Last week I shared the realities of generation ‘Y’ and ‘W’s plight. Brilliant African professionals with over a decade of professional experience worn proudly as a badge of honour but considered financial liabilities for companies.

Since that post, I have had several conversations with friends and colleagues, which have provoked me to dig deeper into what can be termed underemployment. Not quite the statistical bracket I see myself in. But the reality is if you have invaluable experience and certification in a specific career line and you either get work that doesn’t utilise your talents or struggle to get work, statistically, you fall into that bracket.

I read the term in Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reports and other data on labour and employment data published in Kenya and Africa. I never thought that was a reality people in their 30s and 40s would face. I will dig deeper into this discussion in more detail in future posts. Today, I want to focus on how  “I chose to build a space and ecosystem where I am invaluable and sought after.”

This is a work in progress. However, I will share some nuggets from what some friends, colleagues and I have done.
1. Consultancy for those working in an organisation dying from utter boredom, there is a world outside of those four walls seeking you. This world does not necessarily work in the conventional 9-5 model. It sometimes can work you to the bone with your expertise. But the monetary reward is when you lock down the right client paying the right currency at a nice and tidy daily rate; you are home and dry!

2. Teach. People lack appreciation for what we do because they don’t understand it. I have spoken about how people treat communication skills as “just” photography or “just” writing or “just” social media management. How about you create curricula to teach people what you already know innately. And they will pay you for it. The irony is they will demand to pay pennies to hire you to do it, but when you approach clients as an expert who will teach them the skills, they pay your worth. Life. Hahahaha! Shaking my head.

3. Expand Your Horizons. Since 2017, I have told those close to me that the Kenyan economy may be considered a large East African economy, but it is a drop in the ocean. And with election cycles eating into 3.5 years of business, relying on sourcing work locally is a waste. With your expertise, you can expand to Latin America, South East Asia, Europe, North America etc. – relocate or consult remotely for these regions. But you also don’t have to go too far; Africa has tonnes of opportunities. Kenya isn’t the end all be all.

4. Show Up & Always Give Your All. Sometimes you get work and look at the work scope and pay; it is peanuts. But what good connections offer you are more significant opportunities for growth. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you a little story. My accountant also runs an event company; he organised an event at the organisation. The organisation loved his work, and staff from other countries were present during the event. Through serving a client locally, he got work in a Southern African country. Sometimes, small gigs birth big ones; how do you know? It’s just trial and error, but always show up 100%.

5. Network. The most important lesson I have learnt so far in life and career. There is no way to avoid this. You need to get out of your comfort zone and meet people. Living in a bubble is an easy way to stay in the company that helps you wallow in the misery of your current situation. So get out, google events, meetings, zoom discussions, anything, MEET. PEOPLE. Find out what else people are discussing in your speciality and outside it. If you are wondering where here’s one you can attend next week for a start.

6. Build value. This is the second strongest lesson I have learned this year. No matter how talented you are, no one will take you seriously if you don’t package yourself as such. Building value is more than just personal branding; it is about building products and services unique to you that make you the most sought after in your speciality. If someone mentions accounting, disaster management or even yoga and your name is not top of mind, you haven’t built enough value. Pace yourself; you compete against yourself, not others. Your worth is unique to you; no one can take that away from you, so don’t compete with others, learn from them, but they are not competition. Like I said in my last post, there is enough to go around for everyone.

7. Generate the content. The age of the internet and social media is ours. Some of us (elder millennials) are digital natives. Start to create content on things you care about. That helps you connect the other six dots I have listed. There is no shortcut; it may be tedious and time-consuming, but it is worth it.