YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT : A tragedy in the making

Every year tens of thousands of young people arrive on the labour market without the skills required for a fast changing economic environment. The ILO (International Labour Organization) has warned that if the world does not do anything about this, there will be a serious social unrest. The economic crisis that the world has gone through may be easing a little, but a greater crisis – in fact a tragedy – is looming. The figures released by the NESC (National Economic and Social Council) of Mauritius in December 2013 indicate that youth unemployment (between the ages of 16 and 24) constitutes 17% of the total number of people unemployed in Mauritius. Out of the 20,000 young unemployed 5000 are graduates.
The Minister for Tertiary Education blames young people for this state of affairs. “ Young people need to make the right choice – they do not go in the right direction” he told the audience at an ACCA Career  Fair. How can they ‘make the right choice and go in the right direction’ when they have been brainwashed since the age of 5 into believing that a ‘learn by heart’ book knowledge will open up all doors for them? Instead of encouraging students with 2 ‘credits’ at Sc to do HSC and those with one ‘A’ level to do a degree would it not be better to encourage them to go for appropriate skills development?  We talk about ‘one graduate per family’ and inaugurate empty spaces calling them ‘campuses’ without any planning and with no career guidance at school. We are impressed by Singapore’s development but we close our eyes to the careful planning of its government which channels 40% of its students after the GCE ‘O’ level exams  to polytechnics to study for a 3-year diploma course in technological and middle management areas. Another 30% are channeled after four years of secondary education to Institutes of Technical Education for training to become mechanics, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and in a host of other occupations, with only about 30% going to Universities after good ‘A’ levels.
We also ignore what other countries are going through to stem the tide of unemployment among young people. The ILO has recently sounded the alarm concerning the rise in the youth unemployment rate worldwide. It has highlighted a “potentially dangerous gap between profits and people”, with companies focusing on increasing dividends to shareholders instead of investing in young workers. The youth unemployment rate worldwide is 13.1%, nearly three times the adult rate  compared to our 17% rate. Guy Ryder, the ILO’s Director General, adds that “the modest economic recovery has not translated into an improvement in the labour market in most countries. Businesses have been sitting on cash or buying back their own stocks rather than investing in productive capacity and job creation”.
His warning is not veiled: “If we fail to act, if we fail to tackle the youth jobs crisis, long-term unemployment, high drop-out rates and other pressing labour market issues, we will be destroying hopes for sustainable growth – and sowing the seeds of further, and perhaps deeper social unrest”. The message is clear: we are heading towards a global social tragedy.   
Are we learning from what is happening globally and also from the shortage of skilled labour in Mauritius? We should stop accepting dubious or third class universities from setting up what they call ‘campuses’ in Mauritius without the proper infrastructure and without the required physical and human resources. We have to direct post secondary institutions to focus on skills development for job creation. In this respect it would be in our interests to set up polytechnics on the Singapore model in the different places earmarked for University campuses to start with. We should at the same time phase out those ‘Universities’ which are doing a disservice to the vision of Mauritius as a knowledge hub.
The problem also comes from the fact that we have two ministries dealing with education in its broadest sense. One ministry deals with education and ‘human resources’, whatever that may mean, and another with tertiary education. If we need two ministries (there are 24 posts of ministers to fill), we better have one for pre-school and school education, and the other for higher education and skills development.