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Am I the native under your magnifier? I need a JOB, not a dissection!

Amina Semlali's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية
“I am sorry, I am so very sorry, I did not mean to be disrespectful,” the young man says as soon as he has blurted his story out. He fidgets nervously with his little notepad. He is young, but the deep lines that crease his face reveal the hard life he has led.  This is his story: “Do you know what it is like to wake up feeling ashamed every morning, feeling deeply ashamed that I cannot help support my aging parents,” he says, “that I cannot go and buy a bit of fruit for my little sister since I do not have a single coin in my pocket?  I went to school, I did well, I went to university, I did even better but what was it good for? Nothing! Here I am, I cannot afford to get married. I cannot even look my mother in the eyes as I spend the nights in the street drowning my sorrows.” The young man lifts his head, his eyes welling up with tears.  “I have been stripped of my manhood, or maybe I should say, I was never even allowed to become a man.” He lowers his voice as it begins to crack up.  “I am 29 years old and I literally feel like I am slowly dying. Dying.”

The five other young people around the table silently nod, and as we have all been moved by his heartfelt honesty, we decide to take a short break. I go into another room to compose myself and reflect for a couple of minutes. The young man’s words came from a place of pain, frustration, and despair. I have met many young people across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region expressing these sentiments, and it takes a toll to see these young, intelligent people with enormous potential simply wither away because they are not given a chance to become productive citizens. I take a deep breath and return to the table, but the young man has already left.

I decide to wrap up the consultation with the remaining participants, and together we discuss the challenging issue of youth unemployment. We say our farewells and as they leave, a quiet girl with beautiful almond-shaped eyes looked at me and says: “Ma’am, even if we acquire the right skills, even if new jobs are created, what does it matter if I do not carry the ‘right’ family name? My less talented classmate with better connections will end up landing the job anyway.”

This episode provides the human story behind the statistics of long-term youth unemployment in the Middle East. As suggested in the forthcoming flagship report on jobs in MENA, youth need to succeed in a “double transition”: first, they need to obtain relevant skills and credentials that make them employable, and second, they have to find a job in a notoriously non-meritocratic labor market.

So far, the impediments can be attributed to low-quality education, irrelevant skills, and inequity based on class, privilege and family connections as opposed to ability, talent and achievement. In addition, there is also an issue of expectations mismatch between a graduate’s skill and the reality of the labor market.

The recent paper prepared in support of the development of the MENA Social Protection Strategy presents a dilemma many youth face as they queue for public sector jobs while resorting to informal employment to support themselves.  Unfortunately, this reality prolongs their exclusion from the formal labor market.  It also distorts skills formation, as the young study to acquire specializations that are not in line with private sector demand but serve the coveted public sector instead.

At the same time, labor regulations in the region contribute to the protection of labor market insiders, i.e. those who already hold a good job, such as prime age male workers in formal employment. This protection comes at the expense of new entrants to the labor market, such as women and youth.

Unfortunately, there are no easy or quick solutions. However, our team used face-to-face consultations to take the pulse on the region’s views on the issue of youth unemployment.  Participants emphasized the need to discuss both practical and cultural constraints to female labor market participation. They also discussed the need to provide the youth with skills (entrepreneurial and other) relevant to the region and the rest of the world.

The following were some views from government, academia, and civil society representatives in Beirut and Tunis:

 

 

“Look how the youth used the internet (social media) to make a change, they are so much more creative and connected than the preceding generation. If they can also acquire business skills they can channel this creativity and inter-connectedness into businesses and help the economy boom”

“As soon as the young women get married they have children and give up work for many years to come, probably because they are expected to stay home but even if they want to work, there is no good childcare”

 “We have many youth and new jobs are not created. We need to find our countries’ comparative advantages and invest in those industries, whether its tourism or outsourced call centers, while providing the youth with skills within the emerging markets.

The Arab world is facing a very serious problem with the quality of education both at the tertiary level and higher education and…because of this...we have problems with employment and  employability.

What do YOU think?- Please join us in this virtual discussion as we shape the regional strategy!

 

Comments

Submitted by M. Troni on
Great points made and great ambitions for looking at strategy in this well thought out post. Some problems that remain in current economic productivity thinking relate to measurability: can we measure the issues that matter and if we are missing some, how do we account for them? For starters, youth in MENA need income and a fair chance in the (skilled) labor market. However, participation and empowerment do not stop here, in fact, they start at this precise point. Appreciating that working towards achieving the first two goals you outline in this post is going to be a tremendous achievement, how do you think this can be realized while retaining a focus on productivity, rather than a larger, culture-wide appreciation of less easy to change (and less easy measureable) issues of national identity and cultural biases?

