About one million passengers travel daily using Cairo’s Metro. On such a crammed metro, there is really not much to do but wait for the commute to be over. However, you’d notice a repeated scene of young men or women quickly scribbling something on a piece of paper or frantically pressing the buttons of their phones before the metro stops. With more scrutiny, the answer to the riddle unfolds; people are writing down the numbers of employment agencies.
The walls of Cairo’s buildings, the underground stations and metro carriages are emblazoned with employment agencies’ advertisements and flyers. These companies capitalise on the Egyptian youths’ biggest challenges; unemployment. On 13th April 2013, Egyptian Minister of Manpower and Immigration Khaled Al-Azhry announced that the rate of unemployment reached 13 percent compared to the 9 percent of 2010. Therefore, the tiresome commute now brings hope to youths connecting them to those who can solve their problem. At least this is what Mahmoud Eltobgy thought.
Like thousands of Egyptian youths who approach employment agencies hoping to get through the unemployment crisis in Egypt, 28-year-old Eltobgy did the same. After his graduation in 2006 with a major in information technology, Eltobgy was not a slacker. On the contrary, he became an entrepreneur and with a group of friends, he established a small company for event organising; a skill he acquired while being an undergraduate.
For quite a while his business was thriving. His profits, however, declined after the January 25th revolution making it extremely hard for him to maintain the business. “My profits barely covered my expenses and rent and I ended up stuck between a rock and hard place; unprofitable business and being unable to secure my financial commitments. I had to look for another job,” he says. With an eight to nine years experience in sales, marketing and event organising, Eltobgy started searching for jobs. His quest lasted for over one year and half, but came to no avail. He left his CV at an employment agency, but the agency mismatched him with a job that he did not qualify for. Living at the heart of Cairo in Abdeen neighbourhood, he set himself on a mission to apply for all sorts of companies disregarding how far they might be; multinationals, medium size ones and local employers.
“I applied even in companies in the area of greater Cairo, but the problem persisted. The salary offered was going to be spent on transportation and not much would be left for my expenses,” he explains. Eltobgy understands that the economic conditions are impacting the job market and forcing companies to downsize their staff. “However, companies now resort to interns from universities to do the jobs for no money or peanuts. It’s inexpensive for them, but it affects those who are qualified as they end up jobless,” he says.
A way out?
Unemployment has always been part of Egypt’s biggest challenges, but right after the revolution and the ensuing political instability, the growth rate of the Egyptian economy plummeted leaving about one million Egyptians jobless. This number increased in the second and third year after the revolution reaching 3.5 million citizens in 2013 due to the exacerbating conditions of the economy. According to “Egypt’s Economic Profile” done by the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, the country is suffering from a devaluating currency, from a soaring inflation rate that has reached 9.2% at the end of 2012, a growing deficit of $17.7 billion and diminishing foreign currency reserves from $36 billion in 2010 to 13 billion at the end of February 2013.
Specialists studying the Egyptian labor market attribute the problem of unemployment to the lack of proper education system. The World Bank issued a report in 2010 entitled, “A Review of National Policies for Education: Higher Education in Egypt,” stipulates that the current educational policies that depends mostly on rote learning produce students with “inadequate personal, subject-specific and employment-related skills and insufficient academic foundation for employment.” They suggest that certain reforms in the Egyptian national educational system should be implemented to enhance the critical abilities of students and equip them with soft skills they lack to qualify for their career aspirations. These reforms include strengthening links between the labor market and higher education through surveying the skills needed in the market and incorporating them in educational institutions, modernizing technical and vocational education and expanding research capacity.
Eltobgy believes that experience or skills are not his issue, but rather the lack of job opportunities. That’s why “government should create more jobs and help youths who are qualified to get the jobs they deserve” he says. Yet, the youth of Egypt are not waiting for the government to solve the crisis. They have been proactive to find short-term solutions by launching campaigns and initiatives. For example, the initiative of “Shoghlana” (a job) sponsored by German Society for International Cooperation is “the first non-profit newspaper that empowers blue-collar workers” and connects job demanders and suppliers. The newspaper publishes every four months providing blue-collar workers with vacancies that match their skills.
Will the short-term solutions pave the way for the government’s long-term plans? The answer remains unclear at the moment, but what’s palpable is that the youths will not be giving up any time soon, Eltobgy included. “No matter how hopeless it gets, I will keep on searching.”
By Sarah El Masry, Egypt
Photo by UNICEF