A third option for Yemeni youth [Archives:2008/1178/Viewpoint]

August 4 2008

Nadia Al-Saqqaf
Minister of Technical Education and Vocational Training explained that the problem with the Yemeni job market is that “for every one, handyman there are 20 engineers, whereas the situation should have been the opposite as the market needs vocational workers more than engineers.”

He was referring to the common conviction that an academic degree is more prestigious and worthy than learning a technical or vocational skill, although real life has proven that it is those with skills who are successful. There is a saying in Arabic, “Ana ameer wa anta ameer faman yar'a al-hameer?” The rough English equivalent is “too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” This is exactly the reason why there are so many unemployed youth, yet ironically there is a severe lack of skills to cover local needs and market demands.

Now it seems that some authority figures, such as the Minister of Technical Education, are realizing this problem and are trying to do something about it. With the help of organizations such as the Social Fund for Development, new projects to bring workers to the labor force are starting to see the light. These projects help Yemeni youth to realize that they need not all be “chiefs,” and that some should think about getting into non-academic trades or even starting their own service-related businesses.

The head of the Arab-Italian Chamber of Commerce visited Sana'a two years ago and explained that Italy recovered after WWII through cluster economy, i.e. small businesses in various trades working together through corporations and unions.

The point is that Yemen's economy does not need multinational companies or multibillion dollar industries in order to thrive. It needs small and micro-enterprises in various fields. This is not only the solution for the economy; it is also the solution for unemployed youth who are waiting for either the government or the private sector to give them jobs.

In order to make this third option work and become attractive to youth in Yemen, work has to be done on three levels; first at the institutional level where community colleges, technical and vocational training institutes and centers are established and made accessible to the youth. Second, stories of successful entrepreneurs should be highlighted by the media so that young men and women have role models to look up to, and finally a gradual cultural change whereby the society does not look down upon a vocational worker.

I am sure when a Yemeni young person realizes their options, that he or she would rather be a rich plumber or tailor than a penniless PhD.