Submitted by Zineb on
Thank you for sharing this, I was very moved, especially as this could have been my own brother. I am happy that we can continue the discussion we started with your first blog. As a Middle Easterner studying in the US I would like to again point out that although there are certainly many good things with our education back home - two things need to change right away.

1. We need to be more encouraged to think critically, to question and come up with our own theories -- (matter a fact I wish that the US educational system would also become better at encouraging critical thinking also, although that is not the topic here..). To only learn by heart and repeat will not help us push the Middle East region forward. The young have many solutions and ideas, let us explore those, the older person should not automatically be asumed to have the right answers.

2. I love the fact that in the US you can do an internship one semester and gain practical experience, and get a better idea what field you want to be in. You can learn about how the job place works. I strongly encourage the World Bank to work with our governments in the field of internship experiences. Home we can not get credit to do this, we will just be considered wasting time.

If these two points are addressed we will have young people that are more ready for work. Thank you for listening to our views. Zineb

Submitted by Raghada on
The gentleman's story in the beginning is a mirror where most young men in the Middle East will see themselves at. In my Country, Egypt, these same words and feelings are shared among young Egyptians especially men. The issue of connections, favoritism is also very common as part of the lack of governance and integrity we suffer from. As precisely said by the young girl in your consultation, most of the times, connections work much better than skills, potentials and academic merits. There is a shocking landmark incident in Egypt we all recall, a young bright man, graduated first of his class in the Faculty of Economy and Political Science in Egypt. He applied to be a Diplomat in the Ministry of External Affairs and smartly passed all written and oral exams. However, he was rejected eventually with a bold discriminatory justification “socially unsuitable" because his father is a doorman. The graduate gentleman committed suicide.

As finely and fairly elaborated in your blog, the challenge of unemployment is inter weaved and complicated. Solving it requires solving lots of other challenges such as integrity, role of law, governance, skills relevance etc etc . I believe you are already doing great consulting with the mass common people of the Middle East; a great smart step to go, Good luck with this and effort is appreciated deeply.

Submitted by Hayat E. on
Dear Amina, Great article! I share your passion on this issue and, as has been said already, there's more to youth development then jobs. On one side, youth in the MENA region will definitely benefit from skills training programs in order to find a job. In your article, you keep mentioning "they need to.." forgetting to take the responsibility of the governments, universities and businesses into account. "They need to", on the other side, get the freedom/ right of their environment to enjoy their civil responsibilities to take ownership of their own country and future. Authoritarian countries, such as in the Middle East, tend to perceive its population as mere recipients of whatever the government is prepared to "give". So how will you make sure that the government let youth have a say in their own future as well(instead of treating them as recipients of different programs that will run out of money some day)? Lets keep this discussion alive and I'm confident that the road to success in this is by working slowly but together (great first step forward).

Submitted by Mohammed Ali Loutfy on
I am writing to present the views of young people with disabilities in the Middle East region. It is true that youth in the Middle East suffer in general because of their lack of inclusion in the economic sphere (and elsewhere) but imagine the additional challenges us with disabilities have to go through. International organizations, such as the World Bank, speak much about inclusive development, social inclusion, and socio economic rights. Unfortunately we recently found out that the topic of ‘disability mainstreaming’ had been dropped from a World Bank concept note paper on Youth Employment in the MENA region. Given that the World Bank leadership is actually beginning to address issues of social accountability and taking steps in this direction, the fact that this topic was dropped is very unfortunate. On behalf of 10-20 percent of MENA youth cohort, I would like to say that the right of disabled youth to employment is refused in its totality if we are ignored at the first stage of the very papers that are supposed to influence our governments in regards to –inclusive- youth unemployment.

• We urge the Bank leadership to take necessary measure to abide by its policy toward social accountability, and maybe expand to issues of economic accountability through recognizing necessary standards for ensuring an accessible labor market that would grant disabled youth an equal opportunity to employment and participation in the economic development of their countries.

• We urge the World Bank to when working on policy programs with our governments, that you try to stress the need for allocating sufficient resources for inclusive vocational rehabilitation for this group of marginalized young women and men, so that they can find their way through the labor market.

Thank you.

