Tackling Unemployment through “Green Jobs”

By Farhad Peikar

Until recently, Ahmed Nejmeddine Mezzi was among the 40 percent or so of Tunisian youth who suffer from unemployment and its negative psychological effects like anxiety, self-doubt and helplessness that come along with it.  Today, however, the picture is quite different. The 28-year-old resident of Menzel Bourguiba – a town in the extreme north of Tunisia – not only owns his own firm, but also employs two other people.

The journey from unemployment to business ownership was largely possible thanks to a MENA Transition Fund-financed project. Launched in 2013, Strengthening the Employability of Youth during Tunisia’s Transition to Green Economy project supports the Tunisian government’s efforts to strengthen the employability of young people by providing theoretical and hands-on training.

Mezzi, who holds a bachelor degree in automatism and electricity, gained skills in vehicle maintenance and repair during his one-year military service. He took part in the project’s four-week training in Bizerte district. Led by national and international experts, the training taught him technical skills in business plan development, marketing, financial planning and management, and budget preparation, among others. The project also provided Mezzi with an advisor, who regularly visits him at his new auto-shop, and helps him with his business plan and administrative procedures.

Mezzi is not alone benefiting from the much-needed training; a total of 102 young men and women enrolled in the program with him in March 2016 and some 370 others enrolled in the second round of the training that began in November 2016. In the first round, 20 dropped out before completing the program, 80 were selected to receive coaching, and 11 graduates already found jobs.


Prioritizing youth

Tunisia has made significant strides towards a fair political system, rule of law, transparency and good governance since the uprisings in 2011. However, the young men and women, who were the driving forces behind the country’s transition towards democracy, have not benefited from these changes in tangible terms. Today, around two out of every five young Tunisians in the labor force are unemployed, and one in four youth are neither in employment nor in education or training. Women and those from lagging regions – the center, west and south– fare even worse. 

To foster greater inclusion and create jobs for youths, the Government of Tunisia (GoT) embarked on a set of ambitious reform measures with support from the international community. This Transition Fund project is one of such efforts.

As part of the first component, the OECD conducted a thorough analysis of the situation in the country, and prepared a comprehensive report aimed at providing the GoT with policy options. Chief among those recommendations are improving youth employability with effective labor market and social policies and increasing the attractiveness of hiring young people. Increasing the effectiveness of vocational education and training to support the transition from school to work was another key recommendation. The report also urges the GoT to promote job prospects for youth in the green economy, including renewable energy, waste and recycling, and eco-tourism.

This is the first occasion in which IsDB and OECD have partnered together to jointly execute a project financed by the MENA Transition Fund. The Transition Fund has adopted flexible mechanisms to allow International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to jointly implement projects in order to leverage each institution's comparative advantage. In this particular case, the OECD provided upstream analysis and recommendations on Strengthening the Employability of Youth, while the IsDB, the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment in Tunisia and UNOPS, joined their efforts to design and implement the project on the basis of the tailored solutions presented by the upstream analysis.


Filling two needs with one deed

In addition to equipping young Tunisians with the right skill mix needed to integrate into the formal labor market, the project also aims to support the transition of the Tunisian economy towards green growth and “green job” opportunities. Through “eco-experience”, the project aims to develop youth with practical skills in a green business with growth potential.

Besides training and professional development, the project also offers microfinance support for graduates who wish to set up their own “Cleantech” companies. Up to 50 start-ups in areas such as water-management, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and energy efficiency are expected to be created. The new start-ups are eligible for grant funding of up to US$35,000, co-financed by the Tunisian Solidarity Bank. The entrepreneurs are also offered coaching and technical assistance from more experienced business people.

Bilel Tous Services is one of the new four start-ups that has already begun operation. The company, which operates in the area of renewable energy, provides services with installation of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels as well as other services such as sanitary plumbing, electricity and maintenance. Today, the firm has one employee, but its owner, 30-year-old Bilel Ferchichi, says he plans to hire more youth when his business picks up steam.

For many trainees, the program not only improved their professional skill sets, but also supported their interpersonal skills and self-confidence. 

The business experts at the training program helped Drij Manel, a female graduate, to discover her inner strength, persuading her to open her own company in the agri-food sector. The 26-year-old says it was more the confidence-building that made the training worthwhile. “After participating in the project, I no longer see things in the same way. Now I have more confidence in my future, and I am more optimistic.”

Sarah Hajri, a 27 year-old resident of Bizerte, where the pilot project was carried out, agrees. “Before attending (the training provided by) this project, I was lost and demotivated,” she said. “Now I feel comfortable with myself. I gained self-confidence, I trust my skills and I have learned how to further improve them in the future.” Hajri, who previously worked as an advisor for a call center and has been out of job for the past year, is currently seeking jobs in the renewable energy sector.

As for Mezzi, he has established his business in the market.

Toting a portable computer and dressed in dark blue overalls, Mezzi examines his customers’ vehicles with the same care as an experienced doctor attends to his patients. His auto-repair shop, which he proudly calls “Green Auto”, is equipped with an up-to-date diagnostic system that is unrivaled in town. It provides services in diagnosis, maintenance and repair of light vehicles and trucks. In particular, his workshop is equipped to fix air-conditioning systems, change and adjust brake pads and shock absorbers, and replace filters, lamps and other accessories.

Mezzi uses social media platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, to educate his clients about the environmental challenges of overusing vehicles. The clients need to know that “diagnoses and adjustment of certain parts of vehicles prevents fuel overconsumption, prolongs engine life, reduces gaseous pollutant emissions, and decreases fuel consumption by 40 percent,” he said.

As innovations in the automotive industry gradually reduce emissions and electric, hydrogen or biofuel vehicles further transform what it means to be an auto repair worker, Mezzi is more optimistic about the future of his business.

“With the evolution of technology embedded in vehicles and with the arrival of the Internet of Things, the prospects of the services offered to motorists will really be infinite,” he said.