Connecting the Dots: TAWASOL Initiative Brings Together Training Institutions and Employers to Help Youth Careers Flourish in Iraq
Nestled within the neighbourhoods of Kirkuk is a cozy kitchen where a mother and daughter stand side by side. The scent of baking pastries and cakes fills the air as they work on fulfilling the next order from a family down the street. Four years ago, they had the idea to turn their shared love of baking and stacks of family recipes into a bakery. Today, business is thriving.
Self-employment isn’t a common career pathway for youth in Iraq, but it can be very rewarding. Lana and her mother knew they were taking a big risk in starting their own business, but with the support of their local Vocational Training Centre and expert teachers in the Food Preparation and Entrepreneurship courses, Lana learned the skills she needed to take her family bakery to the next level.
Approximately 700,000 youth like Lana enter the job market in Iraq every year, but securing decent work in the current economic environment is a challenge. The national youth unemployment rate is three times that of adults, worse for young women who face extra challenges due to their gender.
Many young people in Iraq look to the public sector for greater job security, improved wages and benefits, and better working hours and conditions. But the public sector job market is currently oversaturated, employing about 40% of the national workforce. Meanwhile private sector employers struggle to meet their human resource needs. There is generally low awareness about the available job opportunities and widespread social norms that discourage work in the trades. Among those who do apply, employers have indicated a common mismatch between the skills people bring to the job and the skills that are required.
Self-employment could be another viable pathway for young people in Iraq, as it has been for Lana. However, there are several issues related to entrepreneurial support systems that often dissuade youth from starting their own businesses.
There are many sectors in Iraq that hold particularly strong promise for greater youth employment and entrepreneurship, including the digital and construction sectors, as well as hospitality and tourism, energy, and agriculture. There are high demands for products and services in these sectors, interest among young people to enter into careers there, and existing expertise among training institutions on the skills that will be required.
Nevertheless, training institutions and employers struggle to engage young people in these sectors. Participation in vocational training programs are not yet leading to sustainable employment outcomes. Programs also are not as inclusive nor accessible as they could be to engage more youth, and few career support services are available to guide youth in their transition from training to employment. This is due, in large part, to a lack of partnership and collaboration between training institutions and employers.
Creating a More Enabling and Gender-Inclusive Environment for Youth Employment to Flourish in Iraq
In Iraq, we are working with training institutions through partnerships with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education, private sector employers, other government actors, and communities to create systemic institutional changes that strengthen youth transitions from training to employment and self-employment. We strive to support our partners in their efforts to equip youth with the knowledge, skills, support and pathways toward sustainable career opportunities.
We envision a future where youth in Iraq are better informed about the value of technical skills training and employment opportunities, understand their rights in the workplace, and benefit from the various employment and entrepreneurship services that are available to them.
Our work in Iraq is built on four key approaches:
- Building stronger partnerships between training institutions and employers. When training and institutions and employers work together, they can ensure training programs remain relevant and provide graduates with the skills needed in the ever evolving business landscapes. They can also better facilitate linkages from training to employment through the development of mutually beneficial internships and on-the-job training.
- Turning commitment into action among employers to support the fair and decent employment of young people. Employers have many opportunities to create more inclusive workplaces that allow young people to thrive. Commitments are important, but will only be transformative if they can be translated into practical improvements in areas such as human resource policies and practices, fair working hours, improved working facilities, and enhanced technologies.
- Strengthening training institutions’ capacities to provide more inclusive employment and entrepreneurship support to young people. Training institutions have much to offer their students beyond technical skills building. Career Development Centres play an integral role in directing students into the best programs and internships to meet their career goals, and in providing critical information about available programs for potential entrepreneurs to access business development services, mentorship, and financial support.
- Supporting youth trailblazers to raise awareness among their peers on the benefits of and opportunities in private sector and self-employment. Young people who have successfully entered into and graduated from training centres are among the best positioned to provide information to their peers about the value and potential in private and self-employment, especially young women who become important role models for others seeking opportunities in non-traditional careers.
Through partnerships with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Higher Education, 13 Vocational Training Centres, and four Technical Universities in the Baghdad, Najaf, Nineveh, and Basra Governorates of Iraq, upwards of 20,000 students per year stand to immediately benefit from improved practices and linkages among training institutions and employers, with hundreds of thousands more in years to come as a result of systemic and sustainable institutional changes.
The TAWASOL project is a five-year initiative (2023 – 2028) that seeks to create a more enabling and gender-inclusive environment for youth employment to flourish in Iraq. It is implemented by WUSC and CLIC with the financial support of the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.
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