20 February 2013

Kenya: Don?t Lock Out Young People


Last week, the Public Service Commission of Kenya (PSCK) invited applications for the position of principal secretaries. However, the requirements for the job will lock out young professionals and must be reconsidered.

Although the call for application is not saying that youth should not apply, the requirement for 15 year experience will obviously lock out many competent young people.

Indeed, youth deserve a chance to serve this country at all levels-including serving as principal secretaries. Lamentably, the PSCK seems not to have mastered other parameters of assessing job applicants, which private sector has embraced seeing young people below 30 years successfully work as chief executive officers.

Article 155 (3) (a) of the constitution that establishes the principal secretaries gives the public service the mandate to recommend qualified persons to serve as principal secretaries to the president for nomination.

In keeping with the spirit and the letter of the constitution, the public service should create a competitive process that would not lock out competent youth.

While most of the sectors in the country are moving forward to implement the new constitution and integrate young people, the public service continues to perpetuate regulations that lock out youth from employment.

Consider this. Under the current 8-4-4 education system, many young people particularly those who join public universities achieve their bachelor's degrees at age 24 years. Assuming that they take up a master degree immediately after undergraduate, they will be 26 years old when they finish.

In that case, the 15 years' work experience required for the position of the newly created positions of the principal secretaries would mean that applicants will only be people who are 40 years and above.

No doubt, there are many promising young people with the competence to serve as principal secretaries in Kenya.

Examples abound of young people who have excelled in senior management position in all spheres particularly in the private sector.

Every year, Business daily releases survey report of 40 young men and women who are below 40 years and are in the corporate leadership and enterprise in Kenya. The reports reveal how some leading companies in Kenya have young managers at the helm.

For instance, James Mutito Mworia is in his early 30s and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Centum Investment Company Limited, the largest quoted investment company in East Africa that is listed on Nairobi Stock exchange.

Carole Kariuki is only 38 years and she is the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, the national umbrella body of private sector, a sector that contributes 70% of Kenya's GDP. She was appointed to the position at age 35 years.

Recently, Kenya Commercial Bank appointed young Joshua Oigara who is only 37 years to replace Martin Oduor-Otieno as the Chief Executive Office.

As a country we must appreciate and exploit the potential of young people and the immense value, innovation and new thinking that they would bring to the public sector.

As the African saying goes, "you cannot do today's job with yesterday's methods and still be in business tomorrow". Similarly, we cannot overemphasize experience and ignore dynamism from young people that is required to transform the public service.

Indeed, the constitution seeks to open up the state to young people to contribute to the development of the country at all levels particularly in the public sector.

Arms of government including the legislature and the judiciary are reforming to do away with rules that stifle growth in their departments. But public sector seems stuck in the old thinking that experience is everything.

Young people do not want to wait until they are forty to serve in the public sector. As such, public service must review the experience requirement in the call for application, and ensure that young people are accorded an equal chance to compete.

Raphael Obonyo is the external advisor, United Nations Habitat's Youth Advisory Board

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