FHI 360 is a leading nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally-driven solutions. Our staff includes experts in health, education, gender, nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, youth, research and technology, creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today's interrelated development challenges. FHI 360, based in the United States, serves more than 60 countries and all U.S. states and territories.
Since 2007 FHI 360 has collaborated with the GE Foundation to improve access to quality, gender-equitable primary and secondary education in developing countries. In addition, together we have also asked the question, what's next for these young people after secondary education? Understanding better the transition from school to work is an important part of supporting youth in their employment strategies. Particularly in the Middle East where one-third of the total population is between the ages of 15-29, youth unemployment, including well-educated job-seekers, remains the highest in the world.
With support from, and in collaboration with the GE Foundation, FHI 360 organized a symposium series on Youth, Gender, and Employability in the MENA Region between November 2011 and November 2013. FHI 360 partnered with prominent local organizations to facilitate a discourse around the economic development and youth employability with a gender lens in Qatar, Morocco and Jordan. More specifically, the symposia series explored the social, political, cultural and economic factors that contribute to systematic exclusion of youth — particularly young women — from the workforce in the Middle East and North Africa. FHI 360 partnered with the Qatar Foundation in Qatar, Mohamed V University-Agdal in Morocco, the King Abdullah II Fund for Development, and the Ministry of Labor in Jordan.
The objective of the symposium series was to take the pulse of one of the most vital populations in our global community – youth – and explore the commonalities and differences among the youth of the Maghreb, Gulf, Levant, and North Africa sub-regions in the MENA region.
The first symposium on youth, gender, and employability was held in November 2011 in Doha, Qatar and focused on youth in the Gulf region. The second symposium held in Rabat, Morocco in March 2013 focused on youth and unemployment in the Maghreb region with a special focus on Morocco. The participants included Moroccan and international academics, civil society advocates, members of the public and private sectors, and youth entrepreneurs. The panelists sparked interesting discussions around the challenges youth face in Morocco when they try to access employment opportunities after they leave school. The third and last in the series of symposia on the Youth, Gender, and Employability was held in Amman, Jordan in November 2013 and explored the key challenges that the youth in the Levant region face in employment, including entrenched unequal gender norms.
Based on an analysis of the key challenges that we learned during the symposium series, we offer the following recommendations. Although the details vary, these recommendations are actionable as a package of approaches in all three countries where FHI 360 held the symposia.
Youth in the MENA region are misinformed and have unrealistic expectations about their prospects in the formal labor market, especially about their first job out of university. This leads youth to choose academic subjects at university that will not prepare them for the job market. FHI 360 proposes to strengthen partnerships between the private sector and the secondary, vocational training, and tertiary levels of education. We recommend developing programs that advocate to employers to offer internships or on-the-job training for youth coming out of secondary school or university. The internships and training will better prepare youth for realistic jobs and provide private sector employers with a window on the true talents and motivations of young people, both men and women.
This activity would be done in connection with the first recommendation about promoting internships. Soft skills include goal setting, writing a resume, networking, effective communication, applying for jobs, and how to talk to one's family about employment expectations. Our experience shows that targeted training and continuous mentoring is a very effective way to build skills, self-confidence and knowledge. Young people will be better advocates for themselves if they have a keen understanding of their own abilities and have set personal and professional goals.
We recommend conducting a gender analysis in each country to learn more about unequal gender norms that act as barriers for women to enter the labor market. We then would organize an advocacy campaign to break down existing stereotypes of women in the workplace. Parents would be sensitized about the roles that women can play in the workplace and at home. We would work with employers to develop anti-discriminatory policies in the workplace; change behavior towards women in the workplace; advocate for the implementation of existing labor legislations that support women's rights; make it easier for women to go back to work after they have had a child.