Career guidance: Get the skills and job you deserve

Janet Katua, a first-year law student attended Discover Your Career (DYC) holiday workshop to confirm if she was taking the right course. After taking our career psychometric test, she had mixed emotions that we had to call in the parent. While she thought she had done a prestigious thing taking law like some of her friends, she finally admitted to having little interest in it.

Part of her test’s main professional interest read, “Need for physical involvement in work and action and/or need to work outdoors. This factor covers the need to be physically involved in one’s work and/or be working outdoors and stay in touch with nature. People with a high score on this factor avoid occupations that would confine them to an office, as they seek action.” Needless to say, Law was not an option for her!

Like Janet, thousands of students go to higher institutions of learning to take courses that are not based on their capabilities, interests, areas of gifting or even their skills. Choice of careers is based on peer pressure, parents influence, wrong information, entry level requirements, merit, and even placement by Kenya University & Colleges Central Placement Board.

The lack of guidance-based instruction in our education system has resulted in a large portion of students being placed into ‘wrong’ courses in institutions of higher learning, resulting to dissatisfaction, unrest and general difficulties in learning.

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Research conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2007 revealed that out of a sample of 314 individuals between 30 and 35 years of age and drawn from 16 professions, 66% of the interviewees were found to have chosen the wrong career, 27% had not thought about their careers and only 7% believed they had chosen the right career.

Job frustrations

This is primarily because people go for what is available rather than what is in line with their personal interests, values, abilities and skills. Many also lack the ability to re-orient their interests to the available training and employment opportunities. This has led to job frustrations, low job satisfaction, low work morale and reduced productivity which inevitably have far reaching social and economic consequences.

This situation reflects a need to harmonize  individuals’ natural abilities and interests with their education and training, in line with changing needs of the job market.

After independence in 1963, Kenya adapted the 7-4-2-3 system where students took seven years in primary school, four years in secondary school (O-level), two years in high school (A-Level) and three years at tertiary level. This education system had been structured in such a way that those who did not proceed to secondary school and dropped out at primary level were assimilated in semi-skilled vocational colleges and village polytechnics.

Those who dropped out at O-levels went for certificate and diploma courses in different colleges spread across that country. Those who dropped out at A-levels went to undertake higher diplomas in high level colleges while the rest went to the universities.

Teachers’ main focus

In 1985, the 8-4-4 system of education was introduced at a time when Kenya was undergoing a volatile political era. In this system, students go through eight years of primary education, four years in secondary school or high school and four years at the university.

The 8-4-4 system has come with a lot of challenges and has been widely criticised for being expansive, heavily loaded, in terms of content, and too exam-oriented, which when combined, put undue pressure on the learners. It focuses heavily on drilling and exam preparation. Teachers’ main focus is to raise the mean grade and competitiveness; not career preparations!

Read: Ten best paying jobs in Kenya and their salaries

Career guidance is almost alien in schools. There are no trained career guidance teachers and a subject teacher is normally relegated to this task. Coupled with the pressure to raise grades, guidance becomes almost a bother. The other problem is that career guidance is not recognized by the Teacher Service Commission and few teachers wish to take extra duties with no extra pay.

Most schools undertake career days where professionals in the market are invited in schools to talk about their profession. Research has found out that while this is important for career guidance, it ends up confusing the students more; they sway depending on the speaker. When asked what careers they would like to pursue, most say, ‘those that will give me a lot of money!’

Curriculum Review

As the director of Discover Your Career, I was invited to join a team discussing pertinent and contemporary issues in the curriculum review last year. A heated discussion ensued on inclusion of career education & guidance in the curriculum. Most former teachers did not find it necessary to hive off a career guidance office in schools and train teachers on this important role

At the end, it was recommended that a fully fledged Guidance & Counseling department with two different autonomous offices, Career Guidance and Counseling, to be set up in every school.

While launching new career resources (Careerpedia series), former Education Cabinet Minister Prof Jacob Kaimenyi underscored the need to prepare students adequately by giving them vocational and career guidelines to help them match their acquired knowledge, skills, talents, and competences with the available opportunities in the job market.

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Due to this, DYC with other like-minded mentors have started a Career Guidance Institute to bring order and build professionalism. Its key mandate will be to train teachers on career information, advice & guidance and train transitioning students, who may not have received any sort of career guidance, and become the voice of the profession.

The institute will closely work with the Ministry of Education and its relevant departments so that a policy framework can be put in place to regularize the profession. The institute has partnered with Institute of Career Development, United Kingdom who are now developing content for professional career education & guidance Kenyan benchmarks.


The author is the Executive Director of Discover Your Career, a leading career guidance service provider in East Africa. Go a career issue? email to: margaret.waithaka@discoveryourcareer.co.ke

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