After the Arab Spring: What improves or hinders young people’s school-to-work transition in Egypt?

One of the bottlenecks facing fresh graduates in Egypt’s labor market is landing a high-quality first job.

Egypt’s population is young. According to Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), youths aged between 18 to 29 are estimated at 20.2 million, representing 21% of the country’s population. Moreover, those aged under 18 account for 40% of the total population.

Therefore, undeniably, the demographic challenge of ensuring decent employment conditions for young people can provide tremendous opportunities for economic growth.

A recent paper titled “Young people school-to-work transition in the aftermath of the Arab Spring” navigates the complexities of school-to-work transition (STWT) in Egypt, particularly during and after the global economic crisis in 2008 and the January 25th Revolution in 2011.

Co-authored by assistant professor at Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics Irene Selwaness and associate professor of practice at the American University in Cairo’s (AUC) School of Business Rania Roushdy, the paper studies the employment outcomes of Egypt’s classes of 2001 until 2012, monitoring school graduates for two years after graduation.

Transition to first job
Residents of countries with high unemployment rates usually experience longer campus-to-career transition compared to others, as is the case with Egypt.

One of the bottlenecks facing fresh graduates in Egypt’s labor market is landing a high-quality first job. Within this bottleneck, females are less likely to find a first job within 18 months since they prefer to remain unemployed rather than accepting a low-quality job. ‎

Waiting for so long to land a first job could lead to a constant state of unemployment or endanger the possibilities to transition fully, the paper argues.

Education as a major factor in STWT process
As far as‎ ‎‏education is ‎considered, the paper states that young women with tertiary education are more ‏likely to transit‎ quickly ‎into the labor market and into satisfactory jobs, compared to uneducated women or those with lower levels of education. However, this‏ ‏may not be ‎‏the case ‏with their male counterparts. ‎

“Women’s likelihood of finding a first job significantly increases by 11–12 percentage points for those ‎with above-secondary education, compared to those with below-secondary education,” according to the scholars.

Meanwhile, young men – regardless of their education level – are more likely to enter the labor market faster than women.

Relation between socio-economic background and STWT
The socio-economic background of a young person’s family can greatly forecast his/her career, but mostly for men, the paper states. The more privileged the work status of the father, the higher the odds that the children can fully transition.

“Young men whose fathers work as employers or are self-employed have a higher probability of transitioning to any job than those whose fathers work in the public sector,” according to the authors. Furthermore, young men with fathers that are either illiterate, unemployed or have a low level of education are less likely to get a high-quality first job.

Employment post-2011
According to the paper, the post-revolutionary political instability witnessed in Egypt after the January 25th Revolution “resulted in a divestment of few foreign-owned firms, an alarming debt crisis and falling revenues of many economic sectors (particularly the tourism sector).” This ultimately led to a drop in the quality of available jobs and limited employment opportunities.

However, school graduates of 2011 and 2008 experienced a smoother STWT compared to their peers from previous and later classes.

“School exit cohorts of 2008–2009 (following the global financial crisis) and those of 2011–2012 (in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings) experienced a significantly higher likelihood of finding a first job within 18 months than that of the cohorts of 2001–2007,” Selwaness and Roushdy explain.

The smooth STWT is associated with low-quality jobs, most of which are in the private informal sector. According to the findings, this may be put down to the fact that people would rather accept any type of job than stay unemployed during such critical periods.

Skill mismatch as the root cause of unemployment
The skill mismatch between the education’s system theoretical approach and the industry’s practical demands is one of the major causes of unemployment, the paper argues.

“Tertiary education enrollment has been on the rise, particularly for women. Yet the education system ‎has been focusing on delivering credentials rather than skills,” the authors conclude.

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