Labour Market transitions of Young Women and Men in the Middle East and North Africa

Ralitza Dimova, Sara Elder and Karim Stephan
International Labour Office and The MasterCard Foundation
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
Nov, 2016

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is in the grip of an unemployment crisis that is mainly affecting its countries’ youth populations. The region’s unemployment rates among the youth cohort are twice as high as the global average and are particularly high among those with tertiary education. High unemployment rates are accompanied by increased shares of inactivity among youth, with too many youth withdrawing from the labour market due to family responsibilities or discouragement with their labour market prospects. The region’s increasing levels of educational attainment, especially among women, accompanied by insufficient demand for skilled workers – which particularly affects female workers – in the services sector-dominated economies of these countries are among the primary causes of difficulties in the labour market transitions of youth. The situation is exacerbated by low levels of entrepreneurship, and by the reluctance of youth to engage in vocational education to gain the skills required in the widely available low- to mid-skilled occupations.

As a result, youth face lengthy transitions from school to work and are often discouraged from continuing their job search, which partially explains the low labour force participation rates prevalent in the region. Given that the region’s economies are not able to provide the decent job opportunities that young people seek, the labour market challenges have contributed to political instability, manifest in the Arab Spring movement, in addition to waves of outmigration, especially to the oil-rich Gulf region. The continuation of this trend means that economies are making an investment loss on the education of their youth and are not able to reap the demographic dividends of their current youth population bulges to boost economic growth.

To assist governments in formulating policies aimed at improving the labour market outcomes of youth in their respective countries, the ILO has developed its school-to-work transition survey (SWTS), household surveys of young people aged 15–29. The SWTSs were implemented in two rounds in Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and in one round in Lebanon and Tunisia. The first round of surveys was conducted between 2012 and 2013 and the second between 2014 and 2015. The survey in Tunisia was carried out in the first round, while the survey in Lebanon occurred in the second round. This report summarizes the survey findings in these five countries and focuses on the main concerns relating to youth employment. Due to similarities in statistics between the two rounds, the results in this report are based on the latest 2014–2015 survey for Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and OPT, and the only survey available for Tunisia, 2012–2013. The report is intended for the use of policy-makers and social partners involved in the implementation of national youth-related policies and programmes, as well as for international and non-governmental organizations involved in the development of responses at the regional level.

Read the full report here.

Workforce Development
Middle East & North Africa
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