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Read the insights and opinions of experts from the region and beyond on issues related to YEM Project's thematic priorities.

Managing Migration Pressure through improved Youth Employability

Sabrina Ferraz Guarino

Promoting productive employment opportunities dominates policy agendas around the world, particularly in the YEM Partner Countries. This is not surprising considering the demographic trends in these countries where a big – and expanding - share of the national populations is under the age of 25. As a substantial majority of the population approaches working age, there is a critical need to ensure that productive livelihood opportunities and an enabling environment for human capital optimization exists.

Yet, the current situation on the employment front does not look that encouraging. While unemployment levels across the working age groups remain high, the worst affected segment of the population is the youth. Unemployed youth are the highest in Palestine (45%), Libya (42%), Jordan (36.6%) and Tunisia (34.8%), while Morocco (21.9%) and Lebanon (17.6%) fare relatively better. Viewing this together with the share of share of the youth that is not in education, employment or training (NEET), reveals how the challenges of youth employment remain self-compounding. The youth NEET rates tally around 14% in Lebanon and 21% for Algeria, but progressively increase across Tunisia (25%), Jordan (28%), Morocco (28%), and Palestine (33%).

The International Monetary Fund cites among the key factors for youth unemployment and the lack of opportunities a severe skills mismatch between the needs of the local economies and the knowledge supplied by both the general and the TVET educational systems. In particular, the issue lies with the inability of the economy to create highly skilled workforce, curricula that are not adapted to private sector’s needs and an overall lack of labor market orientation of the educational systems.

At the same time, the sectoral distribution of the national economies in the YEM Countries are skewed towards the public sector. In the absence of a vibrant private sector and economic diversification, public sectors remain the main sources of employment . While the public wage bills increase as a percentage of the GDP, the marginal contribution to the GDP remains limited.

Taking into consideration the demographic development of these countries one can see how the mismatch between population growth and lack of employment opportunities could create significant spillover effects on local trends regarding work-related mobility and the desire to migrate. According to a 2017 Gallup Survey, the net brain gain remains negative for all the countries targeted by the YEM Project.

Data for the year 2019 from the Arab Barometer further outlines a significant increase compared to 2016 in the number of youth that considers to migrate. This trend is particularly strong in Jordan (+23%) and Morocco (+17%). Whereas the main reasons for Arab citizens to emigrate is predominantly economic, other commonly cited ones include corruption, security concern or to pursue further educational opportunities. The youth is significantly more likely to want to emigrate then older generations: 70% of the youth would like to leave the country in Morocco, 52% in Jordan, and 51% in Tunisia. Across the region, Europe is the most quoted destination, followed by the Gulf Cooperation Council country, the US, Canada, and non-GCC MENA countries.

While the lack of skills development opportunities and high unemployment rates are among the main drivers of migration pressure across the globe, it is also established that in the absence of these pressures, there is very limited desire to migrate. Furthermore, before migrating to a foreign country, people in general and more specifically NEETs, tend to prefer trying out their luck through internal mobility first. As of 2019, only 3.3% of the global population were migrants. Migration is a coping mechanism based on the assumption that moving to another country is the best and most efficient investment for the own and one’s family future. This assertion is also substantiated by a report of the Migration Research Leaders’ Syndicate, under the auspices of the IOM as follows:

"It is important to recall that, in the face of adverse conditions, migration remains a mitigation strategy. Consequently, the best way to support sedentary communities is not necessarily by stopping them from migrating but enlarging their set of choices. To alleviate the migration pressure on communities, it is thus crucial to make migration one option among others, and not the only choice available”

Linguère Mously Mbaye, IOM Migration Research Leaders' Syndicate.

Skills Development and managing migration pressures

With its greater orientation towards the labour markets and developing lifelong learning capacities, TVET presents great opportunities for skilling the youth to reverse the tide on limited employment opportunities while also contributing to economic growth. A broader social dialogue with all stakeholders in national TVET systems for greater cooperation and synergy, and greater international cooperation will help enhance the TVET system capacities to respond to the demands from the world of work. Through these partnerships, TVET can play a pivotal role in promoting youth employment by overcoming skills mismatches. While this remains an ambitious, and a highly prospective concept to unpack, such collaborations between TVET national and international TVET stakeholders can focus on the following:

  1. Increase the exchange of information regarding the development of TVET curricula through peer learning and knowledge sharing;
  2. Consider starting to work towards an international framework for the recognition of prior qualifications and competencies (see the efforts made by UNESCO regarding the qualifications passport for refugees and vulnerable migrants );
  3. Invest in global skills partnerships based on bi – and- multilateral agreements, on common labour market needs, and involving private and public stakeholders, that foster both brain gain and labour mobility [More on this in Clemens (2017) and the Global Skills Partnership on Migration)
  4. Create a political framework that facilitates not only highly skilled but also low skilled labour mobility through legal migration pathways, based on market needs.
Knowledge sharing and peer learning is the baseline to create more sustainable and labour market oriented TVET systems, but without a concrete collaboration between countries, the effectiveness of such measures shall remain limited. Investing in pilot projects promoting skills partnerships and formal mobility schemes in, and among origin, transit and destination countries, is vital to coordinate practical responses to demographic, migration pressure, skills mismatches. This would go a long way in creating an enabling environment for the youth to realize their potentials and contribute to sustainable development, locally and globally.

References and Further Reading

Global Skills Partnership on Migration

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