“Young people aren’t looking for available jobs, they are willing to accept only jobs to their liking,” says Naglaa Edward, a Port Said businesswoman and chairperson of the board of the Edward Marine Company. Ms Edward, a member of the Union of Young Workers, adds: “Young people graduate from university with unmarketable skills, then refuse to accept the jobs the market has to offer. The market is inundated with young men and women who have chosen to take degrees in law, commerce or literature, even though they knew that vacancies in these fields fall short the number of graduates. Contrariwise, factories and technical firms need more people than those who apply on the job market, but young people shun technical education and technical jobs.”
Ms Edward believes the problem lies not only in the mentality of youth and their view of technical work but, as she told Watani: “The government should have an adequate strategy to make sure education caters to the needs of the job market.”
Ms Edward highlights a real problem. Egypt possesses massive human resources. The population is young: according to 2014 statistics (Index Mundi), close to 50 per cent of the population is under 24 years of age, and some 40 per cent is aged between 25 and 54. On a yearly basis, thousands of students graduate from public and private universities, as well as technical schools. Yet Egypt is placed as one of the top nations on the worldwide unemployment list, even though many Egyptian industries face severe labour shortages.
So where does the problem lie? Is it that young people are too lazy to work, or is the government falling short in its efforts to help them? In whose hands does the solution lie, the young people or the government?
“Education should meet the demands of the job market,” Ms Edward says. She believes the system of enrolling in universities or other institutes of learning ought to be modified to suit both students’ skills and the needs of the market. In Port Said, for instance, some factories have set up technical schools for students to attend after completing their obligatory public schooling (the preparatory school certificate) to qualify them for working in factories.
Lack of applicants
One Port Said factory, according to Ms Edward, has vacancies for 300 young men on a monthly salary starting at EGP1,600 [the minimum wage is about EGP1,200].
“As a civil association, factory owners ask us to announce job openings for young men and women in their factories,” Ms Edward says. “Unfortunately, in this case none applied. Most young graduates today want office jobs. We also notice that there are more young women seeking jobs than young men, which indicates a negative attitude on the part of male jobseekers. This comes at a time when most young graduates lack the adequate qualifications to work even in their field of speciality. When we announced that we needed a secretary we couldn’t find one, because the applicants had very poor English which was a requirement of the job.”
Nasser Bayan, head of the Egyptian-Libyan Association for Investors and Businessmen, agrees. “Law schools, for instance, turn out more than 100,000 graduates a year. But in my company, we need only one lawyer, whereas we need thousands of qualified technical workers and they are too thin on the ground.
“To solve this problem, in my opinion, we need to change the societal culture that underestimates technical diplomas and jobs. It isn’t only university graduates who can be successful; rather there are great businessmen who started as humble workers.
“Sadly, the young do not want to work in the private sector and still believe that having a government job is better.
“The solution lies in the hands of youth themselves, not the government. They should be aware of the importance and value of technical work.”
Better salaries and hours
Mr Bayan says his factory provides employees and labourers with all the guarantees for their rights as workers. “We offer salaries much higher than those of the government, overtime for any hours more than the eight-hour day required by the law, social and health insurance, and incentives and benefits. Even so, we have great difficulty recruiting workers.”
Mr Bayan also complains about the sloppiness of Egyptian workers compared with East Asians. “Asians are much more efficient and take so much more pride in their work,” he says. “Egyptian workers are still under the impression that blue collar workers are second class, and this reflects on their poorer, apathetic performance.”
Maged Attiya, an economist, says the solution is in the hands of the State, which should make a complete plan for reforming the manpower and market.
“The Ministry of Manpower should set up training centres in the fields needed for factory work,” Mr Attiya says.
“The State should understand the requirements of the job market,” he says. “It should cultivate technical schools so that young people can graduate with the ability to work efficiently. Unemployment is 47 per cent among university graduates. Technical Education should come under a ministry of its own. It is crucial for the future of industry in Egypt.”
Lazy? Not lazy?
Watani sounded the opinion of some young people themselves. Abdullah Ali, a 24-year-old graduate from the faculty of commerce who works as a journalist, told Watani: “We don’t have the opportunity to find jobs. Young people prefer a government job because it guarantees insurance, the payment of all dues, and legal working hours. Working in the private sector does not give them any kind of security; it takes too much time and effort, and at the end of the month they only earn EGP1,200, which isn’t enough.
“Young people are not lazy as the experts think,” Ali says. “The State has the upper hand in guiding education according to requirements of the job market. Before blaming the young, we should first wait for complete reform within business, the State, and the community and its culture.”
Twenty-three-year-old Ahmed Kamal, a media graduate, disagrees. “I don’t believe there are no jobs. Any young person who does not work is already lazy and has no desire or enthusiasm for work. Whoever seeks work, he or she will definitely find a job.
“But this does not mean that the State is not responsible since it behaves as though it is unaware of the requirements of the labour market, and accordingly doesn’t concern itself with technical education. The State should have a wide-ranging plan to make use of every graduate in the country.”
For extensive coverage on unemployment: What unemployment?, Watani International, 14 September 2014; http://en.wataninet.com/features/economy/what-unemployment/11845/
And for coverage on technical education: Technical education: The horse that pulls the carriage, Watani International, 6 October 2013, http://en.wataninet.com/features/education/technical-education/1267/
10 February 2016