Equipping Somalia’s Youth for the Labour Market

Over the last two decades, Somalia has constantly been on the news, all for the wrong reasons. We often hear of Al Shabaab attacks and the term ‘failed state’ is invoked so often as if it’s Somalia’s second name.

One question very few people ask is why this is so?  Why has the country’s instability lasted for so long?  Why do young Somalis risk their lives on the high seas to find a better life abroad? Why do some of them join extremist/criminal elements?

I submit that, one of the central causes of the instability is the fact that a large segment of the population has been marginalized and left out of the labour market for a long time now. 

Somalia has one of the youngest populations in the world, with 75 per cent of the population under the age of 30 – an able workforce with very little opportunity to work, according to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation’s Population Estimation Survey for Somalia for 2015. 

According to the International Labour Organisation’s Labour Force Survey for Somalia 2013, at 67 per cent, Somalia has one the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. This ‘youth bulge’ presents both opportunities and causes for concern. If harnessed effectively, Somalia’s young population offers a reliable workforce that can spur economic growth. If largely disengaged, a significant number of unemployed youth can increase tensions in communities and put pressure on the national political structure. 

For its part, the International Organization for Migration’s Somalia mission (IOM Somalia) has been working hand in hand with the Somali Government authorities to create the necessary environment for the Somali youth to thrive. Through three separate studies on the nexus of unemployment and youth Migration as well as a market survey, IOM Somalia has discovered some of the essential elements in providing a future for young Somalis in order to reduce their likelihood of irregular migration and participation in extremist/criminal elements.

I have personally interviewed many young Somalis on the reasons why they migrate, or join Al – Shabaab. The answers are as disturbing as they are enlightening.  Some interviewees see Al – Shabaab just as another form of employment.  They receive a steady income that allows them to provide for their families.  There is also the element of respect. A sizable portion of Al – Shabaab’s foot soldiers are from marginalized clans.  With the gun, they get the respect that was not accorded to them under normal circumstances. 

During my interviews, I’ve also come across the fact that young Somalis migrate because they see no future in the country. They are very well aware of the dangers of the perilous journey in search of a better life. They know that they might die. They have seen the news of countless people dying on their way to Europe, or the Gulf countries. They understand that their asylum requests will most likely be rejected. 

I remember one poignant moment after I suggested to a Somali young man that in a worst case scenario, he might not make it to Europe. His response was, “I am dead here anyway! I might as well take my chances somewhere else, even if I have a 1 percent chance of succeeding. Maybe I am that 1 per cent.” His response silenced me. It was a powerful statement said with some conviction. There wasn’t much comeback to that from me.

Another young man told me, “I am 24 years old and I am not yet married because I don’t have the means to provide for a family. If I don’t migrate, what do you expect me to do, sit on my hands?”

These sad stories go on with the conversations. There seems to be no letting up. What is it that one can do to change the narrative? This is not something that is likely to change if we don’t ask ‘why’ – if we don’t look at the root causes. Once we know the why then we can begin to address the problem.”

IOM Somalia, through its Labour Mobility and Human Development Division (LHD) has created a multi-pronged approach to construct an environment conducive to the Somali youths to chart their own course. One of the key findings of IOM’s multiple youth studies is the mismatch between the skills the youth possess and the requirements of the labour market.

Since many institutions of higher learning are churning out graduates with qualifications that employers are not necessarily looking for at the moment, IOM mitigates this by working closely with selected universities in different parts of Somalia to change their curricula to reflect the market’s demands.

IOM’s LHD programming has equipped a selected group of the Somali youths with the latest technical skills to help them adapt to the changing demands of the local labour market. IOM empowers the Somali youths to use their new skills to obtain lawful employment. Some of the key findings from IOM studies suggest that the Somali youth lack the necessary soft skills for them to succeed in the labour market.

Such lack of customer service and interpersonal skills makes it difficult for them to obtain and retain jobs. Through its internship Program, IOM’s LHD has trained over 288 youths in Somaliland and Puntland before placing them at various public and private sector entities. The 10-day soft skills training equips the selected youth with improved emotional intelligence, advanced language skills, good personal habits, and leadership traits.

IOM believes that the youth are the future. In order to secure a better future, we must invest in the youth. IOM LHD’s programming and activities reflect this belief. What we do in Somalia is one way for the Somali youth to look at a new horizon – where they see a future right here at home.