutions need to be equipped with modern tools and materials to ensure as mentioned above a shift from theoretical to practical teachings.

Should Kenyans prioritize skills over theory based education?

The top firms in Kenya have confirmed that they are very concerned with the growing gap between what they require from job candidates and the practical experience and skills served up by the country’s education and training systems. Increasingly they are reporting in surveys that they have little to no faith in the public education system producing graduates with practical experience. This is leading to said firms having to train or retrain workers to do the job at hand, costing them valuable time and money that could be better served growing the business.

Kenyan workers ability to do their job well will increase job creation, improve access to jobs and income opportunities, and foster increased rates of productivity growth for the country. No surprises there. In addition, Kenyan workers being able to exhibit the necessary skills to do their jobs effectively has been shown to have a positive impact on their earning potential. In fact, it has been proven that having a world-class university degree can increase earnings by over 7%.

Taking a leaf out of Nexford University’s book, the Kenyan government is in the process of implementing a new curriculum, themed Competency-based Curriculum. Recognizing the benefits to be found from education such as promotion of individual wellbeing and acquisition of skills and capabilities to contribute meaningfully to the economy and society at large, the government is continuing to invest heavily in education.

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The skills in highest demand in Kenya right now

When looking to garner employment in any economy around the world it pays to understand what skills are in highest demand in that country and then work your way back from there. Studying the right degree that will give you the right skills to get into the right job to get ahead and earn promotions and pay raises is really a no brainer. Making the right career choice in Kenya is no different.

Of course all young Kenyans would love to be able to work in an industry that they are very passionate about. Who wouldn’t want to be a world-class long distance athlete or million dollar entrepreneur, but of course not all can be that. When choosing a career path, Kenyans would do well to select one that will provide lucrative opportunities not only today, but also in the future. And that means acquiring the in demand skills to future-proof their career.

Most In-Demand Skills In Kenya

1. Information Technology

You would have had to be living under a rock not to realise that having IT skills can launch your earning potential through the stratosphere. The starting salary in 2022 in Kenya for an IT entrant is $26,000 per annum and up to $72,000 for an IT specialist.

There are so many IT specializations that companies are just crying out for. The list is pretty exhaustive and includes; IT managers who are in charge of planning, coordinating, and directing activities using computers and information systems, among other things. There is also demand for Software Engineers, Web Designers/Developers, Business Analysts, Computer Service Technicians, Cyber Security Specialists, Data Analysts, Data Scientists, Hardware Engineers, and others.

2. Sales and Marketing

Everyone needs sales people to peddle their goods and services and everyone needs marketeers to get the message to the right people, at the right time. Kenya is no different. This professional path includes positions such as digital marketers, sales managers, sales supervisors, sales representatives, marketing managers, social media managers, SEO experts, content marketing, and so on. If these individuals are good at what they do, the earning potential is good.

Sales and marketing managers typically make between $400 and $1,265 after taxes per month at the start of their careers, rising to an average of $600 to $2,122 after taxes per month after 5 years of service for a 45-hour workweek.

3. Medicine

Even from an early age, many kids dream of becoming doctors or pilots. Being able to heal the masses is always going to be a highly sort after skill and one that even though hard work and dedication, about 7 years in fact, the rewards are well worth it. Physicians, nurses, paediatricians, dentists, opticians, surgeons, pharmacists, gynaecologists, and other medical professionals are among those who work in this field.

The average salary in 2022 for people working in the medical field ranges from nett salaries of $341 per month to $4,167.

4. Mechanical Engineering

Combining engineering physics and mathematics principles with materials science, mechanical engineering is one of the oldest and broadest of engineering branches, and as such, a very marketable and sought-after technical discipline. The university courses to get into it are highly scalable and offer a variety of job opportunities post-graduation.

Based on 12 incomes, a mid-career Mechanical Engineer with 5-9 years of experience makes an average total salary of $10,000 nett per month. A Mechanical Engineer’s average pay is $5,100 nett per month.

5. Graphic and web design

They say that a picture tells a thousand words and marketing collateral needs to be aesthetically pleasing to draw in an audience. This is why the demand for graphic designers is increasing in Kenya.

Graphic and web designer salaries range from $501 to $1598 nett per month and they are generally expected to be in charge of producing logos, websites, animation, flyers, product illustrations, and other materials.

6. Architecture

There is a line from the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ where the expression ‘If you build it, they will come.’ In order though for that to happen, builders need architects to draw up the plans.

People working as an Architect in Kenya typically earn around an average of $1507 nett per month, whilst salaries in this field range from $739 to $2356 nett per month. Architects mix technical knowledge with artistic flair to create projects that are both functional and visually appealing. Among the positions available in this field are Building surveyors, town planners, structural engineers, and historic building inspectors.

7. Software Engineering

Technology is not changing month by month, it’s virtually changing week by week, which is why software developers will always be in high demand.

Salaries in this industry range from $622 to a high of $1981 nett per month. Software engineers are computer science specialists who use engineering concepts and programming languages to create software products, create computer games, and administer network control systems.

8. Quantity Surveying

Building don’t just happen by chance and they of course cost money to construct. Companies don’t want any unexpected surprises during the process and so they employ Quantity Surveyor’s to oversee all of the costs associated with a construction project.

A person working as a Quantity Surveyor in Kenya typically earns an average of £1248 nett per month.

Learn how to develop the most in-demand skills for your future career!

Discover how you can acquire the most in-demand skills with our free report, and open the doors to a successful career. 

Download the free report today!

Skills mismatches

That is the good news. The bad news is that STEP Household Survey results show that there is a high degree of skills mismatch in Kenya amongst individuals who are not utilizing all the skills they have learnt or they feel inadequately qualified for their jobs.

Skills mismatches occur when workers are trained or educated in skills that are not relevant or do not coincide with those that are being demanded by employers. This reduces productivity and increases turnover in jobs. The skills mismatch is also evident from the STEP Household Survey of the labor force, indicating that educational investment in the workforce is ineffective.

There is thus a need to create better opportunities for employers to find the appropriately skilled job-seekers in the labor market, and this is where universities such as Nexford can assist. Through its competency-based programs, graduates come out of their studies with the in-demand skills necessary to more than get the job done and render themselves highly employable.

Proof of this requirement is that Kenyan employers find that the education system does not produce graduates with practical experience. Moreover, they find that graduates from technical training and vocational institutes do not meet the required skills. Over 40% of firms disagree with the statement that the education system provides graduates with practical experience.

Higher education opens more doors in the Kenyan job market

Developing a workforce with the right skill-set can lead to the creation of more productive jobs which can help firms compete and grow, and thereby further increase labor demand that will justify the higher wages as these firms become more competitive. Skills are an important development challenge for Kenya as more young people will need jobs and they need to be adequately trained with the relevant skills to meet potential job requirements.

More emphasis is needed to support an enabling environment for firms to coordinate with education and training systems so they can help ensure workers are trained on up to date technology and skills.

The Standard online publication in Kenya states in an article that broadening access to education can unlock economic opportunities. Higher education attainment increases employment rates, job security and lifetime earnings. In this economic landscape in Kenya where full global economic recovery remains elusive and uneven, students need access to skills-first learning opportunities that prepare them to enter the modern workforce. It’s more important than ever for higher education – including delivery, admissions and curriculum – to enable socioeconomic mobility through equitable access.

In response to that, Nexford University’s mission is to enable greater social and economic mobility across the world by providing learners access to high-quality, affordable, dynamic online education that prepares them for the global workplace.

Ready to take the next step? Download our brochure or book a call with our Nexford Advisors!

About the author
Mark Talmage-Rostron
Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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