Tunisian graduates seek alternatives as unemployment grows

Tunisian graduates seek alternatives as unemployment grows
With growing unemployment rates, many Tunisian graduates are taking jobs in trades unrelated to their degrees. However, not all are so lucky.
3 min read
09 August, 2015
Degrees no longer guarantee jobs in Tunisia [AFP]

Every morning, Ahmed al-Mrabeti goes to work as a coffee shop waiter in the Tunisian capital Tunis. He is well known by the patrons of the coffee shop where he has been working for the past five years, but few know that he is a law graduate who could not find work in his field.

Ahmed, who graduated in 2007, says he was forced to work as a waiter after all his attempts to find employment failed. He is one of more than 200 thousand Tunisian graduates who are unable to find work in their field of study.

Tunisia's unemployment rate has seen an increase in recent years, and the numbers of unemployed gradates in 2014 was 6.3 percent higher than it was in 2010, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

Finding alternatives

     60 thousand students graduate from Tunisian universities every year, and only a minority find work in their field of study

Like many unemployed graduates, Nisreen Ben Saleh has been forced to find alternative employment after her literature degree could not secure her a job. She now works with her sister as a seamstress in a modest shop.

"I'm happy with my job. It covers my expenses and I don't even think about applying to public sector jobs anymore," said Nisreen.

Approximately 60 thousand students graduate from Tunisian universities every year, and only a minority find work in their field of study, if they find work at all.

Therefore, with increased competition for limited public sector jobs many graduate jobs seekers have turned to trades and small businesses to make a livelihood.

Murad Hafdhi, 33, holds a degree in media studies but could not work after an exhaustive search and finally gave up. He decided to join his father's carpentry business, which he had worked in during summer holidays since the age of 15.

Karim, 28, another graduate who studied fine arts spent three years looking for a job, after which he took a position in a mosaic workshop. He believes that unlike most graduates nowadays, he is lucky to have found work related to his degree that pays well.

Trades pay, degrees don't

According to the Tunisian ministry of vocational training and employment, graduates of vocational training courses that learn trades are more likely to find jobs than university graduates.

     Tunisian universities produce graduates with degrees but no skills

Some observers believe that this is due to the deteriorating economic situation in the country, which has reduced the number of public sector jobs, while others blame the standard of Tunisian higher education for not preparing graduates for the private sector job market.

Tareq Belhadj Mohamed, a social researcher, told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "Tunisian universities produce graduates with degrees but no skills due to the failure of the Tunisian education system from school to university level".

"The educational system focuses on things that are irrelevant to the job market, which results in unskilled graduates who do not speak foreign languages," said Mohamed.

He stressed that Tunisia needs to learn from other countries and tie its educational system with the demands of the job markets, for students to come out fully prepared to join the workforce.

Mohamed warned that while some graduates have found alternative employment options such as taking up trades and family businesses, a number have committed suicide due to their diminished prospects.

"As researchers, we were taken by surprise at the rise in suicide rates among graduates who did not have a history of physcological or behavioral instability. Hopelessness and depression seem to be the main drivers in light of the country's tough social and economic conditions," said Mohamed.