Washington D.C., June 7, 2012
Last May the World Bank issued a thorough report about the situation of young people in Morocco. This comprehensive report entitled Promoting Youth Opportunities and Participation in Morocco, finds that half of the Moroccan aged between 15 and 29 are neither working nor going to school. In order to know first-hand the main challenges facing the Moroccan youth in the years and decades to come, and the measures that Moroccan decision-makers should take in order to meet the aspirations and needs of Morocco’s young people, MWN conducted an interview with World Bank Social Scientist, Gloria La Cava, the leader of the team that produced the report.
MWN: What has the report identified as the main challenges facing young people in Morocco today?
Gloria La Cava, World Bank Senior Social Scientist: The research and preparation for this report were completed just before the ‘Arab Spring.’ The report says something that the streets later confirmed, which is that young people have been excluded from the economic growth and from the opportunities that some sectors of the country’s economy benefited from. We have a whole section which discusses this jobless growth in the country, and how that in particular left young people behind as a generation. The’ Arab Spring’ hit right at the peak of Morocco’s youth bulge, demographically speaking. Bank economists have conducted a number of global econometric studies which show that youth bulges and a general lack of opportunities are strong factors that induce conflict. That is exactly the Morocco story: The peak of the youth bulge combined with extensive economic and social exclusion.
The report also found that unemployment rates were not giving us the full picture of the labor market disadvantage or the economic exclusion of young people. First and foremost, the bulk of unemployed youth have less than a secondary education or no education at all. In the big pie of the unemployed, less than 5 % have tertiary education. Yet the interesting thing is that prior to this report all the labor market policies and all the employment programs went to this 5 %. The others were completely ignored. In terms of equitable policies, this was a huge gap that we found. When we talk about inequity, strictly from an unemployment rate perspective, this is clearly something that needs re-balancing, in terms of how you address unemployment issues, and how you target policies.
MWN: Did the report’s findings reveal any major differences in the state of young men and women?
GLC: In our gender studies we always look at the difficulties that young women face in participating in the labor market, and being empowered with their own source of income. Now, even though their unemployment rate is much higher, when we interviewed a very large number of young women and men, particularly in urban areas, but with similar results in rural areas, the young women all said that the greatest pressure for making an income is on the young men. This is because young men are expected to contribute money at home, and to save enough to start their own family. With the severe lack of opportunities they are capable of neither, and this failure has resulted in them becoming alienated within their own families.
The psychological pressure that the young men face is huge. It’s not a coincidence that, for the poorer ones, the coping mechanism is to use drugs, which are very much accessible in Morocco and to drift in inactivity. Young women are all keen to work, but unlike the young men, it’s not a requirement for their dignity. That’s why the theme of dignity is so important in the ‘Arab Spring,’ because it’s not just about income, but what employment means for you as a human being, in your community and your family. The young women we interviewed recognized this difference, although when they have an income, they keep it. For them, it’s a coping strategy to be stronger in their relationships, to have some savings in case of divorce.
MWN: How accessible is the Moroccan education system, and is it providing young people with the necessary skills?
GLC: The education system is accessible from a formal point of view. Attendance has increased tremendously and the literacy rate has improved. However, the system is one of the most expensive and inefficient in the whole of the Arab world. The returns on education as an investment are quite low. There are two tiers of education in Morocco: The private, French language education that is for the elite, and the public education system, taught in Arabic, which is for everybody else. The labor market requires French language skills, which clearly excludes the graduates from the public system, where French isn’t taught.
This language barrier is one of the initial forms of exclusion. The public system also suffers from overcrowding, and the curriculum does not meet any of the needs of the labor market. The system is expensive because, as part of the social contract, it has been used as a public sector employment plan, keeping large numbers of teachers employed. The Bank has been involved with educational reform in Morocco for a long time. It’s not an easy thing to reform. What we’re saying in this report is that, given that reform in public education is going to take a long time, we need to find other means to facilitate the school to work transition in the meantime. The report looks at ways to provide opportunities outside the school system that would have a quick impact on skills and job placement. There are things that can be done without having to go through another degree, such as apprenticeships, and encouraging and investing in micro-entrepreneurship and self-employment.
MWN: What sorts of other resources are available to help with basic issues such as finding a job, staying physically active and socially engaged?
GLC: We have reviewed the services and programs that support young people, including disadvantaged young people, and we found that there are quite a few of them. The problem is that the public vocational type programs are limited in their impact because they tend to be supply driven, and this is true across all the technical skills. Very few of them have the ability to offer any concrete experience in firms. They provide the skills, and that’s about it. Nevertheless, there are programs and they can be improved. There are a series of vocational training streams that are offered by specialized agencies that deal with disadvantaged young people. They are very underfunded, and they need better connections with the private sector, something which has never really been done in Morocco. Public/private partnerships have to be made more systematic.
There is also a lot of duplication, and these services are very centralized. Morocco is still very centralized, so the programs tend to lose their impact in the various regions. Horizontally there is no spatial connectivity between the different programs, insuring that they complement each other and they can reach a larger amount of young people. The result is that the number of young people they reach is very small compared to the need, and their impact is also diminished. We have done a lot of field analysis of services and we have talked to beneficiaries. The impact evaluations may lack some sophistication, but the report does provide a clear roadmap for improving the intervention, and bringing in the private sector, which is quite robust in Morocco.
MWN: Are specific policies needed to address both the concerns and circumstances of young people?
GLC: First of all there needs to be a serious rebalancing of programming, with the right type of fiscal transfers for more locally lead initiatives that support young people. That’s the ‘how,’ because everything is so centralized currently that programs lose their effectiveness. With the new constitution, Morocco is going to decentralize, so there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to use funds locally and to create some innovative public/private and NGO partnerships. In terms of the ‘what,’ we bring a lot of experiences from our client countries where they have used interesting means to deal with youth unemployment issues.
For example, the report discusses youth micro-entrepreneurship and self-employment programs in Peru, along with policies directed at informal sector workers, to raise incomes and develop new skills. There is also a discussion of job matching using mobile technology, to help young people connect better. Ultimately, though, it’s really a question of bringing in the private sector and upgrading skills. This will require a specific focus on building up French language skills, as the entry point for improving access to employment opportunities. It will also require the development of soft skills – meaning all the skills that are needed to function today’s workplace, the so- called ‘portable skills.’ These are vital for a range of jobs, from auto mechanic to the service sector. There are a number of ways of building these skills. The report proposes a combination of NGOs, peer to per learning, and private sector training programs..
MWN: What are the report’s conclusions, and what will be the next steps?
GLC: Before the ‘Arab Spring,’ there was a lot of talk in Morocco, and in many of the neighboring countries, about how the youth were an important resource, that they represented the future. Now is the time to put those words into practice and to do something bold and ambitious with the youth themselves. Until now, all the programs, all the solutions have been designed by older people. The Bank team has a combination of older and younger people but we’ve involved a lot of young people in this report and we’ve used a tremendous amount of participatory research. That has to translate at a policy level. One of the major recommendations of this report is to help support and bring voice to the youth movements in more formal venues of decision making. They have a lot of ideas, even better than ours! We have provided a menu of options and shown that this issue can be tackled, but you need to have focus, you need resources, and you need to have youth participation. You need to bring into the mainstream all those young people that are excluded in urban slums, who are still in conflict with some of the local authorities, and continue to raise demands. Some agencies have already started to do that. It’s really amazing to see the transformation. I think Morocco has the ability to be very innovative. Following the launch of the report, we are looking forward to starting discussions with the newly elected government.