MURARI SHARMA/DR NETRA KHADKA
Youth unemployment is 20.5 percent in the UK and 17.1 percent in the US. In continental Europe, 21.6 percent youth are unemployed. In Australia, youth unemployment is around 25 percent. It is 20.4 percent in the G-20 countries—big advanced and developing nations, while the corresponding figures for Greece and Spain are 50.4 percent and 50.5 percent respectively.
According the Nepal Labor Force Survey 2008, Nepal’s youth unemployment was 13 percent in urban and 2.1 percent in rural areas; and 46 percent youth were underutilized. These old figures misrepresent the reality in absence of a reliable and regular tracking system. If youth employment were so low, Nepal would have been an oasis of peace and prosperity.
Based on the UN World Youth Report 2012, out of 1.2 billion youth in the world, close to 75 million are unemployed. Thus, youth unemployment is a serious global problem. Young people without jobs not only face destitution but also become a source of political instability and socio-economic disruption. The impact of high youth unemployment is particularly severe in developing countries where poverty is rampant and the social security system to support the unemployed is non-existent.
Though pushed to unprecedented heights by the Great Recession of 2008 in the West, high youth unemployment is essentially a structural problem in that it is consistently higher than average unemployment. For example, average unemployment is under 8 percent in the US and UK. It is 12 percent in the Eurozone and 5.2 percent in Australia. Nepal’s official average unemployment is around 3 percent, which is ridiculously unconvincing.
In all societies, the youth are the most creative, vibrant, energetic and educated group. Still they are unemployed due mainly to two reasons: Disconnect between education and market and our obsession with higher education and experience. By fixing these twin problems, every country, including Nepal, can largely resolve the problem.
Disconnect between education and market in Nepal is staggering in two spheres. First, our schools and colleges produce graduates in arts and social sciences with no practical skills, more than the market can absorb. However, they produce fewer engineers, doctors, plumbers, masons, electricians, overseers, mechanics, agricultural and veterinary technicians, etc. than the market needs.
Second, there is a wide gulf between the skills imparted by educational and training institutes and the skills required by the workplace. Our teaching institutions largely neglect practical work due to lack of facility and emphasis. Theory is necessary to get a general understanding of how things work. But without practical work, graduates cannot be employable.
Parents, children, government and educational institutes will have to recognize that education without employable skills is not the best pathway to employment, prosperity and empowerment for everyone and work together to change the existing situation. Parents should tell their children—considering their academic performance, interest, and above all, the job market situation—whether general, technical or vocational education would be the best option for them. Children should opt for the education and training that fits their proclivity, performance and job prospects.
Schools, colleges and training institutes should adjust their curricula and instructions to market demand and encourage students to do internship before graduation to make them employable. Students should go for apprenticeship and on-the-job training after graduation so they will be readily acceptable to employers.
One of the reasons why there are fewer graduates in technical and vocational fields is the lack of access to technical and vocational schools and training centers for students. Government and the private sector, therefore, should partner and collaborate to expand vocational education and technical training opportunities across the country. This partnership should span right from the beginning of program development to the point of providing opportunities to young jobseekers.
The other problem that significantly contributes to high youth unemployment is obsession with higher education and experience. Of course, higher education is important for the individual and the country, but it is not for everyone. Only those who do well academically should go for higher education so they can be successful in their studies and in finding appropriate jobs. For others, it is a waste of time and resources that promises only unemployment and frustration.
Similarly, experience is very important, because it increases expertise and enhances productivity if applied appropriately, and helps tackle recurrent problems. But it does not necessarily give you the vision, creativity, innovation, energy and talent which young people bring to the job to create and market new products and services.
Many rich and famous people were neither highly educated nor experienced when they started. For instance, Bill Gates, the second richest person in the world now, was a young Harvard dropout when he started his computer business and built Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, is the founder of Facebook, the largest social media site. Marrisa Mayer, who was 22 when she joined Google in 1999, is now the CEO of Yahoo!, one of the Fortune 500 companies. Nick D’Aloisio, an A-level student, became an internet millionaire at 17 recently by selling a computer application for US $ 30 million. The majority of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are young.
Hence, parents and children should shed their obsession for higher education and employers should abandon their obsession with experience. They should rather follow a talent-based approach. More so in the fast-changing creative sectors and entrepreneurial domains, such as information technology and fashion. Computers have revolutionized every sector—from music and drafting to repetitive tasks in assembly plants and mathematical programs. Computer programs change very quickly. Those programs that were new and hip two years ago have now become obsolete. Fashion that was in vogue a year ago has disappeared.
Besides, old scientific theories are no more thought to be scientific. New management theories and structures have been fast replacing the old ones. Even economic theories become outdated. Therefore, employers should hire young people based on what they can bring to the job, not on their age and prior work experience. Experience without productivity gains does not have any value. In many instances, recent graduates tend to be better versed and prepared for the task at hand than experienced ones.
For instance, while we struggle, our children tell us what needs to be done and how while using computer programs, without which life would now be unmanageable. A young musician or draftsman can use modern gadgets to bring out refined products, while an old one would not know how to use those gadgets, which did not even exist when he was training for the job.
However, paid employment alone will not be enough to absorb the burgeoning youth force in an age of increasing automation in production and services and global competition. Countries, including Nepal, need robust programs to promote youth self-employment in the changing economy. Jobseekers will have to create their own jobs more than ever before.
For this, government must formulate a youth self-employment scheme in public-private partnership that focuses on, apart from skills training, providing enterprise training and venture capital to prospective entrepreneurs. Though successive governments have announced such schemes on and off in Nepal, none of them has been implemented on a sustained basis. Young men and women who are bursting with energy and creativity have nowhere to turn for help.
As long as our youth do not have employment and self-employment opportunities that empower them to enjoy improved standards of living and contribute to economic and social progress, they will be susceptible to irresponsible political parties and outright criminal gangs that want to cause political instability, increase crimes, and create obstacles to economic and social progress. Making the youth more employable and capable of self-employment has been a neglected priority for too long in Nepal and across the world.
Sharma is former foreign secretary and Khadka currently manages an Indigenous Medical Specialist Project at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Melbourne
Published on 2013-04-07 01:15:21