It is no longer a secret that the Kingdom is living its worst nightmare; increased unemployment rates alongside weak economic growth and their social implications. Despite the political will manifested in the constitution since 1952 and over 17 strategies to tackle unemployment, there is no evident progress due to the numerous bureaucratic challenges.
With unemployment rates reaching 22.8% during the first quarter of 2022 and the failure of said strategies and suggested solutions, the issue became a hot topic within the social, economic, and political arena and civil society organizations. This motivated the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) to conduct a study to scrutinize unemployment in Jordan.
Aiming at promoting the role of civil society organizations in supporting the government in finding solutions and maintaining dialogue and joint work to address obstacles in the face of implementing the strategies, ARDD held its second roundtable on Monday 29 August 2022 Within the framework of the “Design and Determine” project. The meeting comes as part of the dialogue sessions series within the Human and Economic Development Platform (HEDP), one of ARDD’s Maqha AlNahda’s platforms and aims to promote development and social justice efforts for more resilient communities in Jordan and the Arab World.
The meeting included governmental and private institutions, local and international organizations, civil society organizations, and young entrepreneurs. Dr Raad Tal initiated the meeting with Maqha AlNahda’s results of the unemployment study that showed Jordan’s rates of unemployment exceeding others in the MENA region.
He explained the issue is expanding among holders of bachelor’s degrees, especially women. In 2021, the unemployment rate for university-level educated people reached 41.5%, standing at 27.5% for men and 81.1% for women.
Speaking about how bureaucracy is blocking the implementation of the strategies, Tal said it is manifested in “the lack of inclusion of relevant actors in strategy development processes such as the civil society and youth). Additionally, these strategies are incomprehensive, creating challenges in ensuring collaboration and causing redundancy of efforts with minimal impact. The strategies and solutions suggested are not accepted by the public, local authorities, private sector, or specialized civil society organizations. Tal posed a question about the inactive role of civil society organizations in designing and implementing strategies: “the civil society is trying to support through economic empowerment and vocational training but there is a lack of sustainability and stability due to funding instability and the absence of serious support.”
Sameer Murad, the former labor minister highlighted the essential issues in the labor market topped with the unorganized economy. He stressed the importance of sustainable employment strategies that live beyond consecutive governments.
Discussing the promotion of investment, Ghassan Nuqol Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Crown Prince Foundation spoke of the importance of preserving local investments and then, attracting foreign investments that decreased by 70% in the past few years. He explained the current issues with employment policies and youth’s dismissal of some jobs and noted the importance of guiding students toward required specialities and empowering them to fulfil the requirements of the labor market.
Dr Maha Shehadeh, a faculty member in the business department at the Middle East University talked about the fourth industrial revolution and the need for the government’s policies to keep pace with it and said: “modern technology has plenty of advantages within the labor market but can also exacerbate the issue of unemployment among youth unless they equip with the required knowledge.” She stressed the importance of changing the culture to go beyond the formal educational qualifications of schools and universities and equip youth with vocational and digital skills.
Michael Nazzal, a member of the Jordanian Businessmen Association spoke about monitoring and accountability and considered the issue to be with the lack of monitoring and follow-up on the implementation of the strategies and instead putting them on hold: “no matter how much we develop the labor market and education, unemployment will persist unless we establish a firm basis and environment for investment by ensuring accountability of all involved parties.”
Speakers recommended innovative and untraditional thinking, implementing strategies in a participatory and collaborative manner with relevant sectors and institutions, investing in social dialogue by employers, and collaborating for a sustainable work frame to promote economic growth. They pointed out a knowledge gap in terms of the strategies and called for specialized studies in Arabic and exploring the past to avoid redundancy.
They also recommended adopting, advocating for, and promoting a new model of partnership between civil society organizations and the private sector, improving work environments, ensuring decent work conditions, protecting human rights, developing capacities, and investing in research, development, and training.
Young men and women had noticeable participation in the discussion. They shared their reality and called for official actors’ action and interest in their initiatives, voices, and ambitions, and the activation of strategies relevant to their inclusion in decision-making.
In conclusion, participants stressed the importance of reviewing employment strategies and affirming their cultural and humanitarian parts, conducting studies to define challenges and solutions, promoting continuous learning and improving skills, abandoning traditional thinking, and adopting innovation and untraditional solutions.
The “Design and Determine” project is funded by the European Regional Development and Protection Program (RDPP II) for Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, which is supported by the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union, Ireland, and Switzerland.