ANCHOR INTRO The majority of the Middle East currently faces a youth bulge, which many policy analysts have deemed as the single most important development problem in the Middle East. Reporter Elliana Bisgaard-Church examines a lesser-known facet of the phenomenon in Morocco, looking at the issue of unemployment and youth attitudes and capabilities in the country.
BISGAARD-CHURCH Compared with recent headlines from the Middle East centering on the Arab Spring and hot topics Syria and Egypt, Morocco has received little attention. The country’s Arab Spring protests, led mostly by students, have gained moderate publicity, yet there remains a significant and separate issue in the nation related to young people.
MONJIB In Morocco the youth in general are having trouble to get employment, even the university graduates.
BISGAARD-CHURCH That’s Maati Monjib, a professor at the University of Rabat and political historian, who says he has witnessed over twenty years of Moroccan youth struggling to become employed. Youth have been protesting for government jobs in Morocco since the 1990s, says Monjib, but this movement is independent of the youth demonstrating in the Arab Spring.
Despite a history of youth unemployment in Morocco, the country is experiencing higher rates than ever. Morocco, like many other Middle Eastern countries, faces a youth bulge, with those ages 15 to 29 comprising 44 percent of the working age population. According to the World Bank, meanwhile, 30 percent of these youth are unemployed. This means that a majority of Moroccans are out of work and not gaining the experience they need, creating a vicious cycle.
There is an important distinction, however, about the profile of these youth.
KRONENFELD There’s the perceived notion that’s been around for some time that the highest rates of unemployment in Morocco and in fact in other countries in the region are among those graduates of tertiary education. It turns out that the education level of those inactive youth are people who have not been educated or gone to college, and are sometimes middle school dropouts.
BISGAARD-CHURCH That’s Mara Kronenfeld, a director at the International Youth Foundation–or IYF–working on program design and development in North Africa and the Middle East. IYF is a global nonprofit aimed at preparing youth to become active citizens, and is one of the handful of nongovernmental organizations working to better the employment situation for youth in Morocco.
Joining Kronenfeld in this fight is Naoual Bakry, chief of operations at the nonprofit EFE, the Education for Employment’s, branch in Morocco. EFE has a similar mission to IYF, focusing on empowering youth through creating job opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa.
Bakry further describes these “youth”, adding that many come from underprivileged or remote areas in the country. Identifiers aside, explanations for the high rate of unemployment abound. Bakry believes the type of education young people receive to be one of the most important.
BAKRY All graduates generally in Morocco spend lot of time, lot of years, to learn about the technical items but they don’t have a lot of time or courses oriented to personal development, communication skills, how to succeed to the job, so they are more or less lost when it comes to the job.
BISGAARD-CHURCH In other words, as Kronenfeld says:
KRONENFELD There are jobs but there are not the right kind of ppl to fill them.
BISGAARD-CHURCH Part of the problem is the expectations youth have about the type of jobs they will work. Monjib explains.
MONJIB A lot of them refuse anything but official positions in the government, as teachers or nurses or members of the police, because the private sector is not sure, you can be recruited and then fired.
BISGAARD-CHURCH Both IYF and EFE’s programs attempt to change such expectations and enable young people to engage with employers in the private sector. A major part of this is to teach their program participants the skills needed to survive in the private sector. This is not the only issue, though, as Kronenfeld discusses.
KRONENFELD It’s also about competencies and how people behave. They don’t have life skills that will help them get job and succeed at the job. They don’t necessarily have the confidence they need, the public speaking skills, know how to talk effectively to their manager, or have skills like product management, financial literacy, how to invest or budget the money that they do make. These are all important skills not only for a job but for a young person’s whole career.
BISGAARD-CHURCH While both IYF and EFE-Morocco work on such life skills, it is important to note a difference in the youth they target. While they cover the same age span, IYF focuses more so on those youth that do not have higher education, and are often dropouts of middle school, in their program Emploi-Habilité. EFE, on the other hand, focuses mostly on university graduates.
Kronenfeld emphasizes that IYF is conscious of the other unemployment efforts in Morocco, calling EFE a sister organization. Awareness of and engagement with the actors in the country is a larger value both organizations hold very important. Kronenfeld describes IYF’s take.
KRONENFELD It’s not our intention to come in, affect some changes and leave. We actually are interested in the sustainability of the work we do […] Our model is about working with local implementers and NGOs and it’s all about building their capacity to lead effective training.
BISGAARD-CHURCH One way IYF does this is through training “master trainers”, as with their recent program in which they instruct middle school teachers in the public education system about life skills, which the teachers then impart to their pupils. IYF also works with public sector training institutes to become master trainers.
Meanwhile, EFE-Morocco has developed two new programs working with students with university degrees–one linking university graduates with mentors experienced in a certain field and the other for coaching graduates who have taken EFE courses to be able to use their newfound skills and opportunities. Both IYF and EFE’s programs in Morocco have seen tangible results, as the number of youth trained in their programs and then employed have boomed.
Not only are trained youth gaining jobs, but both organizations emphasized that they are becoming examples for those around them, leading to truly sustainable change. Such an impact is of the utmost importance, says Bakry.
BAKRY They can engage in their society, they can engage in associative activity, they show others, they become a model in their neighborhoods, in their community that people can see, can share their success with others, can be a model for others.
As groups like Education for Employment and the International Youth Foundation work to create sustainable change among young people, the youth bulge in Morocco may in fact lend itself to greater growth and development for the country.
BISGAARD-CHURCH For War News Radio, I’m Elliana Bisgaard-Church.