What do young Egyptians make of this?
Through the Youth Essay Competition—organized by the Bank and the Cairo-based Economic Research Forum—we put this question to 18–30 year olds. The aim of the competition was to promote the voice and agency of young people in Egypt by helping them develop constructive, innovative solutions to unemployment. The competition was the first of its kind, attracting more than 100 submissions from all over Egypt.
At a vibrant, university science and technology park in downtown Cairo, ten finalists had their chance to present their winning essays to other young people, as well as to policy makers and members of Civil Society Organizations. Their presentations were followed by the audience’s popular vote and a review by a panel of experts.
The five best essays have been published online. Winners received financial recognition, too.
Skilled workforce might increase employment
This is a glimpse of what some of the winners had to say:
Imane Abdel Fattah Helmy, who comes from Cairo and was the overall winner of the competition, focused on the need for skills suited to the job market: “More demand for labor and more job creation are necessary—but not sufficient conditions—for solving youth unemployment in Egypt,” she wrote. “[This is because] many employers have difficulties filling current job vacancies because of a shortage of the right skills.”
Basing her statement on a Labor Market Panel Survey conducted in 2012, Helmy said the Egyptian government’s “long-term efforts … to solve the skill mismatch problem” had not reaped their expected return.
Building a skilled workforce to match the demands of the labor market requires “a comprehensive skills development and employment program,” she wrote, one aimed at predicting the future skills that will be demanded by the labor market.
Better support would help entrepreneurs
This lack of a qualified workforce is not Egypt's only youth unemployment problem. Egypt suffers a severe lack of the sort of infrastructure that could support other ways of integrating young people into the job market.
Another finalist, Nour El Wassimy, explained that lack of funding, as well as bureaucracy and ineffective anti-trust laws, mean new businesses get little support. “Young entrepreneurs also face multiple challenges, where those with innovative ideas lack the technical- and business know-how to develop their product or service”.
Education was at fault, too: “The public education system [in Egypt] does not equip its students with the necessary skills to qualify them for work, or help them establish their own business,” she said.
Though entrepreneurship has proven “a key instrumental factor” for “sustainable economic growth,” as Wassimy described it, in Egypt there is still no government support for young entrepreneurs.
May Nagy, another young finalist from Cairo, argued that state support was badly needed to enable the most successful entrepreneurial initiatives to expand.
“Egypt has witnessed a revolution over the past few years in terms of initiatives and platforms that work to support young entrepreneurial ideas,” she wrote in her essay. “Such initiatives have witnessed significant success, but unfortunately are limited in reach. They hardly reach out to rural Egypt. State efforts can be mobilized to support and endorse such initiatives.”
As Egypt observed the sixth anniversary of its popular revolution, we were reminded what sparked it in the first place: Fulfilling young people’s basic need for employment is therefore a matter of urgency.