Submitted by Gabool al-mutawakel on
Thanks Amina for sharing. I have been working in youth employment in Yemen in the last 10 Years, especially females. There are some project strategies that i do believe they work beautifully:

1) Youth shouldn't be treated as part of problem but part of solution, they should start to participate in decision making in national strategies that goes beyond just taking their opinion on things. THis could be through organized youth councils.

2) Self-employment is a key. Most of Young males and females still looking for routine job at government or if they are progressive at private sector but still not have the vision, ambition, courage to open their own business. Hence this should be encouraged through trainings, business incubations , facilitated micro finances with less benefits for start up projects by youth. Youth should be feel less sympathetic and more responsible.

3) Encourage females towards self employment in competitive environment with males. Through our program called "Khadija" - who is the first business muslim women and prophets wife- here women were provided with assistance , yet were put in competitive environments that sharpen their confidence and leadership skills to compete in job market. 

4) Internships and i agree with Zenib above. Summer internships for university youth is a great way to bridge gab between education and job market.

Thank you.

Submitted by NAHED SAYED on

Thank you for this second blog. We are the same group of Georgetown students with Arab background that were part of the previous discussion. We are excited to read also this beautifully written and very sad blog. The blog emphasizes the many angles to youth unemployment. I will mention a very underlying problem. Let me begin by shareing an Arabic proverb:

"A jug can pour forth only what it contains....."

And I can only agree with what Zainab above said: :that the young have many solutions and ideas" that young people need to be given the freedom to think freely, to develop their own thoughts from childhood and onwards throughout their education, both at home and in school. They need to be given the tools to learn to work together in a fair and juste manner, where everyones voice is heard - regardless if you are old or young, regardless of ethnical background or religion. We had a beautiful system of sharing knowledge at the times of the Moores, in Southern Spain - where knowledge aquisition and knwoledge sharing was highly valued. We translated books from all languages and we worked together from all religions, Muslim, Jewsih, Christian. We need to get back to that spirit! It is inside of us and part of our culture, we just put it on the shelf for a while. If we do, we will end up with more creative citizens that will push their communities and nations forward through INNOVATION. Through the revolutions across this part of the world, the young generation have already showed their urge for change.

BUT this dilemma is something we have to deal with on our own -- introspection-- it is our own internal struggle that we must and have an obligation to revisit. All societies go through it and it is only by using internal role models that we can achieve substantial change.

1) We hope that when the World Bank works in our countries that you recruit and work with local experts, that you harness our own internal knowledge and expertise as much as possible. And more importantly.

2) We ask that you do not again become confidantes with the corrupt old men and women of the system -- but that you try to work with the new generation. We are the only ones that can ever achieve substantial change in our countries -- because we are the only ones that truly care.

3) Finally: yes thanks to the World Banks tremendous technical expertise and wealth of global knowledge, but no thanks to loans, we are already very indepthed, please do not add to our (the next genersations) burden.

Nevertheless: we are happy you are reaching out to us and that you seem to care. I read several negative or rather sceptical comments to the previous blog, and it must feel to you at the World Bank, "damned if you do and damned if you don't"... at least we appreciate this seeming effort to also improve the workings of your own institution, and we do appreciate the World Banks achievements in our region in contributing to protecting the poorest and ensuring education also in remote rural areas.

Submitted by Jasmina on
For me i feel interested with the 'women' word mentioned here and there in what i read above....... the frustration among young men is understood, but sometimes i feel it takes a woman to understand what double frustration a young woman can feel even in an era were we have an illusional view that finally women are achieving their rights..... once a professor at my class said : to be a poor class, christian , woman is one of the worst situations you could be exposed to in egypt, i would say in all arab countries...... i dont wanna drift into policy , but policy project on unemployment issue in egypt ....... baseline if situation in general is difficult for youth regarding employment and chances of making a living, then situation would be worse for at risk groups and minorities, therefore, they should be given the extra mile attention..... youth and market also have to be redirected to jobs long forgotten in egypt, underprivileged jobs and still though highly needed in our society, some for examples but not all are : nurses, farmers, skillful workers such as woodcraft men and so on goes the list. Education measures in our society are only targeting high titled degrees but not highly qualified degrees regardless what title they carry as long as they give out actively productive individuals in the society ... market should also appreciate such jobs and pay it back with what it deserves, society should appreciate them the way it should , and youth should be directed to with no shame , it is not a taboo ...... it is about being cultured and knowledgeable , not only educated... knowing how to think and not simply what to think is the aim that youth, workforce, and society should be directed to ..... my salutations to the great efforts for change, they are never in vain.

