Jul 12 2012
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Need of the Hour: A new alliance for jobs
Every country values education as the path to individual self-improvement and national prosperity. Governments are reforming their education systems. Many governments want to make learning relevant to the job market. Yet despite these efforts, many countries, including in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), are finding that results are elusive.
Despite rising investment in education, the MENA youth unemployment rate in 2011 topped 27%, more than double the global rate of 13%. Instead of educating for employment, the MENA region is grooming a young population without any job-relevant skills. Few understand the gap between education and employment better than the youth themselves. A Booz & Company survey of young nationals in the GCC in late 2010 found that only 22% strongly believed the education system provided sufficient preparation for career success. It is no surprise that the young, particularly the unemployed, are so vocal. This urgent problem demands immediate initiatives, and not just from governments. Education reform is important, but it will not solve the employment crisis anytime soon.
Education changes can take many years to have an effect. The MENA region demonstrates this. Recent education investments have yielded some important gains. The education gap between boys and girls has narrowed. Illiteracy rates have fallen. Unfortunately, more education has not created more employment. Today's crisis requires an imaginative approach, an alliance for jobs among business, government, and the education system.
These three stakeholders have separate and mutually supporting needs. Business wants workers with the correct skills so that it can compete in the global economy. Government wants to shift the economic base towards knowledge and innovation. The education system is the only partner that can produce a critical mass of skilled workers over the long-term. Each stakeholder has to change its approach for the alliance to work and should collaborate with the other to play to their respective strengths.
Business to the rescue
Waiting for the impact of long-term education reform is not an option. The answer lies within the private sector where business has the capabilities, and hence the duty, to engage in short- to mediumterm initiatives that are necessary today to overcome the youth unemployment crisis. Indeed, business has much of the knowledge and capabilities that government and academia lack. Businesses knows what skills young people require to work. Businesses can contribute to improving the planning, governance, and service delivery capabilities of the education sector.
Enterprises should introduce internships and apprenticeships into schools. Our survey found that 59% of respondents had not done a summer placement - whether a job, internship, or training programme - while at school or university. Yet this is precisely the exposure to the workplace and work ethic that students in more mature economies take for granted. One instance of the new approach is the cooperation between the Tamer Group (a consumer, pharmaceutical, and healthcare company) and the Saudi government. Tamer could not find qualified Saudi nationals for its logistics and operations. The firm decided to team up with the Ministry of Labour's Human Resources Development Fund ( HDF ) to create a training institute.
A three-month programme now teaches logistics and operations, along with "soft" skills such as English language. The HDF pays about three-quarters of the cost. Tamer covers the remainder and supplies the training facility. The company generally offers jobs to the top 20% of trainees. The next 30% receive certificates they can use when approaching other firms (the remainder either fail or drop out). In this way, Tamer finds skilled workers and reduces its recruitment costs. The company also enriches its national economic environment by giving Saudi nationals job-relevant skills.
The government as convenor
In the alliance approach, government exercises a different form of leadership. In the past, government used mandates to reach employment goals. Some of these requirements had an important impact, but they did not solve the employment problem. A better strategy is for the government to lead by convening stakeholders. Government can be the catalyst, promoting and funding others' skills initiatives. Certainly, government must pursue the correct social and economic policies. At the same time, it can create the mechanisms and linkages that foster job-appropriate education.
A good example comes from Jordan, where the government, working with the World Economic Forum, assembled the global private sector, the education system, and not-for-profits in the Jordan Education Initiative (JEI). The private sector partners include Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco Systems. The JEI has started 100 "Discovery Schools" equipped with information and communications technology (ICT). Pupils at these schools achieve higher test scores than their peers in other schools, making them more employable. The JEI also contributes to the local ICT sector development.
Towards more relevant education
Education also needs to change tack. Quantity of education has often come before quality. The region's education system does not sufficiently cultivate students' critical faculties and problem-solving abilities. Students are also not adequately developing the "soft" skills demanded by employers, such as communication skills. Instead, the education system should coordinate with business to translate workforce needs into courses and scholarship opportunities.
This collaboration can especially strengthen technical and vocational training programmes so that they produce graduates ready for jobs. In Morocco, the Mohammadia School of Engineers works with the semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics NV. The two have a "center for excellence" in Rabat, a research facility that gives Mohammadia students work experience. The company counsels post-graduates on their research. STMicroelectronics also points them to opportunities inside the company and with other private enterprises. Of course, some education changes have to be long-term.
In Qatar, the Supreme Education Council is overseeing a complete redesign of the primary education system. The reform also includes variety in curricula, parental choice, and accountability for results. The goal is an education connected to economic needs. By collaborating in this novel manner, stakeholders can help the region's youth reach its full potential. Listening to the concerns of youth, the ultimate beneficiaries of these initiatives, is vital. The MENA region's young population is arguably its greatest natural resource. If business, government, and education can combine in an alliance for jobs, they can open this well of talent.
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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