Duncan Githinji (not his real name) is among a growing number of Kenyans reaping the benefits of work-from-home jobs.
Holed up in his room for hours, in front of a computer, Githinji has been able to rake in millions transcribing for clients he has never seen and, probably, will never see.
Githinji, 31, loves this and does not see himself ditching for any other. But things are likely to get even better for Githinji and close to 42,000 Kenyans with an average monthly income of $500 (Sh50,000) that ply their trade in the cyber-space, according to official estimates.
The Government through the ministry of ICT and the private sector in the auspices of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) have partnered to launch the Ajira Digital- a platform that aims to introduce young people in Kenya to online work and provide the tools through training and mentorship.
It is part of the ministry’s objective to make Kenya a freelance hub like India, albeit Kenya still ranks far behind such outsourcing giants as India.
Kenya has advantages in infrastructure, level of skills, said Carole Kariuki. “Kenyans are ambitious and well talented young people. There is also immense goodwill and commitment from the Government,” she said.
“The traditional sector will help the 65 per cent of the unemployed youths,” said Carol Kariuki, CEO KEPSA.
Mucheru explained that participants in online jobs do not have to relinquish their offline work. “Because the job is freelancing people will most likely still be doing the jobs they have been employed for,” said Mucheru.
“Online jobs are good stepping stone for students as it offers them experience when they graduate,” said Carole Kariuki.
Efforts to move people online before have failed, according to Cabinet Secretary for ICT Joe Mucheru.
“Security is a constraint to shifting people to online jobs,” said Mucheru, noting that awareness was still wanting. “Trust issue also coming,” added Mucheru.
Moreover, just as it was difficult to convince parents to accept such vocations as music or Dejaying as decent professions just as any other, it is going to be a while before parents accept that their children can make money seated in front of a computer at home the whole day. “It is going to take a while for parents to start accepting it. But it won’t take long because parents are also feeling overburdened,” noted Carol Kariuki.
Mucheru challenged local companies to also move swiftly and create online jobs for Kenyans. “We can’t exhaust international jobs, but we also need to create local jobs,” said Mucheru.
In terms of working online, participants will be expected to pay five per cent tax to Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). “You just calculate your 5 per cent and remit through iTax,” said Mucheru.
Perhaps, the biggest challenge is on soft skills such as the courtesy required in replying to an email. The training is on such simple things as ‘How to reply an email,” said Caroline Wanjiku, one of the trainers. She noted that while the quality of work has been good, the participants have been let down by such things as communication skills.
“With online work, when you work, the employer rates you. The higher the rating, the more work you automatically command,” said Mucheru noting that working as a team is also encouraged.
Githinji might take pride in being among the first to take a plunge in online jobs, and might offer some insightful lessons as far the intricacies of online jobs are concerned.
Githinji officially plunged into online work in 2010, a few years after he realized that his job as a call operator at Kencall was not a safe. The company had started downsizing, and it would be a matter of time before it folded. Before, he did the work as a part-time. And it proved worthwhile than his main job at Kencall. It was the same job he did for Kencall.
“Back then, I used to leave work at mid-night. I had registered for an online job for transcription, and during the day I could put in two to three hours,” remembers Githinji.
He could make between Sh500 to Sh1000 working for a voice mail transcription service known as Quicktate, nearly as good as the monthly salary of Sh20,000 he got from his employer. His Sh20,000 salary came without freedom and flexibility that can be found in self-employment.
“So I made a decision to go it alone. Before, I could earn on average Sh400 per day, yet my employer paid me Sh20,000 per month,” remembers Githinji. Now I am not answerable to anyone,” remembers Githinji, taking advantage of desktop computer and modem he had at home. For his internet, he bought bundles worth Sh1,000 per month for 700 Mb from Safaricom.
And now, his company has grown to include four employees, and he can make as much as Sh500,000 in a month. “Here it is all about your skills and hard work. Clients are many,” explains Githinji who evidently relishes his work.
Other than transcribing, there are several other job opportunities online which qualified youths in Kenya can advantage not just as a full-time vocation but as a part-time undertaking. These include such as jobs virtual assistants, customer service agents, sales and marketing experts, accountants and consultants, web developers, mobile developers, design and creatives
Others are search engine optimization (SEO), article writing, academic writing, and coding.
For such jobs as Githinji’s, typing skills, a good command of English and being on top of current affairs is all that one needs. But that is not the case with others.
For a programmer, for example, the very skills he uses in the traditional sector are the same ones he needs online.
Githinji insists that this is not a job for everyone, it is a job done well by millennials- those who can sit in front of the computer for a whole day.
“You sit in front of a computer for 10 hours. Old people will start having headaches and all that,” said Githinji.
But the job, despite all this lucrativeness, it also has serious challenges.
“My third client conned me. Here you do a job with someone in India or the United States, you cant get into a plane and go ask for your payment of they are not paying,” said Githinji.
On the other hand, he said, the person you have employed expects to get paid and does not care about your being conned.
The other challenge is invoicing which takes long, with some clients taking as long as two weeks to pay. “Again, your employees won’t wait for that long, they want to be paid when their pay is due,” said Githinji.
When he started out, there was no means of receiving money from abroad except through Pioneer. And with pioneer, they used to incur huge commissions on the money they got paid, almost 10 per cent of the earnings. But today, modes of payments have been expanded to include Paypal, Western Union and many others.
Despite the challenges, Githinji will not take up any other job. The benefits have been too good. “Financially, this job has made me create a contact list with people abroad. I have also been able to understand different cultures,” said Githinji.
I have also employed people. “There is a boy who paid himself through college using cash from this job,” he added.
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