Unemployment has rapidly been identified as one of the growing social problems which must be tackled as a matter of urgency in today's day and age. A new report by the United Nations Labour Agency has warned that global unemployment soared in 2012 amid the shaky economic situation and the lack of sufficient policies to tackle the issue holistically. It is disheartening to note that the youth are more likely to suffer the most as they are most vulnerable, lacking experience in the world of work and less prone to face the situation with maturity and stoicism.
The International Labour Organization, in its annual Global Employment Trends report released in January 2013, has highlighted the fact that despite a marked improvement in the economic climate across the globe, the number of unemployed worldwide rose by a staggering 4.2 million in 2012 with extremely gloomy expectations of a further increase in 2-13. Guy-Ryder, the ILO Director-General has announced in a news release accompanying the report, that the “uncertain economic outlook has weakened aggregate demand, holding back investment and hiring.” Hitherto dynamic labour markets, which traditionally adapted to market slumps relatively well, are currently bowing down to the high levels of unemployment.
The global unemployment crisis
The youth, especially those freshly out of university and finding themselves in the marketplace, in search of a suitable job which match their skills and qualifications, risks bearing the brunt of this new phenomenon. Indeed, the global unemployment crisis, already afflicting over 197 million people worldwide, will logically impact on the world's youth, who risks losing vital professional, academic and social skills as the length of their joblessness continue to grow. The ILO stresses that as young people in advanced economies are out of a job for bouts of six-months or longer, this directly weighs down on their long-term career prospects as their skill sets deteriorate. With almost 74 million people in the 15 to 24 age group unemployed around the world, translating into a 12.4 per cent unemployment rate for this subset, job prospects for the youth look increasingly bleak.
The picture painted above is undeniably morose. However, there are several ways in which one can use his/her joblessness to grow as a person and come out of the process, not unscathed, but better equipped to face the daunting world of work. As recent graduate, I found myself a few months back, tossed into the 'jungle', with no 'ammunition' and barely any notion of the job application procedures and the accompanying stress, moments of doubt and complete dejection faced by unemployed people, the journey leading towards finding a job has been a story of struggle but determination. It is rather common to hear from peers that finding a job in Mauritius is akin to a Sisyphean enterprise. I would disagree with this idea and totally challenge anyone who has properly spent the time and effort to look for a job on the job market and has come back empty-handed.
Looking for a job can be a challenging task, but if one plunges into the process with a dose of realism, a can-do attitude and also equipped with patience, then success will be at hand. The key is to apply diligently for as many jobs as possible, be armed with a convincing résumé/CV; and to never give up throughout the search for employment. It's the story of many young people in Mauritius and around the world, that they find themselves on the brink of desperation and frustration after being rejected in the wake of a job application or interview. In Mauritius, the problem of youth unemployment is even more accentuated by the fact that we do not have a dedicated organization/organism/governmental service which offers advice, support and useful guidance to unemployed people seeking jobs. In many developed countries, such as the UK and France, specialized agencies and ministries offer the right support to the unemployed through a series of programmes, workshops, career fairs and government funded welfare projects. For example, the Jobcentre Plus, the Skills Funding Agency and the Department of Work and Pensions in the UK provide an excellent service to unemployed people in the UK.
Youth Employment Programme
In Mauritius, the government has not spared efforts to create similar programmes to cater for the welfare of the unemployed in Mauritius and provide them with the appropriate guidance and support. For example, the Service to Mauritius programme (STM) which was set up a few years back has been a very encouraging step towards catering for the unemployed youth in Mauritius. This programme has made it possible for young graduates and post graduates to obtain jobs in the public sector and equip themselves with useful skills and knowledge during an internship period ranging from 1-2 years. The STM will shortly phase out and has been gradually replaced by the Youth Employment Programme (YEP). It was announced by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development that as at June 2013, 513 women and 491 men had been able to find a placement through the YEP which was officially launched in January 2013.
Career fairs have started to be a recent and encouraging trend in Mauritius. The most recent one has been organised by the National Empowerment Foundation in the Kendra Commercial Centre in St Pierre a few weeks ago. Career fairs attract a large selection of companies and employers which showcase what they have to offer as career prospects. The people attending the fair thus have the opportunity to discuss with prospective employers, apply/register for job vacancies and get as much information about the companies. However, the government is ill-equipped to provide a holistic solution to the unemployment issue in Mauritius. This is why the solution lies with educating people to face unemployment with stoicism and encourage them to be realistic in their search of prospective jobs. One of the solutions would be to encourage young people to get involved in voluntary activities and try their hand at opportunities in the NGO sector in Mauritius. The salary offered by NGOs for research and policy making positions might not be attractive but the experience offered by these organizations can provide the skills, resources and exposure demanded by employers during the recruitment process. Also, during one's stint of joblessness, it is also helpful to make best use of one's to learn new skills: for example, taking IT classes, enrolling for a distance learning course on management or even taking a gap year and travelling abroad if one has enough money to do so.
Another solution is for young people to be encouraged to be entrepreneurs and to be given the means to start their own businesses. At the moment, the government is providing excellent support to Small and Medium Enterprises in Mauritius and with the help of local banks, SMEs are becoming more and more popular. Giving young people the financial resources and proper guidance to launch start-ups in areas such as professional photography, catering, consultancy services, etc, can be the key to empowering youth to be more proactive, independent and willing to walk down the road less travelled. Without the willingness and determination on the part of the youth to be unflinching and relentless in the search for a job, the fight against youth unemployment cannot be won by governmental efforts only. The youth need to be aware of their strength in the face of adversity, defy the conventions and finally learn to think out of the box if they want a secure and sustainable future. In our day and age, it does not help to be disheartened by the momentary challenges that come our way but instead face them with courage and hope.