Is there a path forward for youth employment? – J. AbiNader

Jean R. Abinader, Executive Director, Moroccan American Trade & Investment Center

Jean R. Abinader, Executive Director, Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

MATIC, by Jean R. AbiNader (Washington, DC, July 3, 2013) — I have to admit that I’m struggling with a dilemma: how to serve the cause of young Moroccans who want to work but lack the skills, education, or opportunities to do so. Another part of this dilemma is the Moroccan government, committed to creating more employment opportunities, ratcheting up market-focused training and education, and supporting greater gender equality within tight budgets. In between are organizations and institutions—civil society, government agencies, and international donors—that encourage greater and more equitable employment opportunities but are constrained both by the downward trend in economic growth and the dwindling amounts of foreign assistance funds.

A recent article in Al-Hayat by Lahcen Achy provides some details of this challenge from the perspective of young Moroccans, and the news is not uplifting.

Carnegie Middle East Center

Lahcen Achy, Middle East Center, Carnegie

He notes, first of all, that what is happening in Morocco is taking place throughout the Arab world, and he goes beyond the need for greater economic activity to consider the need for young people to be included in social development. He cites several indicators that describe this social and economic exclusion.

Achy begins with youth unemployment rates, which, as in other Arab countries, are disproportionate for men (22%) and women (38%). More critically, “Official statistics indicate that about 90% of young women and 40% of young men, who were not studying in the past couple of years, are either unemployed or part of the economically inactive groups.”

Even more startling, from a “what are they doing?” concern is that “80% of their time [is spent] hanging out or doing personal and recreational activities that are highly unproductive. Meanwhile, their participation in productive civilian activities—such as volunteer work, clubs, associations or civic organizations—remains weak due to the lack of infrastructure capable of receiving and supporting these activities…[which] leads to isolation and frustration. This, in turn, makes young people vulnerable to risky and illegal behaviors.”

Carnegie Middle East's Lahcen Achy says that contrary to what one hears elsewhere, young people in Morocco do not see the government as the primary source of employment, preferring decent wages in the private sector.

Lahcen Achy, Carnegie Middle East Center, says that young people in Morocco do not see government as the primary source of employment, preferring decent wages in the private sector.

Young people in Morocco, as for youth globally, “are complaining about the uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding their economic future.” The youth surveyed say that education and skills are not enough to get a decent job without personal or family connections. Their first option—emigration. Sadly, 80% of those who are working don’t have an employment contract, “which means that most of them work in the informal sector,” with no benefits, no protection, and no stability. Achy says that contrary to what one hears elsewhere, young people in Morocco do not see the government as the primary source of employment, preferring decent wages in the private sector.

Another dimension of this dilemma in Morocco is that “Most of the unemployed youth in Morocco have either low education levels or haven’t studied at all, and employment policies still focus on higher education graduates.” According to a World Bank study, only 8% of unemployed youth have benefited from the services of the National Agency for the Promotion of Employment and Skills (ANAPEC). As Achy points out, “available programs target unemployed university graduates, whose number is relatively limited compared to the total number of young unemployed and economically inactive people.”

ANAPEC has come under strong criticism from international donors and companies for its spotty record on supporting employment, while the Moroccan Office of Vocational Training and Employment Promotion (OFPPT), responsible for coordinating technical and vocational training, was handed a poor report card by the country’s Audit Court late last year.

The role of the private sector

In an earlier posting on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I argued that CSR must have a practical outcome, even if the motivation is philanthropic.

Let’s take that one step further and consider that CSR and impact investing can play a more proactive role in national development by taking on some of the human and social development roles currently under-served by cash-strapped governments, and increasingly provided by religious parties.

For example, IT companies, which excel at building incubators and grassroots education programs in their sector, can use their marketing and training skills to work in community centers and boost the employability of local youth and others who otherwise lack the opportunity to acquire skills.

Working with their clients to simplify IT tasks into elements that can be completed by low-skilled workers results in a win-win for all parties. Similarly, tourism companies can recruit and train young people in artisanal, entertainment, and service skills targeted for those with little formal education.

As Achy writes “Morocco needs a more systematic and integrated approach aimed at achieving an effective development and integration for youth, one that clearly focuses on targeting the most disadvantaged youth groups.” A broad coalition of stakeholders with defined priorities and programs with clear deliverables and assessments brings together the “lessons learned” from government and civil society efforts with the “best practices” of the private sector and international donors. The result may well be that building work skills and social responsibility among disadvantaged youth will both lift the large majority of young who are marginalized and better allocate resources for those programs aimed at university graduates.

Jean R. AbiNader is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Co-published with Fair Observer (www.fairobserver.com)

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