Almost 200,000 new job seekers every year flood the job marketThe unemployment explosion [Archives:2006/1001/Business & Economy]

November 23 2006

By: Raidan Al-Saqqaf
[email protected]
and Mahyoub Al-Kamali

Economic theory indicates that the wealth of any country is its people as they have the potential to undertake value-added activity and in turn result in economic development and accumulation of wealth. But in Yemen the increase in labor force halts the country's development.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh carried with him the concerns of Yemen to the international community in the recent Yemen Consultative Meeting (donors conference) held in London and his message was that there are over 8 million Yemeni citizens struggling to survive on less than $2 per day and he asked the international community to help him help those 8 million through a poverty reduction plan aimed at reducing poverty and creating more jobs. Saleh got over US $4.7 billion in pledges for that purpose, but will he be successful in pulling those 8 million out of poverty?

The accompanying delegation of officials displayed a high level of competence in presenting a well-thought plan to the donors, displaying strong knowledge of the economy and obstacles to development. However there are forecasts the Yemeni economy is destined for crisis during the next decade unless it undergoes fundamental transformations including the successful implementation of the plan presented at the donors conference. The plan attempts to build strong infrastructure at the coastal areas to attract investment generate employment. Projects such as a railroad connecting Yemeni shores, power plants fueled by natural gas, promotion of fisheries and tourism and, more importantly, establishing industrial zones in coastal areas with incentives to tempt investors to build giant manufacturing plants, in turn providing employment and changing the domestic migration pattern from rural-urban to rural-coastal.

Therefore, if this plan is successfully implemented it will likely turn Yemen's most valuable and available resource, manpower, into a competitive advantage to fuel its development. Having said that, Yemen Times investigated the current status of unemployment in Yemen in this report in order to get a sense of the nature and issues relating to this problem and voice the concerns of those most affected by this problem.

Agricultural engineer Adel Abdul Rahman says unemployment is the biggest problem in the economy because it has severe economic, political and social implications and although indicators of the size of the problem keep on increasing and warnings on this problem, but the size of the problem keeps on increasing while the resources the government puts forward to tackle this problem continue to shrink.

“I am an agricultural engineer in a country known to have a large agricultural industry and has a great potential to develop using skills of cadres and professionals such as myself. I graduated three years ago and I am still job-hunting,” said Rahman

According to an employment in Yemen study by Tahir Mujahed, of Sana'a University, one of the continuing factors is the high rate of population growth estimated at 3.5 percent per annum, which is among the highest in the world. This growth, he concludes, isn't balanced with the economic growth and in turn results in more burdens on the economy, resulting in more persons flooding the job market while employment opportunities are scare.

Other experts also indicated that this problem will sky rocket in the coming few years, as currently half the population is segmented in the age group of newborn to 14 years, which means in another ten years the job market will have to absorb much more manpower in order to avoid a real catastrophe which will decrease through a negative correlation with the number of available manpower. Also crime rates will escalate, urban centers will be unable to accommodate immigrants searching for opportunities and illegal migration to neighboring countries will increase.

Additionally, the large size of families in Yemen is contributing to the problem, with the average size of the family at seven members dependent on a single source of income, in most cases father's salary, compared to the average of other developing countries of one guardian for every four, the number in Yemen is one for every seven on average.

Another issue is the participation of women in the work force, gender expert Rasha Rashed Jarhum says, “Although women constitute slightly over half of the population, but their participation in the economy is less than 7 percent in financial terms.

“Although there are almost 500,000 employment opportunities currently with the government, women occupy less than 80,000 of these jobs, and are usually at the lowest levels of the organizational hierarchy, and it's even worse in the privet sector, as 91 percent of women who work in agriculture do not receive any financial compensation, while in the manufacturing and services sectors employers avoid recruiting women as they are deemed to be less productive then men.”

Statistics of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation have indicated that the size of the workforce has increased from 3.5 million in 1999 to 4.2 million in 2004, while the percentage of unemployment rose from 12 percent in 1999 to 17 percent in 2004, while unofficial statistics indicate 44 percent of the workforce is underemployed, for example the construction workers who only have seasonal work and those who work in the so-called social services.

Yemen Times met with Ismeal Qassim Al-Raimi who is a freelance constructions worker.

“We wait sometimes for ten days for a real estate developer to come by and offer us temporary jobs for a couple of days, then it's back to this location where we hope to get employment again, our life is a long story of misery and desperation, while we barely make any money to feed ourselves, mind you, the last time I sent any remittance to my family in the village was over two months.,” says Al-Raimi.

We were surprised when we found him and his colleagues asking about what the government is doing in order to provide employment, while commenting that the current regime is one filled with corruption and officials serving their personal interests and making it a priority over the public.

Our survey continued to the campus of Sana'a University, where we met with Abdullah Abdulkarim of the students union, who indicated that most students know they will wait for at least two years after graduation to find any employment with a minimum salary, adding that most students join the university not to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills, but to have a certification that might act as an advantage while job hunting, knowing that the tutoring of Sana'a university does not equip students to find employment or create opportunities.

“Ninety percent of students enroll in arts or theory disciplines which are useless,” Say Abdulkarim.

Mutahar Al-Ubassi, deputy minister of planning, said the problem of unemployment exists in all societies and economies, however the impact and severity of the problem is defined by the level of economic development and the qualification of the human capital, as well as the diversity of the economy. For example unemployment in the European Union has a different nature than that of the developing countries.

The Arab world has the highest concentration of unemployment in the world with over 30 million people seeking jobs, which means the region has to undergo an economic transformation in order to create jobs for this many people, especially for Yemen as the labor force growth rate is at 4.1 percent while population growth rate is at 3.5 percent, which means that many people who did not work previously are now joining the work force, which is a good sign of social change in favor of economic activity.

Another problem is the under qualified workforce, as there are many jobs and vacancies that require qualified people in various technical skills, but we have a shortage in those skills. Most college gradates do not find work easily because their education isn't advanced enough to qualify them to take up these jobs, for example those who are multilingual and have computer skills always have the advantage other graduates.