15 July is World Youth Skills Day!

On World Youth Skills day, we emphasize the strategic importance of equipping young people with the 21st century skills they need for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. This year, the theme for World Youth Skills Day is ‘Reimagining Youth Skills Post-Pandemic’, as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the widespread disruption of the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sector.

Ambassador Tijmen Rooseboom speaking with Mejri Saber, a young agripreneur and owner of an ecotourism project in Jendouba
Ambassador Tijmen Rooseboom speaking with Mejri Saber, a young agripreneur and owner of an ecotourism project in Jendouba

NL Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work visits Tunisia

From 4-8 July 2022, the Ambassador-at-large for Youth, Education and Work, Tijmen Rooseboom, visited Tunisia to engage in dialogue with Tunisian youth: young entrepreneurs, politicians and activists, to learn more about the challenges and opportunities for youth in Tunisia and to find out what skills they need. The Ambassador’s visit was organized by the Dutch Embassy in Tunisia.

The Ambassador and his team also met with the private sector and the Tunisian government, where the discussion centered on the importance of including youth in policymaking, and matching the skills that young people learn in traditional education systems to the demands on the labor market. We all agreed that the innovational mindset of young people in Tunisia is impressive, and that we’ll continue to work on the prospects for young people, together with youth.

Skills, skills and skills

21st century skills are crucial for the transition from school to work. Youth unemployment in Tunisia persists due to several reasons. Many young people think that the political will is lacking in the older generation to do something about the serious job shortage amongst Tunisian youth. In conversations with youth and the private sector, it was repeatedly emphasized that the traditional Tunisian education system, which is based on the classic French model, does not provide good preparation for the 21st-century labor market. Curricular adjustments are needed, and should preferably start with the provision of university and TVET education in English for example. In addition, youth indicated that, in their view, traditional education should focus more on teaching soft skills, e.g. communication and entrepreneurship. 

Despite high unemployment rates (over 40% for young Tunisians), many firms in Tunisia report that they cannot find workers with the skills they need. This is due to the low quality of education and the weak responsiveness of the educational system to the skills needed in the private sector. Besides technical and job-specific skills, many job applicants are missing fundamental soft skills, such as oral and written communication, foreign languages, problem solving and conflict resolution. To address this problem, the quality of education and vocational training needs to improve. To make education and training systems more responsive to skill demand in the private sector, it is crucial to better link TVET and university curricula with workplace training by improving the legal framework and encouraging a more active participation of private firms.

“To young Tunisians, being a farmer often means that you have no other options left”

On July 6th, the Ambassador for Youth Education and Work visited an ecotourism project in the Northwest province of Jendouba, together with a team of (youth) employment experts from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and the NL Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The aim of this visit was to listen and talk to young agripreneurs about challenges they face.

In dialogue with young entrepreneurs in Jendouba, Northwest Tunisia
In dialogue with young entrepreneurs in Jendouba, Northwest Tunisia

Specifically in agri-business, barriers to youth entrepreneurship and employment are multi-dimensional. During the visit to Jendouba, several young agripreneurs indicated that they struggle to access financial services to start or expand their businesses. This is in part because agriculture is considered a risky sector to invest in, but also because bureaucratic procedures are lengthy and most aspiring agripreneurs lack access to information or support. Moreover, banks tend to reject youth without formal education more often than youth that have been formally educated – regardless of the quality of their business plan.

An additional challenge relates to the fact that working in the agricultural sector is stigmatized amongst young Tunisians: to young Tunisians, being a farmer often means that you have no other options left. 

Addressing youth unemployment through agri-business

According to a systems analysis by Integrity Global, agribusiness is a key driver of economic growth and job creation in Tunisia. Therefore, the Netherlands’ PADEO pilot (Programmatic Approach Sustainable Economic Development) in Tunisia currently focuses on stimulating youth employment in the agri-food sector, for example through exploring how modernization and technology can make agribusiness more attractive to rural youth. The majority of unemployed youth are concentrated in Tunisia’s rural areas. Creating decent employment opportunities (SDG 8) in rural areas could therefore tackle the high numbers of unemployed youth in Tunisia. 

The Netherlands’ PADEO-approach aims to explore the root causes of youth unemployment in the agri-food sector in Tunisia, together with local stakeholders (young agripreneurs, government, NGO, Banks, Multilateral institutions, Universities). One of the largest programs currently being implemented by the Dutch Embassy in Tunisia is TRACE (Tunisian Rural and Agricultural Chains of Employment) – a multi-donor trust fund managed and executed by the World Bank. Furthermore, the Local Employment in Africa for Development (LEAD) program, the Nexus Skills/Jobs program, and the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) are all programs active in Tunisia and will - where possible - contribute to the PADEO approach. 

Everything is politics

As in many countries in the MENA region, young people (18-35 years old) are a majority in Tunisia. 11 years since they played a crucial role in the Jasmin revolution that kickstarted the Arab Spring, however, it seems that young Tunisians have become disillusioned by national politics. When asked, many young people express their frustration with the results of the revolution, and their lack of faith in the government. On several occasions during the Ambassador’s visit, young people said that there are no spaces for them to engage with Tunisia’s political rulers. Moreover, Tunisian youth are frustrated that they are not taken seriously in politics. Trust in the government is at an all-time low amongst youth (9%). 

Visiting delegates of Tunisia’s UN Youth committee
Visiting delegates of Tunisia’s UN Youth committee

After the revolution (2010/2011), Tunisia’s economic condition has deteriorated significantly, and the country has had to borrow money from the IMF and the World bank. Youth unemployment is currently higher than before the revolution (and 2.5 times higher than the average unemployment rates), causing more and more young Tunisians to try their luck elsewhere. Since early 2020, young Tunisians are taking the lead in the increase of irregular migration to Europe. Although 42% of young Tunisians indicate that they would like to move abroad due to the political impetus and lack of economic prospect in their country, many Tunisian youth are resourceful and have chosen to work in NGOs or in the private sector, often becoming entrepreneurs.

In the year after the revolution, 10 times as many NGOs were registered as in the three years prior to the revolution. During the Ambassador’s visit, it became clear that young Tunisians are still driving the process of Tunisia’s societal and economic redefinition after the revolution.