I would like to thank you all for your thoughtful and thought provoking comments. I wanted to take the time to respond to you the best I can:

Dear Mohammed: Thank you very much for your candid and important comment and for bringing up the vital topic of youth living with disabilities in MENA and their additional challenges in accessing the labor market. We agree with you on the importance of working towards ensuring that people living with disabilities also have access to the labor market. Your request that the World Bank stress the need for inclusive vocational rehabilitation in our interactions with governments was duly noted. Moreover, we thank you for pointing out the need for also us at the World Bank to become better at including the concerns of people with disabilities in our work. We will revisit past papers, but more importantly we will keep it in mind in our future work. Let me take the opportunity to mention a very interesting initiative that we are currently undertaking in this field: we are conducting a region-wide study aimed at acquiring a comprehensive overview over the public services (within the fields of education, health etc.) provided to people living with disabilities in MENA, our intention is to identify the gaps and opportunities and hopefully we will be able to provide some constructive policy recommendations on how public service-delivery can be improved. We also hope you have had an opportunity to look at the World Report on Disability, produced in collaboration with WHO, which has contributed to the international discourse on disability and development (amongst many things the report fills major gaps when it comes to labor ad recommends clear implementable actions). We hope that you continue to contribute to the discussion, your perspectives are important.

Dear Hayat: Many thanks for your feed-back and for sharing your pivotal concerns. I fully agree with you on your point that it is certainly not only the responsibility of the young to acquire the right skills etc. Governments, the private sector and universities do as you said have a tremendous responsibility. One way of addressing the concerns you highlighted is to work towards programs that provide students/program beneficiaries with transferrable skills, including soft skills (team work, problem solving, leadership skills etc) – skills that will be relevant today and also 15 years down the line. Skills that will further equip this new and already creative generation with the tools to eventually contribute to sustainable and equitable development from the community level and up. But in addition, we fully agree on the need to strengthen civil liberties and citizen participation (not only in the region, by the way). The winds of change have already begun in the MENA region and we need to make sure that we use this positively. We are engaged in several pilot programs to foster citizen monitoring and co-governance of public services, for example: in Tunisia, a survey in the interior regions through so-called Citizen Score Cards is already underway; in Egypt we are ready to go to the field for a Citizen Score Card pilot in primary health and in Morocco, we have helped design such a pilot for lower secondary education (not implemented yet). These are new approaches and still in their evaluation phase, but we will disseminate the results as soon as available.

Dear Raghada: Thank you very much for your feed-back. Yes, this was a tragic story that symbolizes the fate of the unfortunate. As you said, the challenge of unemployment is very complicated because of the many layers to it. We are happy that you appreciate our effort in directly consulting citizens in MENA, in an attempt to better reflect your concerns in our work.

Dear Zineb: Thank you for your concrete advice. Your first point touches upon the topic of the need to acquire soft skills (as also highlighted in my response to Zineb above) and the need for teaching that relies on analytical and critical thinking (which will allow students to further develop and use soft skills). I agree fully with your point, and this is something highlighted by private sector employers in the MENA region – who often mention the lack of skills – including soft skills – as one of the main challenges they face when recruiting new employees. Your second point is equally important: the need for internships/on-the-job training. We have duly noted that you encourage the World Bank to -in our interactions with governments- emphasize the need for policies that enable universities and schools to provide students with credits in order to take time off to acquire professional experience. This is indeed also a way to address another main concern of private sector employers in MENA – mainly the lack of work/practical experience when recruiting young people. We are currently undertaking an interesting pilot in Lebanon, where we are attempting to encourage youth volunteering at a national level (we work with universities and NGOs) – as a means for young people to acquire work-skills making them more employable.

Submitted by Najlaa AbdElBary on
The story of the gentleman above seems a recurrent theme in Egypt amongst many ladies and gentlemen. Egypt is a country with very volatile economic conditions and thus the labor market is constantly deteriorating. Flexibility is the key to this dilemma. Egypt is a country where no one works with his/hers degree. It is ok to work with your talent or skill. It is ok to teach a language that you are proficient in. It is ok to work part time or freelance. Changing ones behavior aspiring to constantly develop ones skills is the key in this very challenging Egyptian labor market. It worked for me and I hope it will work for others as well.

Submitted by Maysoon Al-Attar on

In my opinion, there is much room for the MENA region to grow in terms of youth unemployment; however before even thinking of tackling this, we require a change of mentality more than anything else. By “we”, I mean those who are looking for solutions, and also those who are employing.

