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Youth unemployment takes the shine off economic growth

Education and vocational skills are essential for young people to find work and improve their quality of life. Education needs to be linked with strategies for creating jobs in Mozambique.

Shoe-shining in Maputo's luxurious Rovuma Hotel is not a job Miguel Munguambe ever imagined doing when he left college with a journalism diploma. It had always been his dream to be a journalist, but when he failed to find a job at a newspaper he began shining shoes to support his family.

Many of his fellow graduates in Mozambique have also struggled to find jobs. According to analysts, this is largely because the government has failed to integrate job creation into the national poverty reduction strategy.

"Becoming a graduate doesn't eliminate unemployment." These words, spoken by Prime Minister Luisa Diogo at a graduation ceremony last year, encapsulate the challenges facing young people in Mozambique.

Mozambique's 16-year-long civil war ended in 1992. Since then, the country has experienced strong economic growth. Yet increases in prosperity and the establishment of a higher education system have not resulted in the creation of more job opportunities for young people.

Studies by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have shown that almost half of young people in Mozambique with higher education qualifications migrate in order to find jobs.

Munguambe hasn't migrated yet. For a while he was employed as a reporter at a state-owned magazine but he was laid off when it was privatised. Next, he tried freelancing but could earn no more than US$100 a month. Eventually he was forced to enter the unskilled labour market and decided to shine shoes to earn a living.

As he polishes his Swedish client's smart leather shoes, Munguambe discusses the Mozambican economy and the recent depreciation of the country's currency. He sees his current job as a temporary opportunity to earn money and meet new people – and as a chance to discuss current affairs and come up with ideas for stories. He needs to shine up to ten pairs of shoes every morning to earn about the equivalent of US$210 a month. He continues to freelance for newspapers and this increases his monthly income to the equivalent of around US$380, enough to support his family.

Munguambe's story is part of a global trend. The International Labour Organization's 2005 report, Global Employment Trends, shows that, despite overall improvements in global employment rates, joblessness among young people remains a serious issue, particularly in post-war economies or those grappling with high debt burdens.

The report explains that creating job opportunities for young people should be an economic priority for governments, not only because it enables families to break out of poverty but also because it is a good use of human resources. In many countries, young people now make up around 50 per cent of the population.

In Mozambique, there is still an enormous need to invest in job creation, according to Hipolito Hamela, an economist for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the capital, Maputo.

"The first poverty reduction programme in 2002 didn't address employment directly because it focused on the need to achieve economic growth and did not pay proper attention to how this growth should be achieved, nor understand the role of the private sector in this. Nor did it analyse the impact of economic growth on job creation and vice versa. The result is that the number of jobs created in the last five years is not significant, although results in other areas of development such as health and education were good," says Hamela.

He is optimistic that the country's second poverty reduction plan, which was launched in 2005, will lead to a focus on job creation. He says giving priority to technical education is one possible solution to the problem of graduate unemployment. Mozambican civil society groups, who were consulted when the second poverty reduction programme was drawn up made sure it included a policy for young people to receive technical training at school so that they could find casual work more easily.

"The work market is waiting for people who have the skills to take maximum advantage of local opportunities. In the tourist industry, for example, schools should be ready to teach simple things that would provide students with a job, such as how to set a table at a restaurant, or how to do room cleaning or cook for a hotel," Hamela adds.

Munguambe believes that for young Mozambicans it is "indispensable for their future" that they start learning practical skills from an early age. "Young people living in the urban areas need to change their passive attitude and start looking for alternatives, instead of waiting for the government to give us jobs," he says, as he packs up his shoe-shining kit for the day. 

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