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Beyond Tahrir: jobless and voiceless youth

Year/Date: 14/02/2012

Young Arab woman looks at the computer screen, her daughter plays around the table. Most Arab women stay out of labour market

The “Union for the Mediterranean Regional Employability Review 2011”, the ETF report presented today in Brussels, gives an overview of political and social issues in the region. It describes how education and training systems perform in different countries, and what the situation in the labour market is. It covers fourteen countries - nine south-east Mediterranean countries and five in the EU enlargement area.

The document pays special attention to the problems of youth employment. It highlights the often unreported reality of the young people who actually have jobs, and those, especially women, who don’t even consider getting one.

Ummuhan Bardak, a labour market specialist at the ETF and the editor of the new report, says these two categories of young people in Arab countries are more numerous, but less visible than the so-called educated unemployed.

‘So far in most of the countries the educated unemployed have received a lot of attention, because it is an anomaly when the level of unemployment increases with the level of education,’ says Ms Bardak. ‘These groups are generally stronger and louder in their demands, they have a better socio-economic standing, they know how to bring issues to the political agenda, and how to organise themselves.’ She says in countries like Tunisia or Morocco, where governments apply many active labour-market measures, they are all targeting university graduates.

Apart from “graduate unemployed” the report identifies two vulnerable groups. The first category includes people who work in low-paid jobs in the informal sector without opportunities for training or advancement. They are usually young men who can’t afford to be unemployed. Ms Bardak estimates that there are around 20 million of them.

The second group are the young people out of the job market all together. They don’t fit the definition of unemployed as they are not looking for work. They are idle. Some of them are early dropouts or underachievers, but there also women who for various reasons have to stay at home.

‘They are there against their will and their talents, most of them would like to go to school or start working,’ says Ms Bardak. A third of the region’s 80 million-strong youth population is in this situation.

The main message of this new report is that the governments need to pay attention to all these three groups of young people.

‘There are different vulnerable groups that can’t make their case so visible, because some are too busy working or, like many girls, they are not the ones who take decisions about their lives.’

Recommendations of the report:

-    Expand and diversify upper secondary education. In many southern Mediterranean countries barely half of students continue in education after 15 years of age. The diversification needs to include more relevant vocational education and training as well as improvements in the quality of schooling.  

-    Strengthen public employment services. Such services are generally weak and need more labour advisors who can deal with unemployed people on a one-to-one basis providing career guidance with gender-specific approaches for women. The problem of youth unemployment in the region appears to be more related to gender than age.

-    Promote entrepreneurship. The region shows high levels of entrepreneurial activity. Among the working-age population around 15% are self-employed or people who own a business, compared with 6% in the EU. There is a need for more entrepreneurship learning and more systematic support to start-ups and SMEs.

 



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