The tough reality

The tough reality

Gig work might be the hope for the future in Kenya as economies continue to remain constrained because of job losses and minimal job creation 

In 2020, people were surprised to see small cars turned into “viosks” on Thika road by pass, Thika Super Highway. During that time, most car owners would go to Kinangop to bring fresh farm produce and start selling on the roadside. And, for the nearly nine months that learning institutions were closed as a measure to control the spread of coronavirus, people were surprised to see schools being converted into chicken rearing grounds. 

There is also the current Royal Media Services’ Viewsasa app which allows users to register as agents and earn commissions by buying airtime, paying bills and uploading content through the digital platform. People familiar with how the mobile app works say, after signing up, users earn cash from the content they post. 

Besides the private players, the Judiciary is in partnership with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation in bid to create work opportunities. Last year, Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary (CS) in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth, said that 69,407 legal transcripts had been submitted to the Judiciary in addition to more than 10,596 transcribed audio hours. There were also 169, 844 case files in the Case Tracking System according to the CS. Back then, 61 courts were already digitized, and more opportunities were being created.

Other areas that offer opportunities in this era of job losses include academic and scientific writing, virtual assistants, online research and surveys as well as coding, an indication that the long overdue gig economy is finally here. Five to eight years back, gig work was called the future. Somehow, it is now the reality that most companies and government institutions have woken up to. 

A study by Kenya Private Sector Alliance Kenya (KEPSA) commissioned by Ajira digital program shows that 31% of workers adopted gig work because of lack of regular employment opportunities. Kenyans are trying to create work for themselves thanks to gig economics which leans more towards contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. 

“We are well on the way towards achieving the country’s objective of creating a globally competitive knowledge based middle income economy,” Carole Kariuki, KEPSA CEO, noted during the release of the research in September 2020. 

Charles Ringera, the man at the helm of the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) says “gig economics” offers immense opportunities. Even from where he sits, at HELB, he sees it as a very powerful income generating option to younger people as well as Small and Medium Enterprises. 

During an interview with Nairobi Business Monthly at Nairobi’s Villa Rosa Kempinski, he talked of a techie who holds a permanent job elsewhere but is able to make extra income from filing taxes not only for individuals but also start-ups. The young man, he says, offers his services to four, or five other companies and may be making a fortune at a time when jobs are scarce. 

“Gig economy is the future,” he says. “You can imagine if students were able to do that when they are still in school. It can start helping them in paying loans… they will start paying their loan facilities when they are still in school. That is why we are looking for money to give students laptop loans. We want them to get laptops and start hustling.”

Mr Ringera is one of Kenya’s chief executives who argues that the new trend is disrupting work places in a positive way. The former banker reveals that during the time that “things were not normal”, his team embraced the “shifting” option whereby the bulk of HELB employees alternated between working from home and working during morning hours, or evening shifts on site. 

On the other hand, employees in contact centres were only going to the office when necessary – So the only critical evaluation was how to monitor productivity, which, he says, was an easy affair. The contact center employees were allowed to go home with their “soft phones” which extends the “trunk line” of the loans organzation enabling them to do what they do best, but now from the comfort of their home. He says, “the government never closes completely.”

But there were new challenges such as increasing salaries for automation of their places, they can never go down on power which means back up power had to be taken care of. Ringera says, “there are still those small issues but I think it is still manageable… It will be a transition and the future is brighter for that space because we are breaking the structural walls. Working from an office from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and Monday to Friday trend, is now being broken. You can handle multiple jobs, and work from anywhere as long as you have a smartphone, a laptop or a desktop computer connected to the Internet.”

He adds that flexible working options worked quite well and that those who are still stuck with the old ways of doing things can re-invent themselves to support the “new eco-system”. He also emphasizes on the need for workers to simply build a new set of skills if they are to be at par with the current work dynamics. To him, one can re-skill and enter the “gig job market” in a bid to make extra income.

While previously, at the height of the pandemic, most workers were on unpaid leave with a majority not getting full salaries because of pay cuts, video calls were the order of the day – meetings were held through platforms such as Zoom, Google meet, Microsoft’s Teams, Facebook live, WhatsApp and Tik tok as physical meetings and public gatherings were banned. For a person with little understanding of how these platforms work, tech savvy people were, and still are, always willing to help at a cost.

“What we saw with Covid-19 was very interesting. What we noticed is that the employers were no longer remitting money for HELB. And when you do some investigations you realise that you are actually hustling, doing some gigs here and there to be able to repay your loan. We expect that, with or without covid, people should be repaying their loans,” he says. 

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