Telling ‘work’ and ‘employment’ apart

Tuesday November 23 2021
By Kasera Nick Oyoo

Not so long ago while I was employed in a high-profile job in Uganda virtually next-door, I walked into another CEO’s office. While waiting to see the CEO, in walked five young women with whom I got into a conversation.
The gist of the conversation was that these young women – soon to graduate from Makerere University in Kampala which served the academic needs of East Africans in the good old days – were already hunting for salaried employment and future leadership positions.
Who knows…! As you read this about 12 years later, those five girls may very well be leaders with some years of experience under their proverbial belt!
What struck me on that day, however, was how fixated they were in looking for salaried jobs, apparently unaware of the fatal mistake of the “any job” concept.
In yet another conversation I had not long ago with a lecturer of mathematics at Maseno University near Kisumu City in Kenya who was visiting the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) in Tanzania.
The lecturer was surprised to learn that the challenges which are faced by students at both UDSM and Maseno University are more-or-less similar.
The growing middle class in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda seems convinced that a good life is only possible if “one has a salaried, full-time and permanent employment – and nothing else!”
How we define “work” needs to change – especially considering that work is omnipresent. Indeed, if we go by the Asiatics example, then we in these three East African countries ought to sit up and take notice.
The idea of “work” vis-à-vis “employment” rages because we have continued to alternately define work, as employment – and employment as being the only discernible work!
All our successful middle class relatives who are in “permanent and pensionable” government jobs define how we see work. For them, employment looks like their day jobs, and includes a permanent and pensionable status as an opportunity to earn a salary while skiving off responsibility on a basis that is flabbergasting.
These same bureaucrats are extremely hard to please in their own ventures, in their businesses or on their farms where they demand sweat and blood from those whom they hire.
There is a real need to change the way we approach work. We all know that work can be quantified – and, it is this quantification that leads to determining what fees should be charged as being commensurate with the work done.
For young people, there is plenty of “work” around them. What may not be available is “employment;” employment according to the gospel of government employees who get away with murder throughout their working lives.
It is important to understand that work entails a lot more than permanent and pensionable terms. Work is around us all, waiting for someone to do it.
Recognition of this fact would go a long way in solving many of the challenges in our communities which are work-related, but which do not come entangled in permanent and pensionable clothing.
These challenges need solutions. But, they hardly find anyone who is able, willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and go at it. More often than not, everyone is keen on the permanent and pensionable working terms.
The advent of the global Covid-19 pandemic should have assisted us to clearly see that the world of work has changed. It is no longer a necessity to go into an office and sit in line with the crowd for hours on end waiting for services to be delivered.
The question is: can we completely change the way in which we have been perceiving work? Is it important for young people to begin their working life earlier than we have inculcated it in them?
Are our Somali and Asian friends getting it right by having children begin working from as young as seven years of age – and thereby getting them used to work?
Is it important to give financial skills to children that much early in life, ostensibly to ensure that they have the knowledge and necessary discipline before they develop the unwanted consumerism habits?