More than 15 million young people will need jobs in the Middle East and North Africa over the coming 10 years.
That's the projection from global analyst firm Ernst & Young. Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, has tirelessly focused his work on using strategic polling to identify economic opportunities for young people in this region. His research confirms that jobs, or the lack of them, is the No. 1 challenge facing Arab youth today, and that challenge is repeated throughout the world—in the US, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 18 percent. At a recent talk at Portland—based humanitarian aid and development nonprofit Mercy Corps, Younis noted that 33 percent of young Arabs are entrepreneurs, and many more are headed in this direction. Unfortunately, that trend is not completely made by choice, but is a result of not being able to find a good job elsewhere.
To meet this growing demand, governments in the region would need to develop their non-oil economies. Nigeria's focus on youth employability reflects a turning point in the country’s booming non-oil economy, which is now driven by a service sector, growing at 30 percent per year. The Nigerian program ACCESS, supported by the World Bank, tests individuals on a wide range of skills—many that are needed in the services sector. The test results reflect the candidate's employability and help job seekers access training and certification in skills for which the market has immediate needs.
Keeping up with Ernst & Young’s projections will require a fundamental shift in attitudes toward job creation to support the Middle East and North Africa’s growing youth bulge, and Nigeria's ACCESS program is a great model to look toward. The Taqeem Fund—a partnership between Qatar-based Silatech, the Youth Employment Network, the Jacobs Foundation and the World Bank—has chosen 11 youth—focused organizations throughout the region to receive grants and technical assistance to help them improve the impact of youth employment and entrepreneurship programs. Check out all 11 here. Mercy Corps' Arab Developer Network Initiative (ADNI) has also made strides in job creation through training and developing young Palestinians in technological skills, and acting as an incubator for strong collaborations and innovative ideas. Programs like these have the potential to spark a new generation of capable and creative entrepreneurs and skilled employees.
Masood Ahmed, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department of The International Monetary Fund, claims that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure projects, 40,000 direct and indirect jobs can be created. North Africa and the Middle East have the potential to create secure, quality jobs. The region has dynamic, educated youth in waiting. What it needs now is a firm commitment from the public sector to invest in job—producing projects and sector—specific skill—building.