Youth joblessness is risk to Arab stability: minister

A skills mismatch between what university students learn and what private sector employers need is at the heart of the issue of the Middle East's chronic youth unemployment levels

Sky-high youth unemployment poses a risk to stable Arab economies and more must be done to unlock skilled jobs for the region’s young men and women, the UAE’s minister of culture and knowledge development said Wednesday.

“No country in the Middle East and North Africa can claim success in both education and employment,” said Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan. “We must enable our youth to fulfil their potential if we are to nourish a peaceful and productive society.”

A critical skills mismatch between what university students learn and what private sector employers need is at the heart of the problem, Sheikh Nahayan said at the launch of the UAE branch of Education for Employment (EFE), a MENA-focused NGO, held in Dubai.

“Higher education in most MENA countries has unfortunately sacrificed the development of essential skills to rote learning,” he told the audience. “There is too narrow a concentration on discipline and rigid classroom procedures that stifle curiosity, and inhibit creativity and open discussion.”

Youth unemployment in Arab economies is the highest in the world, at 28.2 per cent in the Middle East and 30.5 per cent in North Africa, according to the UN. This compares to a global average of 13 per cent.

Chronic joblessness was a key trigger in the 2011 so-called Arab Spring uprisings, which toppled rulers from Tunisia to Egypt and left some economies paralysed.

A recent poll also found lack of jobs is seen to be the biggest factor driving disenfranchised youths to join Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.

The Arab Youth Survey, which polled 3,500 people aged 18-24 in 16 Arab countries, found economic hardship was the biggest recruiter for the militant movement, above religious extremism.

EFE is a nonprofit that offers training and coaching to young people in the MENA region to help propel them into the workforce. Established in 2006, the organisation runs programmes in seven MENA countries and partners with companies to place young people – and particularly women – in internships or jobs. To date, EFE says it has helped nearly 10,000 jobless youth secure their first job.

The UAE branch, launched Wednesday, will be a regional hub to help EFE partner with more corporations to reach its goal of placing 20,000 youth in jobs by 2020.

EFE is also planning an entrepreneurship programme in the UAE emirate of Sharjah to support the launch of startups.

“Closing the gap between youth, employers and education in the region is more important than ever before,” EFE founderRon Bruder said in a statement.

Photo credit: WFP