By Gift Briton

Joyce Kimani, a graduate of supply chain management, was frustrated after searching for a job after graduation proved futile. When her four-year hard work at the university had not paid off, she became demoralized and her self-esteem lowered as most potential employers claimed that she lacked experience and skills for the jobs.

However, after a year-long struggle, Kimani finally met a friend who introduced her to the Ajira Digital platform, a government’s skills development program that equips the youth with skills, knowledge and tools through training and mentorship to help them access online jobs. She is now able to earn a decent income, enough to pay bills and support her family.

Joyce Kimani, Ajira Digital platform Beneficiary

“The Ajira Digital program equipped me with the requisite digital work-readiness skills and access to online work. As a graduate, I struggled to get a job, but after training with Ajira Digital, I was able to get a gig as a virtual assistant on the Upwork(online) platform,” she narrates.

Being part of the over 300,000 beneficiaries of the program (70 percent are young women), Kimani earns approximately USD 250 monthly as a part-time job.

“Unlike conventional employment, there is no limit as to how much money you can make online. It depends on individual skills and how much time you are willing to put into your online work. Money from online work is sweeter than money from elsewhere because you can earn it from anywhere without much inconvenience,” Kimani claimed.

Kimani’s job-hunting experience is similar to that of thousands of young Kenyans who are churned out of tertiary institutions every year but are not able to secure employment.

According to data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2021), the country is churning out approximately 800,000 graduates every year from tertiary institutions, out of which only two in every ten graduates get absorbed in the job market.

Furthermore, the current unemployment rate in Kenya is at nearly seven percent, with individuals between the ages of 20–29 accounting for the highest proportion of the unemployed.

To respond to the deteriorating unemployment rate in the country while also tapping into the digital economy, the government launched Ajira Digital Program in 2016, an innovative initiative that provides an end-to-end solution for the youth to work and earn online.

Ajira Digital program is free and open to all young Kenyans who are yearning to make a dignified livelihood from digital and digitally-enabled work opportunities.

It was launched by the Government through the Ministry of Information, Communications, and the Digital Economy in collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation, eMobilis, and Kenya Private Sector Alliance(KEPSA).

eMobilis is charged with the operationalization of the program’s youth empowerment centers, the institutionalization of Ajira Clubs in Universities and Technical and Vocational Educational Trainings (TVETs), as well as the implementation of training and mentorship across the country.

On the other hand, KEPSA supports catalyzing digitization for the private sector and e-government to create demand for the digital and digitally-enabled work skills offered by the program while MasterCard comes in with the funding.

Any Kenyan youth with internet access can virtually register for the program through the Ajira online portal and book classes from wherever they are.

Registered individuals are then tutored and mentored on different basic and advanced digital skills depending on individual interests and education level. These skills include software development, online marketing, content writing, transcription, machine learning, writing a cover letter, communications skills, virtual assistance, proposal writing and graphics design among others.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), digital (online) skills are a range of abilities to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information.

Data from the Economic Forum (2022) mentioned that by 2030, 77% of the jobs globally would require digital skills.  Moreover, according to the 2022 Trends and Insights For Africa (TIFA) survey commissioned by the Ajira Digital Program, there are approximately two million people currently working online in Kenya.

The Ajira virtual training normally lasts between three days for each skill. Upon completion, the trainees are put through a month-long mentorship program.

“During the mentorship, trainees are matched with mentors in their respective fields who then nurture their skills and take them through practical lessons. The virtual mentorship sessions involve weekly cats, question and answer (Q&A) sessions, google classrooms and WhatsApp group discussion,” Priscilla Maina, Assistant Director- State Department of Digital Economy, said.

Apart from the virtual training, the program has also incorporated physical digital skills training in several tertiary institutions across the country and in the 400 Ajira youth empowerment centers spread across the country.

The Ajira centres are hubs where the youths with limited access to the internet can go and access free computers, internet, and working space to work and earn online.

Also, there are over 114 Ajira clubs institutionalized in universities and TVETs, equipping young people in higher learning institutions with digital skills.

Benaiah Wepundi, Ajira Digital Program Beneficiary

Benaiah Wepundi, a software engineer student at the Catholic University, came to learn about Ajira digital platform through the Ajira club based at the university.

At 21 years, Wependi already owns a business and is a self-reliant man paying all his bills including his campus fees, thanks to the digital training he got after enrolling in the Ajira program.

He virtually learned web development skills through the Ajira program and then started working online as a freelancer. Wependi then evolved from being an online freelancer to an entrepreneur in the digital real estate space.

“I have gained immense skills and endless opportunities in the digital economy. Besides earning from online gigs, I am also able to create solutions for businesses and work opportunities for more young people to earn a dignified income. I urge young people to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Ajira Digital in the digital and gig economies,” he said.

Despite the numerous benefits of this landmark program Edna Karijo, Ajira’s digital trainer from eMobilis notes that some challenges still exist. Some of the challenges she identified include a lack of infrastructure, disadvantaged groups and the ever-widening digital divide.

“Quite a number of young people find it hard to access equipment for working online. Also, there are some youths who lack basic computer skills. Luckily the government has put in place the Ajira centres across the country where these youths can access the internet freely,” she said.

Karijo adds, “The other challenge is with the disadvantaged groups.  The digital divide is still posing a challenge for these groups in terms of accessing online services, with the demographic health survey data showing that young people in marginalized and rural areas have lesser access to online opportunities than their urban counterparts.”