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North Africa: Defusing the Youth Unemployment Time-Bomb

         Date: 2012-08-20

           Tag: Youth Unemployment, North Africa

Summary: During a conference held in Tunis last month, international organisations raised an alarm about a problem that faces North Africa more than any other region of the world: the high level of youth une…

During a conference held in Tunis last month, international organisations raised an alarm about a problem that faces North Africa more than any other region of the world: the high level of youth unemployment resulting mainly from the chronic mismatch between educational strategies and job-market needs.

In a report released on this occasion, a number of organisations, including the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), revealed that the real youth unemployment rate in the North African region is no less than 41 per cent in the 15-24 age group.

Although the overall rate of unemployment in North Africa (including Egypt) is in itself one of the highest in the world, the rate of joblessness among the youth is even higher than the average. Figures show that young people in the region are three to four times more likely to be without a job than adults. In Tunisia, for instance, seven out of ten unemployed are under the age of 30.

At the core of this problem has been the fundamental inadequacy between the educational systems and the needs of the marketplace.

School and training programmes did not provide the skilled manpower needed to meet the challenges of the increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace. Despite all the political talk about building a ‘knowledge society’, the economies of the region were plagued for nearly two decades by their limited capacity to create value-added and growth-generating jobs.

The educational systems were throwing into the job-market tens of thousands of ill-trained and poorly-skilled, including a high percentage of school graduates. The statistical dazzle about university enrolment rates, in places like Tunisia and Egypt, was not matched by a qualitative effort making possible the scientific, technological or linguistic skill acquisition needed for value-added and export-oriented economic activities.

Many years after structural adjustment reforms were introduced, the private sector could not create enough decent jobs.

The expanding informal sector provided low wages and ‘working poverty’ conditions. University graduates, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, continued therefore to pin high hopes on public sector opportunities, when such opportunities were both scarce and burdensome for state budgets.

Because of the reality of the job-market, the rate of employment in the region was for years inversely related to the level of education achieved by employment-applicants. In Morocco, for example, 61 per cent of young people with secondary education or higher were unemployed, compared with 8 per cent of uneducated youth, notes a recent African Bank report.

The same applied everywhere in North Africa. The problem was probably more dramatic in Tunisia than elsewhere in the region. The number of university students there simply doubled, in about a decade after the year 2000.

Without a commensurate expansion of job opportunities, the rate of graduate unemployment, between 2005-11, increased from 14-29 per cent. In Morocco, where university enrolment remained essentially at the same level, the rate of unemployed university graduates dropped from 29 per cent to 18 per cent.

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