In this year’s African Economic Outlook (AEO) report, Morocco was identified as the only country in Africa with a “well developed” youth unemployment programme.[i] On the surface it appears that the Moroccan government must be doing something right. Perhaps Morocco can offer an example for others to follow, but 2012 headlines featuring desperate unemployed graduates and self-immolation tell a radically different story. The eLearning Africa news service has been finding out more about Morocco’s engagement with youth employment.
By Alicia Mitchell
On January 18th, 2012, Abdelwahab Zeidoun set himself on fire during a protest outside an Education Ministry compound in Rabat. Zeidoun was protesting alongside other unemployed graduates against the lack of job prospects and the apparent lack of transparency of the public sector hiring process. He died five days later as a result of his injuries.
Clearly, the government of Morocco is not satisfying the needs of its increasingly dispirited and desperate young people. Despite singling out Morocco as having the most functional youth unemployment programme on the Continent, the details of the AEO report do not ignore the severe organisational and cultural obstacles still holding back employment rates in the country. Like its North African neighbours, Morocco suffers from particularly high levels of graduate unemployment and the rate of unemployment amongst fifteen to twenty-four year-olds stood at 17.6% in 2011, compared to a national rate of 8.9%.[i]
Government initiatives to tackle these problems and encourage economic growth have been undertaken energetically yet the results have failed to live up to ambitious expectations. In 2006, three programmes were founded. The Idmaj, Taehil and Moukawalati programmes aimed to encourage employment of first-time job seekers, provide pre-employment skills and help young entrepreneurs by offering funding options and long-term support.
However, the programmes were criticised from the outset and the government was accused of making token gestures which lacked sufficient planning. The Moukawalati programme set out to create 30,000 new small enterprises and 90,000 new jobs within two years, but three years after the project’s inception the target was reduced to just 10,000 enterprises.[ii] The AEO reports that the scheme has led to the creation of just 3,315 enterprises and around 10,000 jobs.
With the accession of a new government in late 2011, led by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, hope for real progress was spawned amid the discontent that characterised the time. Just weeks after Abdelwahab Zeidoun’s death, the newly-elected Justice and Development Party announced three further youth employment programmes, this time focusing on “employment within community-level organisations in the social and education sectors”, the long-term unemployed and integration of the informal and formal sectors of the economy.[iii]
In spite of these new initiatives, the same criticisms are levelled again and again at successive governments and the education sector: firstly, there is a large gap between the government’s ideals and the practical reality of Moroccan entrepreneurial culture. One of the first barriers to the 2006 Moukawalati programme was the inability of young applicants to make well thought-out business plans and, as the protests of last year go to show, self-employment is not seen as an attractive option in the face of an unremitting bias towards public sector employment amongst young people. The AEO report points out that, currently, the private sector is unable to match the stability and social benefits provided by the public sector.
Secondly, business leaders have consistently complained that graduates are not only lacking in appropriate skills to enter the contemporary labour markets, but also fail to understand the expectations of employees, making them unreliable team members. A recent report from the Moroccan audit court has condemned programmes that provide “training that fails to understand job trends and labour market demands at the local level”, meaning graduate recruitment rates stand at less than 30%.[iv]
Speaking to the Magharebia news service, sociologist Samira Kassimi was critical of the Office for Vocational Training and Work Promotion and the impractical curriculums the Office oversees: “Once they’ve obtained their diploma, many young people don’t know where to start. You need more than just technical knowledge to secure a job”.
Open and thorough dialogue between policy makers, higher education practitioners and industry leaders will be essential in ensuring that, as the economy grows and jobs are created, there is the professionalism and talent available to fill new positions; naturally a feat that is easier said than done.
In regards to entrepreneurialism, the African Economic Outlook recommends that less red-tape, universal health insurance and better business and legal frameworks could go some way to encouraging entrepreneurial spirit in the country.
Looking back on the reception of the various youth employment programmes initiated since 2006 is as much a lesson in what not to do as it is one in what should be done. As a country, Morocco can take some pride in its persistent efforts to improve upon a bad situation, in spite of the mixed results achieved. The recognition afforded to it by the African Economic Outlook is, perhaps, not to be viewed as a great success, but an invocation for further work and as both a call to arms and a word of warning to other countries looking to join the race.
[i] Thematic Analysis: Promoting Youth Unemployment (Morocco). The African Economic Outlook. http://www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/en/countries/north-africa/morocco/
[ii] Private Sector and Enterprise Development: Fostering Growth in the Middle East and North Africa. Lois Stevenson. International Research Development Centre. 2012. p.219.
[iii] Morocco Launches New Job Creation Plans .Hassan Benmehdi. Magharebia. 30.01.2012. http://magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2012/01/30/feature-02
[iv] Morocco Vocational Training Falls Short, Report Says. Siham Ali. Magharebia. 06.02.2013. http://magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2013/02/06/feature-03