Financial ExpertSpeak: Qualification mismatch fuels Mauritian youth unemployment
Roland Dubois, president of the Youth Employment Program, spoke to AfricaMoney on how the youth must be willing to accept work in any shape or form and work hard to chart their way upwards in an organization.
Roland Dubois, president of the Youth Employment Program, spoke to AfricaMoney on how the youth must change their mindset to counter the growing menace of unemployment. Our financial expert touched upon how qualification mismatch with industry demand, and lack of employability skills, were adversely impacting job prospects of young Mauritians. Stating that the current year’s target is to place another 4,000 youth under YEP, our dynamic expert went on to mention that ICT, Manufacturing, Commerce, Hotels and Tourism were the sectors with maximum demand for young employees in 2013.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Can you please give your views on joblessness among the youth in Mauritius?
To give a broader perspective, youth unemployment is a world problem and not just a problem that affects Mauritius. The International Labour Organization (ILO) gave a global forecast of 74.5 million unemployed youth for 2014, which is quite a significant number. In countries like Spain, for instance, youth unemployment is over 55%, Italy, over 42%, France, over 25% and for the Euro zone overall, it is over 24%. On the other hand, Mauritius has a youth unemployment rate of 24%. So, let us say that these countries are worse off than what we are in Mauritius while we are worse off than other countries like Germany, Australia, Norway and Japan, which have a youth unemployment rate of less than 10%.
What are the main causes of youth unemployment in Mauritius?
I would say there are many reasons for youth unemployment. To begin with, we do not have a sufficient growth rate to fuel job creation. The current GDP growth rate of about 3.4% is not enough to create as many jobs as needed. Equally, I would like to point out that there are many foreigners working in Mauritius, which mean that there are jobs that are available but are not being taken up by Mauritians. Another issue is the problem of mismatch of qualifications. With respect to Mauritius graduates for instance, there were about 2,200 university graduates who were unemployed in 2012 according to Statistics Mauritius. You have qualified graduates on one hand, and, on the other hand, we have employers looking for professionals. Unfortunately, the qualifications of the youth are not those that are required by the industry. For instance, in the management discipline, we have 582 youth with management degrees in Mauritius – about 460 with a BSc management and 122 with BSc in Business Administration – that are registered with us. Of these, we have placed 126 only, which means that all the others are queuing up to get a job. So I would say that we have too many graduates in that particular field. We also have too many graduates in languages and in economics, to cite a few. In economics, we have 142 youth registered with us and we managed to place only 24 while languages is the worst off – out of 115 registered we have placed only 4. On the brighter side, there are certain sectors like civil engineering where we have placed 80%. Fashion textile, engineering and computer skills are the other sector skills that are much in demand by industry. ICT is a sector where we do not face many problems in placing the youth. The other problem that we have is not just a qualification mismatch but also lack of skills. For instance, a company told me that of all graduates in ICT who have come to the company, they have to start afresh because the software they used at the University is obsolete. Also, companies look for people who have experience and a youth who has just graduated from university does not have the necessary working experience. Another issue is lack of employability skills. Youth have just been taught to concentrate on their field of studies, however they are not aware of the labour market, they lack communication and CV writing skills, and they do not even know how to convince and negotiate with people. When asked what kind of job they want, they are prone to reply ‘any job’, but this is a serious matter of their career!
It is almost one year since the Youth Employment Programme has been launched. Where do we stand now?
The program was officially launched by the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development on January 29 last year. We signed the first contract with an employer on February 5, 2013. As at Tuesday, the 11th of March, we have placed 4,860 youth in companies of whom 17% possess a degree, 24% a HSC, 25% SC and 26% do not even have an SC. We have gone beyond what we set ourselves as target– the YEP is working and is already a well-known program. Since the beginning of this year, 1805 youth and 154 employers have registered and we have already placed 681 unemployed youth in companies.
The criteria of YEP are: youth must be between 16 and 30 and they must be unemployed for 90 days or more with or without any qualification. We have placed many youth specialized in the disciplines of ICT, management and business administration, engineering, accounting and HRM. Sectors that have recruited most are ICT, Manufacturing, Commerce, Hotels and Tourism.
While the YEP is going strong, the unemployment rate is expected to increase to 8.2% in 2013. How is it possible, in your views, to enhance the YEP to counter growing unemployment?
