Graduate Employment: Pédaler dans la vide (2)

The public service now runs at 577,691 jobs. In 2012 there were 560,000 students at Moroccan universities. So if the diplômés chômeurs had their way, even with Morocco’s low completion rate (9.2% in 4-year institutions in 2010) the public service would grow like Topsy, boosted by rising literacy (now only 56%) and a rising baccalaureate pass rate (now only 39% on the first take). It reminds us of the old story about the man, offered any reward he desired, who asked the king for a grain of rice on the first square of a chessboard, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth – and so on to the end of the board. It bankrupted the king in the story, and it will (even in its less exponential Moroccan mode) bankrupt the country if it isn’t checked.

Nonetheless, the experience of persistent, structural unemployment after years of study, is degrading and miserable, and a system that makes large numbers suffer it unnecessarily is a disgrace. The first part of any solution is reform to public sector recruitment. ‘Non-competitive and unconditional recruitment’ can only be demanded with a straight face if the process of competitive and conditional recruitment is un-transparent and unfair., and this seems to be a close to universal perception, whatever the  truth.

Hamdouchi writes of his protagonist he stopped protesting, convinced that jobs were handed out only through personal connections and corruption, and this is a close-to-universal perception.  L’Observateur quotes one chômeur  as saying most of these concours are masquerades, charades for  giving the privileged access to the function publique; and another, a young woman with a Master’s degree in International Law, puts it thus: to succeed in a concours you’ve either got to be a member of the political party that runs the ministry; or ‘il faut être pistonné’.

How to reform it is a different problem. The Minister Delegate in charge of Public Service and Modernization of Administration said recently in France that Morocco wants to benefit from the French experience in terms of modernization of public service. This sounds a bit ominous. A few days earlier, Moulay Hafid al-Alamy, former president of CGEM said something rather different:  It is time for us in Morocco to break definitively with the French model, if we really want to defeat the economic crisis which besets us, and to develop our country … I ask the government to distance us from the French model which has failed, which kills off enterprise and favours the civil service, bureaucracy and under-development.

And there you have it. Government sees limited reform without concession to the chômeurs as the answer: some powerful business leaders see a complete break with the traditional French model as vital. To my mind, however we describe it, it is at bottom an educational problem, and it is essential to break out of the southern European culture of entitlement – the irrational view that mere possession of a degree, regardless of aptitude, skills and need gives one a right to anything beyond a smartly printed certificate.

But this also means rethinking education, from the ground up. If tertiary education fulfills its purpose simply by giving someone a certificate entitling him or her to a non-existent job, it will never reform, change or innovate. No Moroccan university is quite this silly, and some are taking remarkable strides in the direction of employability skills: I am attending a seminar on Monday at Université Hassan I in Settat – one of the leaders – on just this subject. Universities must turn out graduates with the skills needed by public and private sectors. The degree itself is nothing more than an aide mémoire.

They must also nurture the appetite for risk, for wealth-creation.  The entrepreneurial culture, as  l’Observateur puts it, draws a blank with the young and in its place it’s the culture-of-minimum-effort which holds sway – the inevitable consequence of a failing education system.

In his excellent editorial  La catastrophe, Ahmed Charai hits every right button. Unemployment, he begins, isn’t just a figure, or a statistic, above all it’s about wasted lives. He notes the growing desperation, the increasing violence of the demonstrators. But he also firmly rules out traditional solutions: No, the state can’t give a job to all young people, and that’s a fact. What’s more, public service recruitment by the back-door, outside the public concours is wrong and must stop altogether. He states plainly that most graduates are simply not qualified for work in the private sector and need additional training if they are to be of any use; and firms need to be given fiscal encouragement to hire young people, and to take their own risks on bright young Moroccans. But, he ends, and this is a clarion call for Morocco:

You can’t say to tens of thousands of young people: your education was funded by the taxpayer but your academic efforts don’t justify dignified employment. La fonction publique, even in a rentier state like Algeria, hasn’t been able to offer a solution to all the young people who arrive on the labour market. Social justice demands that the private sector be helped to recruit them, by giving them extra training and lightening the contributions due from employers. We simply can’t say to a young, jobless Moroccan: there’s nothing that can be done for you.  

No we can’t.

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