Foto: Simon Læssøe

How can industry solve one of Jordan’s biggest problems: a youth unemployment rate approaching 40 percent?

Jordan's youth are well-educated, but the country is struggling with staggering unemployment. The Jordan Chamber of Industry and the Confederation of Danish Industry (/Dansk Industri/DI) want to help solve Jordan’s youth unemployment problem by finding jobs for them in Jordan's industrial sector.

In one of the smaller conference rooms at the DI headquarters, overlooking Copenhagen City Hall Square, sit seven members of the Jordanian Chamber of Industry (JCI). It is early December, and the JCI delegation has come to Denmark to learn about the DI’s approach to youth unemployment.

The members of the JCI delegation are listening to a presentation by Henrik Garver, Director of the Danish Association of Consulting Engineers (FRI). Garver explains the benefits that FRI gains from their membership in Dansk Industri.

Henrik Garver goes to the next slide in his PowerPoint presentation and lists some of the challenges that exist in his sector:

‘Globally, we have a shortage of engineers, and that is a big problem,’ says Henrik Garver.

The members of JCI listen attentively, but they all know that the problem Henrik Garver is talking about does not exist in Jordan. On the contrary, they have more than enough:

‘Jordan is the country with the most engineers per capita,’ says Maher Al Mahrouq, JCI’s executive director.

According to an article from last year, one in every 50 Jordanians is an engineer.

‘And that’s far more than we need,’ he says.

Jordan’s population of approximately 10 million can boast of being one of the region’s most well-educated. At the same time, the country’s youth unemployment approaches 40 percent for the 20-24 year-old age group, according to new data from the Jordanian Department of Statistics.

‘It’s very serious situation for a society to have such high youth unemployment, and that is a problem that we at JCI would very much like to help solve. For us, it is important that Jordan remain a secure and stable country in an otherwise chaotic region. But it is hard to imagine that a youth with such poor prospects will not be frustrated, and this poses a challenge for political stability,’ says Maher.

Jordan’s great paradoxes

There are several reasons why youth unemployment in Jordan is so high. One reason, for which the many engineers are but an example, is that many young Jordanians have been educated in fields for which there is not great demand on the Jordanian labour market.

Another major problem for Jordan is the very high proportion of foreign labour. According to a 2017 ILO report, 1.4 million Jordanians are employed, but there are nearly an equal number of non-Jordanians on the labour market as well.

‘It is paradoxical that we have such high unemployment together with a high proportion of non-Jordanians in the labour market. We’ve had to reach out to our members in the industrial sector in order to determine why things have reached this point. In general, companies want to hire Jordanians, but they still have to have the necessary qualifications,’ says Maher.

In addition, Maher points out that Jordanian companies should be made aware that while it may immediately seem cheaper to hire foreign workers, it may be cheaper in the long run to hire a Jordanian, as they usually remain longer at the workplace and do not require the same expenses for transportation, work permits, housing, and the like.

The ILO report shows that the Jordanians are willing to accept most jobs as long as they work under decent conditions.

Over half of Jordan’s population are under 30 years of age

According to UNICEF, 63 percent of Jordanians are under the age of 30, which makes Jordan’s population one of the youngest in the world. Every year, 100,000 young people enter the Jordanian labour market.

‘We face a very big task, but there is no doubt that some of the new jobs must be created within the industrial sector, especially by the small and medium-sized companies,’ says Maher

He sees the Jordanian industrial sector as an obvious employer for some of the many job-seeking young people.

JCI has therefore begun a project that trains young people in how to perform in Jordanian companies and factories. After this training, JCI arranges for them to obtain a three-month internship in one of Jordan’s larger, reputable companies. The concept is very similar to the Danish wage subsidy scheme.

‘We compensate the businesses for the time they spend training young people. And some firms also subsequently hire some of these unemployed young people who have been in training with them. Those who are not hired can show that they have experience from some of Jordan’s largest companies, and this helps them when they have to go looking for work,’ says Maher.

JCI focuses especially on getting young people into production work in the Jordanian factories. It is not necessarily as prestigious as being an engineer or physician, but it is here that there is a lack of labour, and the technical skills that the young people acquire in the industrial sector can enable them to start their own business later on.

Over the past year, according to JCI, nearly 500 unemployed Jordanian youth have obtained jobs after having participated in the training programs.

JCI is now diffusing the concept and for this purpose, has been allowed to take over three government-run training centers so that more unemployed youth can benefit from the initiative.

A shared responsibility

Maher is clearly excited about the result of JCI’s training initiatives. However, he knows that this effort is not enough. According to him, what JCI really lacks is a labour market policy unit that can enter into dialogue with the government, ministries, employers’ organizations and trade unions.

‘We are excited about the experiment we have started and which seems to be working. But if we are to solve major structural problems such as the high youth unemployment, this has to be done at a political level,’ explains Maher.

This is one of the reasons why JCI’s board members are in Copenhagen. In collaboration with DI, which is supporting the JCI through the Danish-Arab Partnership Program, the two partners are trying to figure out how such a unit could be established.

According to Bjarne Palstrøm, head consultant at Dansk Industri, the work of creating a labour market policy unit within the JCI will begin in 2020.

‘Specifically, we have agreed that DI’s labour market policy unit will act as a kind of mentor for JCI. At the moment, Jordanians do not have such a unit, so it is an activity that is likely to run for 1-2 years. Initially, focus will be on JCI acquiring the skills to prepare analyses and collect data from their members,’ he explains.

Dansk Industri can also share its experiences in how an employer organization can help young people obtain jobs.

‘For many years, DI has focused on ensuring that as many young people as possible must acquire an education and then a job. One of the challenges in Jordan is that the Jordanian education system has not established adequate contact arrangements between schools, young people and the business sector. Internships, as we know them in Denmark, do not exist at all in Jordan. This is an area that we want to address,’ says Bjarne Palstrøm, adding:

‘In addition, we must ensure that companies and young people communicate on the same platforms. In Denmark, we have seen in the past that companies continued to post job advertisements in the printed media, while young people were looking for jobs on social media. We have solved this problem in Denmark. Now we have to try our hand at it in Jordan. ‘

Maher Al Mahrouq looks forward to continuing the collaboration with the Confederation of Danish Industry:

‘Through our collaboration with Dansk Industri, we have learned about the value of dialogue and collaboration when it comes to creating political change and giving the industry a clear voice. Especially if we are going to help solve major societal problems, such as the high youth unemployment,’ he says.