Unfortunately, the mentalities of those who are employing people into their sectors are, in general, still quite traditional about employment. It is about time that these employers stop stubbornly sticking to the traditional and outdated thoughts and beliefs, and start adapting to how today’s world works. (Please note: I do not mean traditional in terms of culture or religion as these things are personal and not on topic)

From what I see in the MENA region, we tend to have this common ideology that people from western or even far eastern world are “better” and more efficient and effective than those of our locals. How can we expect our youths to enhance and develop themselves when we, ourselves, do not trust or believe in our own youths? This, to me, is a big mistake. From my experiences, I have seen that our youths are filled with a great variety of ideas, creativity, skills, motivation and potential, that may not only be as good as those of western or far eastern countries but even better; all they need is the chance to prove themselves and show it to the world. One of the results of this issue is that the best of our youths are being attracted to other countries who give them the jobs and recognition they want and need. Why should we let foreign countries take what is rooted from our regions? Just because we are too stubbornly blinded to take notice of the gifted youths we have. On the whole, we need to stop underestimating the impact our young ones can have, and stop overestimating foreigners. Who would want to enhance a country more than its own people?

In terms of education, on the most part, we need to, again, drop the old and traditional way of teaching and educating, and start adapting to today. Methods have changed, mentalities have changed and demand has also changed. We cannot expect our youths to excel if we are educating them the same way we educated our students in previous decades; especially when other regions around the world are finding more efficient and effective ways. We have moved from a products world to a services world, and are now slowly moving into an ideas world. Memorizing and reciting is not what is required anymore; but instead creativity and uniqueness. This is why we need to encourage our youths to think for themselves, to express their opinions and not be afraid to go against the norm. How can we encourage this when the educators themselves are still stubborn about change and breaking tradition?

Just as was mentioned in the article, corruption is still part of our communities and is what I think, one of the best self destruction tools of our societies. “Wasta” still exists in many companies and governments, where it is least deserved and where it causing great damage. Employing family members or friends who lack skills over people with great abilities and great potential is the wall that holds us in from reaching success. They do not realize that although they see this as doing this person a “favour”, which in my opinion is not favour in the long run at all, but instead is a causing a burden; they are also causing the company and, on a wider scale, their country great harm. Stop providing for those who deserve it least, encourage them to create true reasons of why they would deserve such positions, and provide for those who do deserve the recognition.

We all know that in reality, even if you graduate with the highest of honours but have no experience, finding a job is like making bread out of rock. I used to never understand how companies expect a fresh graduate with high grades and simultaneously have lots of experience. With time, I have come to understand. For this, three main strategies come into mind:

1. Some universities offer work experience along with the course studied. They have agreements with companies and partners to offer students part time jobs during the year, and/or full time jobs during the summer. This way, students can take what theory they have learned and put them into practical use gaining experience.

2. Along with this, I have also seen universities create contracts with students, usually in their 2nd Year, guaranteeing them a job after graduating should they meet certain requirements. These 2 approaches both encourage students to work and be involved in their studies as much as they can, along with giving them experience pre-graduating.

3. The third strategy that comes to mind is to take advantage and encourage existing student organizations, such as AIESEC, that also take theoretical work and put them into practical use. Not only this, but through personal experience I have learned of existing worldwide student organizations that have global partners and worldwide internships that look for these fresh graduates with minimal experience and take them in for up to a year and half. After this period some companies look into making these people permanent employees, or if the students wish, can return to their country with a great experience and skills that they can add to their CV.

“If you want to achieve something that has never been achieved, you must do something you have never done”.

Submitted by Hussein Atta Ghoneim on
I am sure that the education system is behind this problem. we are teaching our students to just memorize some information with out even understanding what it is all about.By this we need to educate the teachers and even the Universties,s faculty members first.Knowing the basics is also important to start with,such as mathimatics,English,computer,sientific thinking,and social intelagancy.

Submitted by Soliman, Ahmed on
I'm studying Architecture in the 4th year, I used to have a temp. job every summer holiday or mid-year holiday, & I worked in different fields. The real problem isn't there's no jobs, it's in salaries, every guy in Egypt can find a job, but will spend the salary on this job xD transportation & meals...etc, then gonna save pennies or nothing as happened to me every year. All that for under-graduation guys, & the real nightmare will begin after graduation xD if you're not an engineer or doctor you'll suffer much. employment too depends much on English language & computer skills. anyways if you good in English & computer you'll be able to be a customer-care agent in telecommunication company & so on, these roofed jobs that's can't achieve any of your future needs.

