Schools don’t track their alumni very well. In Kenya, it matters

As a riff off the old public service announcement to parents—“It’s 10:00 p.m., do you know where your children are?”—we might ask educators, “It’s been a year, do you know where your alumni are?”

If a country can’t track its graduates, then there’s no way to know if its education system is having any positive effects. This has particularly become a problem in Kenya. 

Where did all the training go?

In some countries, the government provides labor market information and alumni tracer studies. These data help educators, policymakers, and the general public track the labor market outcomes of recent graduates—potentially informing a wide range of decisions. Unfortunately, many countries do not collect these data, or collection is delayed and data is hard to find. So, in these countries, we do not know where the graduates are; labor markets suffer as a result.

Kenya is one of these countries. According to the International Labor Organization, labor market information in Kenya is inconsistent, incomplete, and outdated. The World Bank is supporting Kenya’s reforms in this area, one of several labor market functions the Kenyan government is working to improve. I work for RTI International, which, as the implementer of the Kenya Youth Employment Services (K-YES) project—a U.S. Agency for International Development program that seeks to provide 30,000 Kenyan youth with market-relevant job and business skills—needs graduate outcome data to guide program investments.

To find where the graduates are, we used low-cost mobile phone survey techniques to survey 1,266 youth aged 18-35 across five counties (Nairobi, Bungoma, Kwale, Kericho, and Garissa). Eligible respondents had to have recently enrolled in secondary school or higher and be currently employed. For this study, we focused on employed graduates in order to understand their wage and employment patterns. While we have concerns about survey coverage (82 percent mobile ownership in Kenya according to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey) and non-response bias (we achieved a woefully low response rate of 15 percent), in the end, we think the results are useful for our purpose.

Discouraging results

The Kenyan youth we surveyed are not doing well.

  • 46 percent reported making less than 2,000 shillings a week after taxes, or about $2.75 a day, just slightly above the poverty level. Another 35 percent report making between 2000 and 5000 shillings a week.
  • Exactly half report working in a field outside of their education and training background.
  • 55 percent report being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their jobs.
  • 62 percent report being employed in temporary positions and 45 percent report working part time, a reflection of the large informal Kenyan economy.
  • It took these youth an average of 11 months to find their first job after graduation.
  • They now work in hospitality (21 percent), retail (16 percent), and agri-business (13 percent), with lower levels in construction, manufacturing, information and communications technology, transport (9 percent each), finance (8 percent), and entertainment (6 percent).

Even so, many of those surveyed would nonetheless recommend their schools and employment choices to others! Sixty-five percent of youth surveyed reported that they would recommend the post-secondary institution they attended to friends, and 43 percent said they would recommend their employment sector to friends.

Keeping track and reporting regularly

A recent World Bank report on youth employment in sub-Saharan Africa advised governments that “more systematic use of careful evaluations is clearly required, including impact evaluations that measure outcomes among program participants and compare them to a relevant group of nonparticipants. At the very minimum, governments should encourage all programs to track and report outcomes.”

Several months ago, RTI launched a new research initiative to work with 25 Kenyan vocational training centers to understand their graduate tracking processes, abilities, and interests. We expect to assist these schools to track three years’ worth of graduates, to organize focus group meetings to understand their experiences, and to gauge stakeholder reaction to the findings.

By doing this, we hope not only to understand “where the graduates are” but also whether and how knowing where they are matters.