The Middle East and North Africa urgently needs relevant education, training and lifelong learning systems to tackle youth unemployment and skills gaps
A new report sets out a roadmap for bringing education and training systems in line with current and future labour market needs to boost youth employment in the MENA region
AMMAN/BEIRUT, 3 May 2023 - A new report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the European Training Foundation (ETF) has issued an urgent call to countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region to invest in education and modernizing training systems for youth.
“Enabling Success: Supporting Youth in MENA in their Transition from Learning to Decent Work” calls for developing and implementing market relevant skills training and job-creation strategies targeting youth in the region, which has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world.
In 2019, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 30 per cent of young people in MENA aged 15–24 were neither employed, in school nor receiving training. For young women – who have the lowest employment rates in the world – that figure rises to a very worrying 42 per cent. The latest data shows that young people are still three times more likely than older workers to be unemployed.
The report, launched today at a virtual event, provides an extensive analysis of current challenges, policies and programmes in MENA addressing young peoples’ learning, skilling and transitioning to decent work.
It sets out a roadmap of recommended policies the region can develop to support its youth in their transition. Such policies would propel the region as a whole towards achieving more sustainable and equitable economic development and better well-being and social indicators.
The report is based on a study presented at the MENA Regional High-Level Meeting on Young People’s Learning, Skilling and Transition to Decent Work held in Amman in May 2022, which concluded with a series of government commitments from 16 countries in the MENA region to work on reforming the learning and labour systems to ensure more effective and equitable outcomes for young people across the region.
“Transitioning from adolescence to adulthood can be an immensely challenging time for young people around the world in the best of circumstances and at the best of times. We need career guidance based on labour market trends, and we need relevant education and training that facilitates our transition to decent work, including the jobs of the future,” said Rana Bou Jaber, a young person who attended the event.
The MENA region has progressed on school enrollment levels, yet many students are completing their schooling without the knowledge and skills they need for a smooth and successful entry into the labour market. Young people find themselves confronted by fast-changing markets, driven by rapid technological progress, but lack the lifelong learning skills to maintain the relevance of their knowledge and skills.
“The requirements of the job market are likely to rapidly change and continue to do so over the course of a person’s lifetime. Therefore, transferable skills, covering skills for learning, employability, empowerment and citizenship will be critical. Together with digital literacy, these are the market-relevant skills that are indispensable to secure the jobs of the future and will be essential to enable sustainable development across the MENA region," said Marc Rubin, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director in MENA.
Over the past three decades, governments across the region have introduced a range of policies and programmes aimed at addressing youth transitions to employment. However, most of these efforts have been limited in scope and have not had much success in improving development outcomes, the report states.
The situation described in detail in the report represents a new call for action to modernize education and training systems and boost youth employment in the MENA region.
“As the world witnesses drivers of change that will affect economic, social and environmental outcomes across the region and globally, time is of the essence,” said ILO Deputy Regional Director for Arab States Peter Rademaker. “Climate, technological and demographic change and a transition to renewable energy – these represent an opportunity for countries to adapt and invest in reskilling their workforces, paving the way for rapid development and growth, and better options for young people. It is time to put the commitments made during last year’s high-level meeting in Amman into action to secure our youth’s future. And this report provides the roadmap for such action,” Rademaker added.
Focusing on the need for enhanced Labour market information systems to support decision making, the report presents a number of recommendations for priority reforms and actions that are rights-based and structural. This includes calls for lifelong learning centred Education reforms, improved links between TVET and the labour market and an increased engagement of the private sector in identifying and delivering skills. In turn, national economies must enable economic diversification for the private sector to grow and create jobs.
 The meeting was convened by ILO, UNICEF, UNDP and UNFPA under the umbrella of the UN Arab States Issue-Based Coalition on Adolescents and Young People.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
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