Youth unemployment is a problem that is gaining more attention worldwide, especially after the economic crisis and its subsequent negative impact on job opportunities. With the aim of opening up a direct channel of communication between young people and influential global figures, One Young World organized the second Kofi Annan Dialogue on June 20 focusing on youth unemployment. With my expertise on the topic in Lebanon, and as the Director of the World Youth Alliance in the Middle East, I was invited to be among the seven young people in the dialogue. The discussion was divided into two segments; the first was aimed at better understanding the situation and consequences of rising youth unemployment, while the second focused on sharing best practices and discussing possible solutions.
During the first segment, I presented the situation of youth unemployment in Lebanon. I sought to approach the issue in a more comprehensive manner by discussing the problem of working conditions, which is particularly relevant in a country like Lebanon where the informal labor market consists of 65% of the population. Are there simply no job opportunities for Lebanese youth, or do these job opportunities offer poor working conditions with low pay, no social security, and no career development? These are important questions to look into, especially because the Lebanese population will become an aging population over the next forty years, with fewer young people in the labor market to support an increasingly dependent older population. We need to start looking for solutions to cover the future social security bills of today’s working population, 65% of whom are currently working without any sort of retirement plan.
Milenko from Bosnia Herzegovina said that the educational system does not provide young people with the right skills for the job market. I agree that the educational system must be improved. However, would improved education really create new job opportunities? Are all the “CV writing and interviewing skills” that we are giving youth simply replacing older people with young people in the workplace? Ester from Spain made a good point by saying that without a prospering economy, any effort to reduce youth employment will yield only marginal improvements.
When looking at solutions, we should first recognize that we need a prospering economy to create job opportunities for both young and older people. Governments cannot be expected to provide jobs in the public sector for everyone. The main role of the government is to remove obstacles preventing young people from engaging in entrepreneurial activities, and to create the infrastructure and environment that allows these enterprises to channel the creativity of young people towards a socially responsible and prosperous economy.
Cedric Choukeir is the regional director of the World Youth Alliance in the Middle East and North Africa.