With youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa hovering at close to 25 percent, IFC is ramping up its efforts to equip the region's young people with the skills and education in demand by employers.
It is doing this through the E4E Initiative for Arab Youth. A joint investment and advisory effort, it supports programs that prepare students for work in booming fields like tourism, healthcare, information technology, retail, and construction.
As part of the initiative, IFC recently held a conference in Marrakech, Morocco that brought together a range of international stakeholders, including government officials, private education providers, and corporate executives from companies like Microsoft.
They discussed ways to boost private investment in employment-driven education programs, and combat the stigma that surrounds vocational education and training.
"Right now, many youth across the Middle East and North Africa have degrees and diplomas, but they are often not the type that leads to jobs," said Dahlia Khalifa, head of the E4E Initiative. "Employers are increasingly demanding a new set of skills, so it's important to prepare young people for that work environment."
The Morocco conference, dubbed the E4E Solutions Marketplace, served as launch pad for partnerships in the employment-driven education field. It followed a similar event in Dubai last year.
The conference resulted in IFC’s first education sector project in Morocco, a $7 million equity investment in Institut des Hates Etudes de Management. The support is designed to help the higher education institute double its student intake by 2020 and accept more middle-and lower-income pupils.
The effort comes amid a region-wide epidemic of youth unemployment. In MENA, labor force participation rates are among the world’s lowest at around 35 percent. (The global average is 52 percent.) Regionally, youth unemployment results in annual losses of up $50 billion, equivalent to the GDP of Tunisia.
The E4E Initiative for Arab Youth, launched in 2011, is active in four countries: Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt.