This event is part of the ‘Wilton Park Youth Dialogues: powering the future’ series which focuses on young people, with a view to generating a positive and action-oriented debate, looking at youth ambitions and opportunities in relation to employment, education, security and peace.
Youth unemployment has been described as ‘The Middle East’s Ticking Time Bomb’ with the region having the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. The latest Arab Youth Survey puts it at around 30%, more than double the global average. In the Levant, unemployment rates for young people can be even higher, with Jordan, for example, at 36% and female youth unemployment there rising to 41.8%. Young people themselves identify youth unemployment as the top joint issue facing the region, along with the rise of Daesh.
The lack of opportunities for young people is acute, with jobs failing to keep pace with the demographical boom across the Middle East. That boom means this is also the most youthful region in the world: those aged 15-29 years old make up around 30% of the population and 60% of the population have not yet reached their thirtieth birthday.
Education and training which adequately prepares young people for growth industries is a significant challenge, as there is clearly a disconnect between education and skills and the jobs that are available now or in preparation for the changing world of work through mechanisation and automation. Moreover, in many Arab countries, more education does not lead to better prospects. In Egypt, 34% of university graduates were unemployed in 2014, compared with 2% of those with less than a primary education.
This has fostered a deep sense of disappointment among youth, frustrated upward social mobility and exacerbated feelings of marginalisation. Youth also remain excluded from governance, with the ruling bargains that once worked to keep the region stable, proving highly resilient against arguable failing social contracts.
This situation has been linked to youth’s participation in the violent extremist groups operating in the region. Against this backdrop, tackling youth unemployment is seen to be crucial to building peace and prosperity across the Arab world. This Wilton Park event focused on youth employment in the Levant with a particular focus on Jordan. It sought to hear from young people about credible solutions that might combat the crisis and will also explore how governments need to respond to regard the youthful population of the region as an opportunity and not a threat.