By Abdulrahman Shamlan
To varying degrees, unemployment is a problem facing nations all over the world. For instance, in the United States, the unemployment rate is estimated to be 8.1 percent.
Yemen – one of the poorest nations in the world – suffers from unemployment, but at a much higher rate, estimated to be as high as 50 percent, this according to recent statistics compiled by the Social and Economic Development Research Center (SEDRC).
Amongst youths, however, the unemployment rate is estimated to be much higher, with statistics indicating that 73.3 percent of youths are jobless.
Meanwhile, with the unemployment numbers at such alarming levels, the Yemeni government doesn’t seem to be doing enough to alleviate the problem.
The unrest which struck Yemen in 2011 only added to the nation’s economic woes and raised the numbers of jobless people, with hundreds of businesses and projects having reportedly shut down and suspended operations indefinitely.
A recently-released report from the Yemeni government showed that unemployment in Yemen exceeded 40 percent in 2012, up from an estimated 37% before the revolution’s start in early 2011.
Tales of unemployed Yemeni youths
Although Ali Radman has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and speaks good English and is proficient with computers, he continues to be jobless five years following his college graduation.
Since he graduated in 2007, Radman has submitted resumes to countless companies, institutions and embassies, applying for any vacancy with requirements that meet his credentials, but all his efforts have been in vain.
Radman said, “My parents did everything they could in order for me to finish my studies; when I graduated and thought it was finally time for me to pay them back, I was dashed by harsh reality.”
“I’m still a burden on my parents five years after finishing my college studies,” he said. “I really hope things change soon, and I get a decent job and finally am able to pay them back while they are still alive.”
“Unemployment has turned the lives of Yemeni youths into a living nightmare, because we feel we have let our parents down…and disappointed everyone around us,” Radman added with a sigh.
Similarly, Mohammed Al-Shamery, who majored in English language and has good computer skills, did not find a job in which he could utilize his skills and – because of harsh financial conditions – was forced to work at a restaurant instead.
“You are in Yemen, so you must expect the unexpected,” he said. “I strove to finish my university studies not to get a job, but in order not to feel inferior to those who are educated.”
There are tens of thousands of Yemeni youths like Radman and Al-Shamery who have degrees, yet are forced to remain either jobless or underemployed and exploited. Needless to say, for those without degrees, the situation is only worse.
Unemployment and terrorism
Many Yemeni and international analysts, experts, and economists attribute part of the rise of Yemeni militant groups to economic hardships and the soaring unemployment rate, especially among the youth.
They say unemployed youths – too despairing to care for and fear for their futures – are more vulnerable to falling victim to extremist and terrorist groups.
Ali Ahmed, a psychiatric doctor at Al-Amal Hospital, told the National Yemen that when they are unable to find jobs, youths tend to fall into despair and frustration, as their lives become unbearably hard.
“When some youths, especially those who are not close to God, reach a dangerous stage of despair and frustration, they become more susceptible to joining extremist groups like Al-Qaeda or the Houthi movement,” said Ahmed.
He added that through joining such groups, youths unconsciously seek to make sense of their miserable lives.
Unguided education might be a reason for unemployment
Local and international companies and institutions have long complained that the education students receive at Yemeni universities fails to prepare them to meet the job market’s needs and requirements.
Many employers, especially those who head large businesses and oil companies, resort to hiring foreign professionals. Even when they do employ Yemeni nationals, they ask for well-experienced employees, severely restricting the ability of recent graduates to land jobs
At the launch of the Himmat Shabab Development Organization earlier this year, well-known businessman Fatahi Abdul-Waseeh Saeed told the National Yemen that education was a big factor behind the reluctance to hire graduates fresh out of university.
He said that what students are taught at universities doesn’t fit with the job market’s needs. However, he voiced optimism about the newly-established partnership between the government and the private sector, saying that the partnership could alleviate this issue.
According to Dr. Ahmed, while it’s understood that the government isn’t obliged to hire all unemployed people, it is obliged to maintain security and stability in order to create an environment conductive to investment.
“When security and stability prevail, local and foreign businessmen scramble to invest and establish new businesses. Hence, thousands of job opportunities are generated for Yemeni nationals,” Ahmed said.
Alaa Khaled, a university graduate who lost his job as an administrative assistant, shares Ahmed’s thinking, and added that the Yemeni government has failed to live up to its responsibility to restore security and stability and streamline investment procedures.
Khaled added, “The government also must improve its relationship with its neighbors in order to provide its jobless people with job opportunities in these countries.”
Self-employment as a viable solution
Abdusalam Rajeh, a translator working for USAID, said, “Self-employment is the number-one solution for Yemen’s currently soaring unemployment.”
“Small-scale entrepreneurism can significantly reduce the unemployment rate,” he said, adding that for these small projects to be established, microfinance banks must provide youths with required capital as well as with professional advice for them to successfully make their businesses grow.
Rajeh said the government had a vital role to play here, as far as encouraging and backing the establishment of more microfinance banks throughout the country.
Dr. Ahmed agreed with Rajeh’s understanding that self-unemployment represents the best solution for Yemen’s unemployment woes.
“My brother was jobless three years ago and was starting to feel overwhelmed by frustration and despair. Our family provided him with the money required to start his own business, an internet café,” said Ahmed.
“Only a year after we lent him the money, he managed to pay us every cent back. Now Mohammed [Ahmed's younger brother] is an active person and he employs three other guys at his internet café.”
Both Al-Shamery and Radman said they have plans to start their own businesses but don’t have the capital necessary to launch them.
“I’ve heard about microfinance banks, but I don’t have anybody to vouch for me. These banks require a guarantor, and I just don’t have one,” said Al-Shamery.
University graduate Abulqader Al-Nuzili said that he left his job at a private school because they paid him only thirty thousand riyals per month.
“I need money for transportation and I need to cover my other needs. And the money they gave me was too little to even buy breakfast and cover transportation fees for the month,” he said.
“Now that I know what it feels like when you work in a low-paying job, I will not accept any job unless the salary is sufficient. Sometimes being jobless is better than working for almost nothing,” he added. “At least now, my father will not mind if I asked him for money.”
Speaking about underemployment, Radman said, “I would rather remain unemployed for the rest of my life than work for employers who offer scanty money and overwork their employees. In fact, it’s almost always true that working for Yemeni employers is just a waste of time and effort.”