Submitted by Anonymous on
there has to be a constant update from people from the market them selves to check if the market demands for certain specialties or qualifications are met its not the other way around. not like for example if am graduation people with no computer skills will never work this kind of specifics need to mention and well noted and taken into consideration in the next update of the system because eventually why wont i hire some one if he have what i need in this position.

Submitted by Kareem Nour on
I study finance and investment at Cairo University. I've been to a public school where I learned nothing. My grades were barely sufficient to join the Business faculty (one of the least publicly appreciated schools in Egypt) at CU. In the first day, nothing changed; same frustration and the same feeling of being small and unheard. I joined a joint program, and in the first day I decided that I'll be one of the best students in the program. Now I'm in my final year and I'm ranked second among finance class. This is not a story of my success. I just found a good motivation to work so I worked hard. in high school there was no point of learning or at least we didn't know it! It’s not about the skills, it’s all about mental steadiness; that precisely what our educational system lacks. Educational system participants should be fully aware what is learning and why they learn in first place. Unemployment is directly related with the educational system so, good educational system will most probably result in better standards for the workforce. Finally, youth in my country have a problem in considering the right career because a lot of them don’t know the difference between the desire and the ability. Accordingly many of them become selective which marginalize the role of workshop crafts which is vital and highly needed. Again it’s all about a generation that appreciate learning !

Submitted by El Houcine Haichour on
Amina, I thank you for putting flesh on the dry statistics about youth unemployment in the region. As you rightly pointed out, the impact of unemployment on youth (especially educated youth) has been disastrous. With the rapid changes happening in the region, almost every government is convinced that something needs to be done--now. The question is how? Where do we start? How do we mobilized resources? The issue seems in many countries one of execution and not just strategy. Unfortunately, we have not been good in the region at sharing implementation strategies that work, and we continue to reinvent the wheel. North Africa (especially Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) were the trail-blazer countries to begin dealing with the challenge of unemployment among the educated youth, unfortunately we know little about which elements of their strategies worked and which didn't. We have huge opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing across the region, but we have not tapped into this potential yet. On a separate note, the recent events could be the precursor for the MENA-wide union/market that governments have been talking about since independence, which may create new opportunities for youth in the region. Something to think about!

Submitted by Karima Rhanem on

The feeling expressed by the gentleman in the article is much shared by several young people across the Middle East, including Morocco. A decade ago, Morocco’s capital has witnessed an increase in the number of protests by young Moroccan graduates, seeking jobs. Due to the huge disparities between the education system and the job market, several youth graduate from universities with higher education degree but with no relevant skills and experience facilitating their easy access to the job market. These young Graduates, according to a recent World Bank report represent just 5 percent of total youth unemployment in Morocco, leaving the remaining unemployed young people, who have lower education levels, with limited services. Many of them lost hope, seeing themselves getting old without job or social security.

Since January 2012, hundreds of unemployed graduates took to the streets demanding jobs. Around 160 members of unemployed graduate groups have occupied an administrative building of the Ministry of Higher Education for two weeks in Rabat as part of their protest. Five members set themselves on fire. Certainly, this was not the first time unemployed graduates attempted to commit a suicide to put pressure on the government to solve the issue of unemployment. In Dec 15, 2005, twenty members of the National Independent Group of Unemployed aged between 25 and 41 also attempted a collective self-burning while protesting in front of the Ministry of Health in Rabat. And in May 2006, ten other dissatisfied jobless attempted a collective suicide in Morocco’s capital by swallowing poison and setting themselves alight.

The big majority of these young graduates are literally “obsessed” with the public administration; they are not able to resort to the private sector, as they see that the public sector is more secure.

On July 20, 2011, groups of young graduates reached a consensus with the previous government, whereby the latter released a memorandum ordering public administration to directly employ these young graduates. However, after the pre-mature legislative elections and the rise of a new conservative government, this memorandum became no lore valid and is viewed by the current government as illegal. Head of the government in his recent address to the parliament in May 14 said that direct recruitment in the public sector is unconstitutional and is against the principle of equal opportunity and that all graduates should compete for job positions. The head of the government event went far saying that the livelihood of the unemployed graduates is in the hands of God. In reaction to this, different groups of unemployed graduates staged a protest in front of the parliament forming a symbolic souk (market) selling clothes and vegetables and holding banners stating that “God has responded to Benkirane’s prayers, and the graduates have become a door-to-door or itinerant salespeople

The current government found itself in the middle of a complicated crisis as a result of the handling of the issue of unemployed graduates by the previous governments, which was more limited to calming the public outcry than finding real and tangible solutions to the problem.

