Morocco Confronts Difficulty of Workforce Development – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
May 12, 2017

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

It has become a nostrum in international development, especially in Africa and the Middle East, that job creation is the number one goal for ensuring greater domestic stability. For example, the latest reports from the World Economic Forum and Ernst and Young strongly emphasize the critical need for employment opportunities for the burgeoning youth population, including women. Having spent time on workforce development last year in Jordan, and having met this month with consultants in Jordan and Lebanon who deal with youth employment and related issues, it was useful to compare their insights with those on youth employment in Morocco as described in a recent article by the Oxford Business Group (OBG).

That there has been limited success, despite the various initiatives being launched, is hardly the fault of the agencies and companies hard at work to generate more employment opportunities. First of all, there are just too many unemployed university, secondary school, and primary school graduates for any single solution or group of solutions to provide the needed jobs. Creating jobs requires domestic and foreign investments in diversified sectors, so that while the employment base for university graduates grows (assuming there is a match between their studies and the available jobs – a big assumption), you are also addressing opportunities for the vocational-technical (vo-tech) and unskilled worker pools. This is quite a challenge in Morocco, where around 40% of the workforce is seasonal and employed in agriculture, while another 40% fills service sector jobs that have high turnover, low wages, and few benefits for retaining and upgrading workers.

What’s left? The article begins with a case study of what Peugeot is doing as part of its commitment to workforce development in Morocco: using a public-private partnership (PPPs), consistent with Morocco’s 15-year strategy to reform the education sector. According to OBG, “PSA Peugeot Citroën (PSA) entered into an agreement with higher education institutions to open a series of design labs called OpenLabs,” in partnership with five Moroccan universities, including an engineering school, two US universities based in Morocco and a technology transfer center at the quasi-public International University of Rabat (UIR). This is not PSA’s first innovative effort to bring together the best brains available to promote skills acquisition for the new economy. “The OpenLabs are part of Science Technologies Exploratory Lean Laboratory (StelLab) – an international network of academic chairs and research laboratories launched by PSA in 2010 to develop more innovative collaboration with the global academic community.”

In Morocco, the program is called Sustainable Mobility for Africa, a four-year effort to develop mobility systems with “a focus on renewable energy, electric cars and logistics.” Focusing on future trends in the automotive sector reflects PSA’s commitment to the industry in Africa. It has launched a $90 million investment in the Kenitra region focused on the African markets. “By drawing on the professional and scientific experience of PSA and the expertise of the educational institutions involved, the initiative also targets the development of a labour force that has the skill set required by the automotive industry.”

It is not surprising that “Morocco’s expanding automotive segment posted record levels of exports for the third straight year in 2016, with the 316,712 units shipped abroad representing a 22.4% rise on the previous year.” This is the largest export category by value for Morocco. It is projected that the total number of employees will reach approximately 200,000 by 2020. All of this is good news, but is dwarfed by the reality of 1.3 million unemployed men and women of varying skills, ages, and education. Last year’s WEF human capital index noted that Morocco declined three spots to 98th out of 130 economies.

Helpful Initiatives Fall Short of Meeting Needs

It is expected that the number of students in Morocco will peak at 1.23 million by 2021. This poses structural as well as resources issues for the country. According to US government figures, “Although more than 95 percent of school-aged children in Morocco are now enrolled in primary school, the education system in Morocco faces significant challenges. Drop-out rates are still high and only 53 percent of students enrolled in middle school continue on to high school and less than 15 percent of first grade students are likely to graduate from high school.”

USAID is doing its part by opening vo-tech training centers in six locations. Known as Career Centers, the institutes provide soft skills and job preparation workshops. These are linked to an online platform for career services that has high hopes of improving the employability of its clients.

The national authority for vocational training, OFPPT, is setting up training centers in regions around the country to promote entrepreneurship and diversify the available vocational training. Morocco realizes that it lags in innovation and entrepreneurship, as highlighted by the “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Global Report 2016/17,” which ranked Morocco 59th of 65 economies for early-stage entrepreneurial activity.

Morocco’s efforts have yet to achieve the level of coordination called for in the Strategic Vision 2015-2030 announced in May 2015. Lack of experienced leadership at all levels of the education system, the need for coordination among various international donors, training for NGO and civil society groups supporting educational reform, and the incremental nature of changes encompassing teacher training, curriculum development, the continuing conflict over languages of instruction, and adequate resources allocated to rural and urban areas, are some of the more obvious issues to be resolved. King Mohammed VI has made education for jobs a key priority for the country, which needs steady, progressive, and proactive professionals guiding education for his goals to be realized.

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