Arab nations are facing one their greatest challenges in the twenty-first century. While the economic growth they have enjoyed in the past two decades has enabled them to envisage their financial potential in specific fields, such as oil and construction, the youth unemployment issue in one of the world’s youngest regions will be key to maintaining their political and social direction.
Perhaps some think these are mere words looking to frighten readers with a view to attracting their attention towards a problem that is difficult to make people see. However, that is not the case. The most recent studies regarding the Arab Spring that took place in 2010 have concluded that many of the young people who took to the streets on that occasion did so due to the lack of expectations and, mainly, the lack of employment.
We have to stress that the Middle East and North Africa are two of the world’s regions with the youngest populations. While Europe is alarmingly getting older, half of the population in this area is under 30 years of age – according to United Nations data.
However, the employment situation of these young people is dramatic. Only one in three young Arabs is in the labour market, and the youth unemployment rate stands at 25% in the region. In other words, figures that have become a powder keg waiting for someone to light it.
Education as a barrier to employment
Despite the said economic growth, the capital that has been circulating in the past two decades has not had major effects on the educational system, beyond some timid reforms undertaken by Arab governments and civil society.
At the World Economic Forum in 2012, the private sector made it clear that the education system was not up to the task of helping channel this young Arab population towards the labour market. Indeed, it has become an obstacle as it does not offer the skills that companies are seeking. This situation is making the future even more difficult for young Arabs and for the region’s economy.
In short, education is, once again, seen as a key factor that can favour the employment situation of young people. However, it is not enough on its own. Education must come with a range of simultaneously activated initiatives so that the integration of young people in the political and social life of Arab countries becomes an extension of the feelings of the population.