It is true that employment should be based on merit and not on protest. Yet the government should ensure transparency and equality in the process of employment conditions. It should also develop a clear employment policy instead of dealing reactively by a case-to-case scenario. On the other hands, youth should not look like the “generating waiting” and do nothing but protesting before the parliament demanding jobs. They should also make more personal efforts and improve their life and entrepreneurship skills, and look at different ways and sources of employment rather than being focused on just the public sector.

Submitted by Elom Kokou Bayita on

[This comment was originally posted in French under this blog's French translation on April 15, 2012]

I am Mr. Elom Kokou Bayita, born on December 7, 1983 in Lomé (Togo). I am Togolese.

As regards youth employment, the global crisis has impacted me, my family, and my community. I have always had problems finding paid work commensurate with my skills. I have lost my status as the eldest son in my family because I am not able to meet the needs of my brothers and sisters who expect different types of support from me.

In my community, most of the children born to young people who are having difficulty finding jobs are regarded as “orphaned children whose parents are alive.” In our society, marriage between young people is no longer a priority. These young men and women get involved in common-law relationships with persons who are much older than they are; many of them are forced into cohabitation relationships.

My working conditions are mediocre and precarious. I intend to promote entrepreneurship and private initiatives through a major information, awareness-raising, education, and support campaign, for young people who have innovative ideas on how to deal with this crisis in urban, semi-urban, and rural communities.

Since urban areas are still being overrun as a result of the rural exodus phenomenon, I will place special emphasis on the development of sustainable green jobs in semi-urban and rural areas, with support from a team of experts, in collaboration with financial institutions.

Despite this crisis, I have managed to establish a young organization called AJVSME [Association of Youth Volunteers Serving the Environmental Sector, Association des Jeunes Volontaires au Service du Monde Environnemental]. It seeks to “encourage sustainable development through the promotion of the environment” and will celebrate its first anniversary on April 4, 2012.

My video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c22TtrQT3cY&feature=relmfu

Submitted by Rached Boussema on

[This comment was originally posted in French under this blog's French translation on April 17, 2012]

The situation described by this young, unemployed university graduate is fairly common in Maghreb and Arab countries. Up until just about two decades ago, higher education was viewed as the ultimate ladder for social mobility. Upon completion of his studies, a young person would easily secure a job or even receive several offers, and thus had the luxury of choice.

This is no longer the case today. Several factors contribute to this state of affairs. I do not wish to touch on issues related to globalization at this time. I prefer instead to focus on the local factors that are both quantitative and qualitative. These factors are also linked to the individual or generated by the socioeconomic policy of the country in which he lives. The education system, no doubt, is largely to blame. The demography in these countries is a matter of grave concern. Large numbers of young people are entering the labor market and, each year in Tunisia, over 70,000 young university graduates are in search of jobs, a situation that will persist in the foreseeable future. A large industrial base is needed to absorb this influx. In addition, the services sector must be well developed and the population provided with the means to afford these services.

Even if they have adequate resources, governments will find it difficult to invest or encourage investments in high-employability sectors. As a result, the problem, which is educational and cultural in nature, lies upstream. All countries have assets that can be tapped. In Tunisia, for example, the agriculture, fisheries, tourism, mining, and renewable energy sectors are major assets. Transforming these sectors from their current virtually rudimentary state to a more innovative one should create thousands of jobs for university graduates. Organic farming, mechanization, structural development, and improved governance would enhance the performance of these sectors and, in particular, their export capacity. We would export dates, citrus fruits, and oils of higher quality and in greater quantities.

With almost 1,500 km of coasts, the use of modern geolocation and remote sensing technologies in fishing and fish farming will motivate many young people. The establishment of tour operators, the development of cultural and ecological tourism, and improved governance of the tourism infrastructure would attract more tourists and create more jobs for young people. By their very nature, the phosphate and petroleum sectors, as well as the other mining sectors, all need labor and know-how. Solar and wind renewable energy systems are in the early stages of development. Each country must therefore assess and acknowledge its assets, and then make every effort to develop these job-generating sectors.

A comprehensive review of the educational policy for all levels must also be conducted. Paradigm shifts are necessary and new information and communication technologies must be integrated. New pedagogical cultures should be gradually introduced in our schools, vocational training centers, high schools, and universities, with a view to ensuring that these cultures become deeply ingrained in future generations.

