With many countries in MENA facing nearly identical youth unemployment challenges, there’s a need for greater dialogue and cooperation in the employment services space.
Despite wide cultural and political differences, many of the countries in MENA face a similar set of problems when it comes to youth unemployment. Just how homogenous those difficulties really are was on show at a regional dialogue in Amman in July, where participants from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine and Jordan gathered to discuss strategies to combat youth unemployment at the launch of the YouMatch programme. Organised by German development agency GIZ, the programme aims to improve employment services for youth through sharing of best practices and innovative approaches from organisations across the region. Participants came from a cross-section of entities operating in the employment services space, including ministries of labour, NGOs offering job training and entrepreneurship programmes, and the private sector, such as job search sites and sectorial business councils.
It comes as recognition grows of shared challenges in the region. In September, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which represents the member states of the EU and the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries, held its first labour and employment ministerial-level meeting since 2010, with youth unemployment the chief issue to tackle. One policy suggestions was to promote peer-to-peer learning between the region’s public sectors, says Sherif Younis, a senior economic advisor at the UfM secretariat. “There may be a solution in one country that works and has already proven its success, and it could be transferred to the other countries.”
A big cause of unemployment is a mismatch between labour supply and labour demand, which especially affects youth; specifically, there is a lack of employment services focused on the needs of young people, says Astrid Vochtel, MENA project manager for YouMatch at GIZ.
With education systems in most MENA countries failing to adequately prepare students for a career in the private sector, many organisations effectively operate in this space. One is Loyac, which uses internships to provide a bridge between university and the labour market. It trains students on the soft skills required by the private sector, and then places them in a paid internship for six to eight weeks. Gaining experience in a real work environment can result in changes in the personality and character of the students taking part in the programme, with their becoming more mature and aware of the demands of the labour market. “We see a mindset change,” says Raed Madanat of Loyac Jordan. At the same time, the companies involved benefit, especially those that are growing, says Madanat. “They are creating a pool of talent and have ready employees when they need them.”
Nevertheless, the uneven pace of development and investment means that in many rural areas across the region there is little formal private sector presence, leading many NGOs to promote entrepreneurship as the best solution. In Morocco, those in rural areas suffer from lack of opportunity, while women are even further disadvantaged because they are often not allowed to move to a big city to look for work, says Ali Aaouine, the president of Greenside Development Foundation, a non-profit based in Imouzzer-Kandar, 40km south of Fez. They work with unemployed youth and women to promote entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises, often around traditional activities such as crafting carpet or clothes. Greenside helps with transforming basic productive activities into businesses, by training them on how to look for any support and money to fund their micro enterprises, as well as on how to sell their products, including helping them to look for other markets – locally, nationally or internationally.
While there are many positive examples in the region, many work on a piecemeal basis, while the sustainability of a programme may depend on the availability of external funding. At the same time, information about successful approaches is not always shared, while for obvious reasons organisations that embark on a programme with little outcome are unlikely to widely share their failings, meaning little is learnt. These organisations may also have relatively little cooperation with other actors in the sector.
One of the underlying challenges of the YouMatch programme is to improve dialogue and cooperation between the different sectors – public, private and NGO – involved in the field of employment services, and to create more synergies between their approaches, says Vochtel. “There are some quite good practices of employment services for youth in the region, but knowledge about these good practices across countries needs to be improved.” Knowledge gained from the programme will also be able to inform policy formation in the southern Mediterranean countries, and was presented at the UfM ministerial meeting in September.
More dialogue can also help ensure less wasted effort. Amel Belaid is vice president at Algeria’s Cercle d'Action et de Réflexion autour de l'Enterprise (CARE), which works on initiatives aimed at female empowerment, in order to have more women contributing to the economy and to their households. In visiting various regions in Algeria, she’s witnessed redundancy in the sector, such as entrepreneurship encouragement, with many addressing the same problem by encouraging leadership. She believes that the challenge today is to have all parties talking together, identifying and mapping the issue, and agreeing on the way to address it with a common approach. “We're not really maximising the benefits of such programmes. If all the NGOs could sit around the same table and work on different segments or perspectives of the same issue, we could work in a much more efficient way.”