We have targeted to place another 4,000 youth during the course of this year under YEP. Besides, we have other programs also such as the dual training program as mentioned by the government under the present budget. Beyond the YEP, the government has modified the Tertiary Education Act last year to bring in consultative committees, because we realized that universities are delivering program that are not needed by industry. These committees comprise representatives from both the private sector and the University and are supposed to meet quarterly. This committee is expected to assist the institute to dissect the courses they are delivering in terms of whether they are responsive to industry and what courses they need, so that they all work together and at the end of the day, produce graduates who are employable by industry. Moreover, we are launching a training on employability skills which will be paid for by the government for all the youth registered with YEP. The first batch of training is starting at the end of this month.
The apprenticeship program which has been implemented by the MITD (previously IVTB) in Mauritius has been based on the dual apprenticeship system in Germany which is the most effective mode of training because it focuses on on-the-job training. The student spends 4 to 5 days per week in a company and 1 day in a training institution. At the end of the day the students know the company, its culture and they develop experience while working in the company. At the end of their training, virtually everybody is employed by the company where they have had their apprenticeship training. Also, under this budget, we are coming up with a dual training program to extend apprenticeship to a diploma and degree level where the Programmes will be developed, designed and offered jointly by a Tertiary Institution and private sector. This will ensure graduates who are employable immediately. We intend to train some 500 youth at diploma level and another 125 at degree level. We plan to start the first diploma soon.
Another outstanding initiative in the ICT space is the Ebene accelerator, which is all about the government giving facilities to graduates to develop their own apps. There are 10 start ups already employing some 35 youth and the plan is to increase that to 60 before the end of this year.
We are going ahead with an employment trends survey to look at the trends in jobs in traditional and emerging sectors. We expect the first report in May. This will help institutions to know which courses to offer and youth to better decide their fields of studies. There is also the Extended Africa Strategy to help us leverage on employment opportunities in the continent and the potential is huge – South Africa alone is in need of as many as 3,500 medical doctors. The film industry is also blooming in Mauritius and here, we have taken on the responsibility of training youth to be absorbed in the film industry. All in all, we are working on many projects to beat youth unemployment.
You said the YEP has been an ‘inspiring success’ in 2013 whereby more than 4,000 youth have been placed in private companies. According to you, what are the key factors of this success?
At the foundation of that success is private-public partnership in the form of the skills working group which manages the YEP. It is co-chaired by myself and the director of the Joint Economic Council (JEC) and comprises, amongst its members, the director of the Mauritius Employment Federation (MEF), as a key industry representative. We engage in aggressive marketing efforts whereby we go and present the project in different industry associations to canvass employers. We are visible in the written press, on television and radio and we also participate in career fairs to spread awareness about the YEP.
What are the outcomes of the surveys and evaluations conducted by the Skills Working Group (SWG), as it is said that ongoing surveys and evaluations are conducted during the programme?
Semester-wise sub-assessment is being done and it is currently ongoing because it is being done six months after the recruitment of youth. Moreover, feedback which has been collected so far is very positive. It is also important to mention that out of those that we have placed, there have been just 222 dropouts –out of which 82 have found permanent jobs already while there are some who resigned for one reason or another, some have gone back to university while some feel that they are not interested in their job. Overall, the figures for dropouts are not bad and in fact, I can say that they are insignificant when we compare them to the over 4,000 who have been placed. Now that we have run the programme for one year, we are starting an audit on all the achievements and areas of improvement.
We have seen that many companies are having problems in recruiting people due to lack of experience and competency of the applicants, and on the other hand, like you have once said “young people are not ready to accept just any kind of employment”. What do you project in order to solve this problem and bring companies and youth on the same page?
It is true that youth are not prepared to accept just any job. For instance, there are so many jobs in the BPO segment, but the sector is finding it very difficult to recruit amongst the youth. Just this very morning, I received a feedback from one big BPO company to whom we had sent a list of youth for interview for possible employment. Out of eight persons that were contacted by the company, four said that they were not interested to work in the BPO sector. In my view, it is unbelievable they don’t want to work in the BPO sector, which is a sector where there are many jobs available. Moreover, youth today only want to get a job in their field of studies. However, I always advise them to take up any job as working is a training process and helps the person to learn and develop his or her competencies. Moreover, the youth also do not want to travel long distances or work in shifts. There is also a problem of communication and lack of information leading to issues such as many youth failing to turn up for interviews.
I strongly believe that we need to completely change the way the youth have been trained and taught in their field of studies. They must adapt to the new modes of working. We are living in a global village and need to compete with other countries. People must be willing to accept work in any shape or form and work hard to chart their way upwards in an organization.
By Marie-Lorry Coret and Marie Cecilia Samoisi