We are already familiar with these cultures—the entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to be creative and be a team player, to solve problems, analyze, and so forth. Did this extremely disillusioned young man attempt to establish his own business? Did he endeavor to solve his problem through contacts, by trying to link up with other young people in the same situation? Young people also need to master the new information and communication technologies and foreign languages, the new gateways to employment in their own countries or abroad.

Lastly, change is also needed in the area of professional, scientific, and technological qualifications. This is what employers seek because a diploma, apart from knowledge, is no longer an indicator of skills. Job seekers now need to further develop their know-how and personal skills. In the meantime, we can continue to muddle along in an effort to find solutions to the unemployment problem faced by these young people.

Submitted by Saad Belghazi on

[This comment was originally posted in French under this blog's French translation on April 25, 2012]

As I read the blog, I am overwhelmed by the categories and concepts surrounding the phenomenon of unemployment. Unemployment is unique to modern societies, free societies in which labor is not forced— not by the family, the State, or by a dominant aristocratic or warrior class. Unemployment is the price of freedom. It is tolerable when it is limited to a period of job searching lasting a few days or even months. Once it exceeds several months, it becomes a burden that is difficult to bear for the job seeker and for those who support him.

The human cost of unemployment is unevenly distributed. This inequality is evident across society and is contingent on sex, education level, and social background. It is also apparent among members of different regions and nations.

No society remains passive when confronted with unemployment. Several solutions are in fact put into practice to limit the duration of unemployment: greater transparency in the job market, ensured by a well-equipped and well-organized intermediation service; increased global mobility; additional training to allow job seekers to more readily meet businesses’ expectations with respect to skills; incentives for businesses to help them wait for the neophytes to attain a minimum level of productivity, thereby justifying their recruitment; and lastly, making available to newcomers the funds, work space, and guidance needed until they are able to elevate their productivity to the required level of sustainability.

All these solutions exist in our modern market societies. They are implemented in a climate of competition—competition between economic entities on the goods and services market, and competition between members of the labor force who compete for the best remunerated and least risky positions. Between the young person and the job, between school and work, there is most often a formal or informal intermediary and a provider of resources. These functions of intermediation and provision of material and financial support to job seekers are first implemented within the context of family networks.

Such activities can also be handled by public institutions or civil society organizations, whose contribution is superimposed on that of the family. In the case of the Maghreb countries, which I know best, these activities began during the 1980s. Countries adopted laws promoting youth employment, then had to reform the services, inherited from the colonial period when administrative job management was closely supervised, and later abandoned them, except for the organization of waves of work-related emigration. The influence of employment agencies surged in the 1990s and 2000s and the functions handled by the family networks were gradually and increasingly assumed by public agencies. States evaluate needs and allocate budgets.

How does one then explain the extent of unemployment experienced in societies in the Arab world? For how many people is this unemployment a question of survival? For how many does it reflect a demand for social status, that is, improved professional integration? How many families have been impoverished by education expenses that result in a very low or even negative return? Are the problems relating to youth unemployment not, in some cases, problems associated with the integration of their families, victims of drought, price dynamics, or a lack of resources with which to improve their productivity? In other instances, do they not reflect the problem of a lack of access to a scarce number of higher-quality jobs (for example, the civil service; liberal professions; management in large businesses; university or secondary education)?

The issue of youth unemployment in the Arab world is not only the result of a lack of solidarity with young people or of social inequality with respect to the distribution of opportunities to gain access to decent jobs. Arab countries must face two challenges: the first is the matter of decent work, of making the largest possible number of jobs appear attractive, while the second consists of placing the education system at the service of its productive system.

The first challenge is the issue of systems that require several years to arrive at a satisfactory revaluation of products and services and an adaptation of the units of production that will ensure improvement in the quality of jobs. How can this goal of realigning the quality of work in powerful organizations (the State, large companies) with that in more family-based economic entities be accomplished?

The second challenge is to tie the education system to the world of production. The education system in these countries was forced to develop rapidly to cope with population pressures. The primary production center requiring academic training is the public sector and a small private sector. Here as well, in my view, the time needed to adapt will be lengthy.

However, despite these challenges, I would be inclined to be less pessimistic and urge you to take stock of the creative work under way in the lowest levels of the economy where these small economic entities operate. They are undergoing a modernization process and, little by little, are absorbing human resources who have benefited from a general education, admittedly ill-suited to meeting the immediate needs of businesses, but which has endowed them with true self-learning abilities.

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