To mark the 10thanniversary of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, we have looked back at all our previous reports in this blog series. Today, a week before we launch the 2012 Report “Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work“, Sam Mountford from GlobeScan gives an insight into what young people themselves say about the need to give young people skills for work.
When it comes to understanding the issue of education and skills and the way they affect young people, economic data and detailed policy analysis are vital – but so is an insight into people’s first hand experiences.
To support this year’s Global Monitoring Report, GlobeScan was commissioned by UNESCO to convene and analyse a series of focus group discussions among marginalised young people who had missed out on lower secondary, and some on primary education around the world. Over six weeks during the Spring of 2012, we talked in depth to
more than a hundred of them across six countries. What was their experience of making their way in the job market, we wanted to know? How well had they been served by the education system? What sort of skills were in demand by employers? What did they feel was holding them back – and who were they most inclined to turn to for help?
We already knew that education, skills and jobs were of pivotal importance – GlobeScan’s regular tracking of public attitudes through our multi-country surveys reveals that they are among the global issues that most preoccupy people around the world, particularly in countries like India. The focus groups amply bore this out.
[Our] biggest problem is of unemployment, in the absence of employment what can poor people do for a living?
India, Panipat, Male
But perhaps inevitably, what really came through in the discussions was the sense of the interconnectedness of the problems that young people excluded from the labour market face. In several of the countries we studied, the state was barely present as a force in people’s lives. State education was often woefully underfunded, and teachers demotivated – but this was in a context where public infrastructure was often skeletal. If there was a consistently held view that the state should step in to help young people make their way in the job market, there was very little faith – particularly in countries like Ethiopia – that it would do so. The young people we spoke to largely felt that they were ‘on their own’.
For me I have no one to help me. I do everything by myself. And unless I plan to better myself in away there is no one for me to help me.
It was telling that the young people we spoke to rarely perceived their own problems in securing stable employment as being primarily as a result of a lack of skills. Some, certainly, felt that lack of sufficiently good English or computer skills was holding them back, but more often saw the barrier as a lack of work experience in itself. They felt themselves caught in a catch-22 situation whereby potential employers were only willing to consider candidates with extensive and highly specific experience in their own particular sector – and the only way to acquire this experience was in a job.
They want the one who is going to work for them to be fully experienced they are not willing to give us either the time or the chance to learn the job requirements while working.
Egypt, Tanta, Male
So those without useful ‘connections’ often felt shut out – and started to look for ways of escaping, such as emigration, marrying wealthy foreigners or the black economy.
Even so, those who had dropped out of the state education system regretted it. Basic qualifications may not be sufficient to secure a stable job – but the absence of them certainly constitutes a near-insuperable barrier to one. And while the strength of the family unit – greater in most of the countries we studied than in the West – could certainly be a source of support, it was also a source of additional pressure when it came to education, whether because family members in traditional societies were opposed to a woman completing her schooling, or because of the weight of expectation on the young person to provide material support to a large extended family forced them to seek work early.
I wanted to study but [I have] family responsibilities so I had to work to earn for my family and I could not study
India, Delhi, Female
What many of those we spoke to wanted more than anything was a sense of control and agency over their own lives. Certainly, many had dreams and aspirations – but felt that their situation was so precarious and susceptible to change at any moment that these had to take a back seat to more day-to-day concerns.
We took away a powerful sense that – particularly as the global economy continues to struggle and the needs of employers evolve – education and skills would only grow in importance. But we also concluded that making headway on it was going to be a formidable challenge, requiring many different elements of society to work together in a complementary way that often seems beyond them. It may be down to organisations like UNESCO who are in a position to draw in and engage the public and private sector and civil society, to be the catalyst for this sort of change.