Employers overwhelmed by job applications

When the Judiciary advertised to fill 1,000 vacant positions recently, little did it know that it would end up with an overwhelming 80,000 applications.

The mountain of application letters is a sight to behold for Judiciary staff and the institution is negotiating with the National Youth Service (NYS) and two academic institutions to assist in keying in the applicants’ data into the database.

Given the extent of work involved and its sensitivity, the Judiciary has also invited the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to oversee the work and ensure there is no malpractice.

“It requires a big number of people, which on our own we don’t have. We are, therefore, negotiating with other institutions to help. It means the entire process is going to take a lot more time than we had anticipated,” said Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Anne Amadi.

The interest has not only been overwhelming but has also brought about unanticipated costs, says Ms Amadi.

“We expected a lot of interest because the Judiciary has become a lot more competitive in terms of remuneration but certainly not in such magnitude. We have had to pull out people from their usual desks to do the work of serialising the applications and sorting them out according to counties,” Ms Amadi said.

The response to the Judiciary jobs is the latest evidence of the worsening state of unemployment in Kenya and the dilemma it’s causing among potential employers.

After serialising and sorting the 80,000 applications, the Judiciary found that 41,452 were from Kenyans interested in clerical jobs. Some of those seeking clerical jobs were university degree holders yet the requirement was for lower academic qualifications. According to Ms Amadi, some of the applicants are employed in public institutions and are looking for greener pastures while others are fresh graduates seeking first jobs.

“For us, while the task at hand is overwhelming, we can be assured of getting the best candidates from the applicants,” she said, sounding upbeat amidst the unexpected task she now has to oversee as the Judiciary’s CEO.

But this type of situation is not unique to the Judiciary. Recently, when the Kenya Ports Authority put out a notice seeking to replace 28 employees it said it had fired for taking part in a strike, more than 3,000 job seekers turned up at the Bandari College on July 4.

KPA had called on qualified Kenyans to fill in the 28 positions for terminal drivers of tractors, forklifts, top loaders, winches, port clerks and coxswains who had been sacked for participating in the strike against the new National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) monthly rates. It was a crowd one would have only imagined at a political rally.

Many were injured in the stampede to gain entrance to the college. But it was even more painful when the recruitment was called off on government orders.

Dr Samuel Nyandemo, an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says the challenge at the moment is that the Kenyan market cannot absorb the labour force because the government has failed to invest in the more productive sectors of the economy.

The Focus

“Generally, the economy is performing poorly and the sectors that should create jobs are not growing. Instead, the focus has mostly been on the construction industry which besides not being able to absorb the available labour force is not attractive to white collar job seekers. Our policies and policy implementers have failed to tackle unemployment as is required.”

He added: “Corruption has diverted a lot of resources from the productive technical sectors. That is notwithstanding the tribalism in the job market which renders job adverts almost useless.”

Some time back, a state corporation was forced to deploy a pick up truck to ferry stacks of applications from Nation Centre where the applications were being received. The corporation had initially sent a messenger with a mail bag thinking that since they had not disclosed who they were in the advertisement, there would be fewer applications to fit just a backpack. How wrong they were.

“As a recruiter for corporations and government institutions, the problem is that there are very few job opportunities compared to the number of graduates and the economy is not growing at a rate which most of them can be absorbed,” says Mr Perminus Wainaina, the CEO of Corporate Staffing Services, a Nairobi-based recruitment agency.

“Our job is to get the best candidate but often it is overwhelming because of the number of applications. Probably by the time the evaluator gets to the 500th applicant out of say 1,000, he will have found a candidate,” he said.

According to Mr Wainaina, institutions are receiving many applications because jobseekers
do not evaluate themselves well before sending an application. Instead, they send letters all over the place in the hope that they will be successful in one. The challenge, Mr Wainaina says, cuts across both in the public and private institutions and especially depending on the brand involved.

For example, one of Mr Wainaina’s corporate clients, a major retail chain, wanted to hire five showroom ladies. According to him, the positions were advertised online and within two days, he had received more than 7,000 applications.

The Human Resource and Change director at private security firm G4S, Mr Epimach Maritim, told the Sunday Nation that just last week, 8,000 potential guards turned up for recruitment of 150 guards, notwithstanding the fact that the positions had been advertised internally. The minimum academic requirement was secondary school certificate with a mean grade of a C-plus.

“It becomes very tough on the employer because one may be required to hire someone else to help even though that had not been budgeted for,” said Mr Maritim.

Trying to Fit in

Some job seekers are going to an extent of hiding some of their qualifications so that they can qualify for junior positions. For instance, Sunday Nation was told of a scenario where a Master’s degree holder applied for a job of an accounts assistant but failed to disclose his postgraduate qualifications for fear of being turned away.

In April last year, hundreds of youth turned up at the Hotel Intercontinental for a job recruitment drive by Qatar Airlines disrupting normal operations and forcing security officers to send away the job-seekers from the main gates.

The hopefuls had jammed City Hall Way and Parliament Road as they awaited their turn.

“I arrived here around 5.30am from Kaunei, Makueni, and I was able to present my papers by 9am. I had applied online and was invited to appear before the panel,” said Terry Ann Mutinda who was one of the hopefuls for the positions of cabin crew.

Ndhiwa MP Agostinho Neto had in May introduced in the National Assembly the Unemployment Bill to form a government body under the Labour ministry, headed by a Director-General, which would keep track of all jobs available in the public and private sector.

The proposal was that every employer in Kenya would share with the Director-General a list of available positions and their holders. But even this may not cure the problem of unemployment.

According to Mr Maritim, public jobs are becoming more attractive because the government is offering competitive terms of service unlike before.

This was reflected in the Economic Survey 2015 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics which found a slump in private sector hiring. “There was a slower growth in private sector employment of 4.4 per cent in 2014 compared to 7.1 per cent recorded in 2013. Public sector employment increased by 2.6 per cent in 2014 from 3.2 per cent recorded in 2013,” the report said. The job creation was 200,000 less than the one million annually the Jubilee Alliance had promised during campaigns.

A survey by Corporate Staffing Services among 205 employers revealed that almost three quarters of the respondents (71.8 per cent) receive too many job applications but still find it difficult to get desired talent.

This could explain the reason the Public Service Commission (PSC) could not find “certain knowledge and skills in specialisations which are required for appointment to the position of Principal Secretary in some of the state departments” from among the 727 applicants for the positions of Principal Secretary. Close to 200 of the applicants were PhD holders.

Even after submitting 66 names to President Uhuru Kenyatta for appointment PSC again re-advertised the positions “in order to attract persons with the required knowledge and skills at top management in the public/private sector”.

The scenario is not a good sign for universities and colleges who continue to churn out graduates.

The Corporate Staffing Services survey found that 45 per cent of the employers mentioned that the candidates who apply for vacancies are of poor quality “as majority of them do not fit in the positions”.

According to Dr Nyandemo, the courses currently taught in many Kenyan universities enhance white-collar job mentality which stifles creativity.

“Our institutions of learning should concentrate on the demand side courses instead of the supply side courses that foster the white collar job mentality. The programmes we have currently are largely on the supply side which in real terms is not very useful. We need to focus more on technical subjects and invest in them so as to enhance self-employment like the Asians have done. The courses we have now have outlived their relevance.” Nation - Sunday 19th July 2015

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