On Monday, September 17th, I had an online chat with a number of youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region on the topic of jobs and employment. I received hundreds of comments and questions before the chat, interacted with tens during an hour and a half and kept receiving comments and questions for two days after the chat. The process had a deep impact on me. It was refreshing, amazing, encouraging but also concerning.
It was refreshing to see and feel how engaged the young people are in the region, how connected they are to the rest of the world, and how enthusiastic they seem to be to learn and know more. They have an open mind, know they are living in a small and competitive world and are taking the challenge head on.
The chat left me amazed with how these youth’s instincts are correct and on the mark. Without necessarily reading many reports about labor markets and economic situations, they highlighted all the right issues. They talked a lot about how the culture of connections, nepotism and favoritism are contributing to unfair job placements in the public sectors. They highlighted the importance of the small and medium enterprises, raising awareness to the value of individual initiatives. They talked about the disparities between the public and private sectors. They also understand the need to revisit people’s perception about vocational occupations.
The experience was encouraging for me because I felt firsthand how keen these young people are to succeed. They are asking what sector would be doing better in the future, what skills can increase my chances of getting employed and where can I go to learn more. Not only are these young people determined to improve their future prospects, they are also aware that their countries have the potential to be better. They know their countries need to move on and catch up on many fronts and they want to be part of this process.
However, I was concerned because I know that the world economy is not in its best situation and that there are factors outside these young people’s control that come into play in shaping their future. I know that the demography of the region is such that, every year the number of job seekers who come into the labor markets increase. I was also reminded of the huge responsibilities people like me who work in international institutions have. We try to provide these young people’s governments with the best advice based on what we see in the rest of the world and our analytical work of their economies but knowing that this is not an exact science.
Finally, I am confident that with this kind of enthusiasm and determination, countries in the MENA region will convert these young people into the comparative advantage they ought to be.