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“What’s your dream job?” For decades, if you asked this question to any young Kenyan, you would get familiar answers; doctor, engineer, lawyer, banker, or probably businessman. These were the careers of note, the ones your teacher advocated for, your father insisted on and your mother prayed you get. It is what was recognized as a real job and made you a respectable member of society. Fast forward to 2024, and Gen Z has different ideas on the matter. In a nationwide Gen Z survey conducted by Odipo Dev and Africa Uncensored in April, the top dream career was to be self-employed or run a business. Interesting, but not entirely shocking in this era of superstar entrepreneurs, from Elon to Kardashian. In the second place, however, came ‘Tiktoker’ or influencer, very closely tied with doctor. Any office job, engineer, and lawyer round up the top five in that order.

Cash, Vibes and Inshallah

This is unprecedented. The word ‘influencer’ wasn’t added to some dictionaries as recently as 2019 and yet just five years later, a significant chunk of an entire generation of young people in Kenya and around the world seriously desire this as their dream job. Digging further into the data starts to clarify why this is.

When queried on their top considerations when choosing a job, Gen Z responded with money, mental health and ‘vibes’ as their top three. For those unfamiliar with ‘vibes’ it equates to good, healthy energy and fun. Mental health has been the characteristic calling card of this generation and money, well, that means what it always has. Against these metrics, one starts to see how influencing ticks the boxes. It seems to pay well, you are self-employed (so no bosses to ruin your mental wellbeing), and has all the vibes. However, this doesn’t tell the full story; many jobs can claim to meet that criteria. What else makes Tiktoking so damn desirable?

On top of the somewhat traditional criteria, being an influencer promises one thing most others can’t; fame. And not just the fame of old, the social media kind; the kind with thousands or millions of fans religiously following your every waking moment, and expressing their adoration with those insanely addictive likes.

Influencers have developed followings and fame once reserved for mega entertainers and sports stars simply from being attractive, funny, stylish, eating, parenting, being a child, farming, advising, ranting, partying, travelling, gaming, owning a pet, reading, blowing things, dancing, or just having opinions. And they are earning thousands of dollars from product endorsements, often without having to leave home. To some extent, influencing is a get-rich-quick strategy for the digital age with role models that are the same age or thereabouts as Gen-Zers. But most importantly, it all seems sooo… possible.

To a kid scrolling through their daily feed, this can be intoxicating, and may even feel relatively easy to copy simply by curating their own personal style and experimenting with various themes, filters, sounds and reels. We have all sung in the mirror and dreamed of being stars, but then most of us wake up and go to our real jobs. The influencer dream however seems deceptively achievable, and platforms like Tiktok have built billion dollar behemoths off making Gen Z feel they could be the next big thing. Of course, it often doesn’t work out like this.

Doctor? No Thanks, Its Giving Zimbabwe

Influence in many ways is a subtle force. By the time you have been influenced, you probably don’t even notice it has happened. This could very much be the story of the appeal of Tiktoking. Gen-Z has been influenced to influence. The oldest Gen Z today is 27 years old. Huge chunks of their entire adult life have most likely been spent online, scrolling away and watching their peers getting famous and rich. In Kenya, this has been enabled by widespread internet penetration and smartphones getting cheaper every year. Meanwhile, they have also been inundated by another set of images, those of doctors striking, lawyers and engineers lamenting a tough employment market and massive layoffs in traditionally ‘safe’ corporate jobs.

A tale of two careers

The plight of doctors in Kenya is especially dire. Starting in mid-March this year, the latest medical workers’ strike is over 45 days in. The last mass strike in 2017 lasted 100 days. Some of the doctor’s main grievances include a lack of comprehensive health insurance, proposals to reduce interns’ salaries by close to 80%, staffing shortages in hospitals and a lack of staffing standards. It’s just not giving.

To be clear, we don’t seek to compare the necessity of essential roles like healthcare and safe engineering with Tiktoking, but this altruistic view is not how humans make their choices. Glamour is especially attractive to young, impressionable people while hardship and struggle are repulsive. The hard truth is that in Kenya today, the message to Gen Z is, Tiktokers are making money and getting famous, while doctors are not getting paid and struggling with mental health from unbearable workload.

Of course, this is also a story of the larger employment situation in the country. According to the Federation of Kenya Employers, youth (15–34 year olds), who form over 35 percent of the Kenyan population, have the highest unemployment rate of 67%. Nearly one million young Kenyans enter the labour market annually, while less than 10% of Kenyan adults have permanent full-time jobs. To make it worse, the first working age Gen Z-ers came into the jobs market at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. These are impossibly dire odds and many of them have to find alternative work or risk falling into poverty.

Online remote work has been this much needed life raft for many. And in the world of online work, no gig is sweeter than being a paid influencer. It not only pays well but is highly flexible, and respectable among peers and will probably get you into the VIP section. Sounds like a dream.

Check out the full report here.

This article was first published by Odipo Dev