Equipped for the job market – unemployed academics in Tunisia

According to the Tunisian office of statistics, 40 percent of female and more than 20 percent of male university graduates in Tunisia are unemployed. How do these figures come about and how can unemployed academics in Tunisia be equipped for the employment market?

More than five years ago, the Arabic Spring began in Tunisia. However, not everything has turned out as well as had been hoped: The Tunisian economy is showing signs of weakness and the country is struggling with high unemployment rates of currently around 15 percent. Among young, highly qualified people, it is almost twice as high: Around 30 percent of university graduates have problems finding a job.

“There are several reasons for this”, says Beate Schindler-Kovats, the director of the DAAD-branch office in Tunis. “In Tunisia, there is both a surplus of academics and a lack of qualified experts with professional training. The Tunisian state guarantees a place at university for everyone, so that nearly all graduates of secondary education go on to study. Vocational training, on the other hand, is not considered to be attractive, or seen as an alternative.” In Tunisia, the manufacturing industry in particular is in need of qualified employees, while the demand for academics is limited. “The chance of being unemployed increases in proportion with the level of the qualification”, Beate Schindler-Kovats resumes.

This is in fundamental contrast with the situation on the German job market. The Federal German Agency for Employment issued a brochure entitled “Good education – good opportunities: The employment marked for academics in Germany” in August 2015. It states that in 2014, in Germany only around 2.5 percent of academics were unemployed. In some areas – in particular in engineering sciences – there is currently full employment. Why are the employment situations of university graduates so different in Germany and Tunisia?

University education in Tunisia

An interview with Beate Schindler-Kovats, director of the DAAD office in Tunis, about problems in university education in Tunisia.


A gap between theoretical knowledge and practical experience

“On the one hand, there is a huge gap between what the universities are teaching and what the economy needs: Study courses in Tunisia are much too theoretical and the students don’t have enough practical experience. On the other hand, many graduates are hard to place because they don’t know how to write a job application or how to present themselves in a job interview.” This is how Youssef Fennira describes the reasons for the high unemployment among academics in Tunisia. He is the director of CORP, the Centre for Professional Orientation and Retraining, a joint project by the German-Tunisian Chamber of Commerce (AHK) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Dr Martin Henkelmann, the managing director of the AHK, confirms this view: “Tunisian academics are highly qualified and have a profound theoretical knowledge. But they lack a direct connection to practical work, to the everyday routines of a company.” Apart from expert qualifications, there is a demand for IT-skills, knowledge of how to give a presentation and, above all, social competence, also known as “soft skills”. “Team spirit, flexibility, a sense of responsibility and organisation are important key words in the everyday work-life of a company”, Dr Henkelmann points out.

Video: CORP – official start 2015 (french)

Continued education for unemployed academics

And this is exactly where CORP comes in. “We would like to provide our participants with tools that help them to find their place on the employment market,” says Mr Fennira. “We work in two areas: On the one hand, we provide extensive consultations and skills needed when looking for a job; on the other, we offer specific options of continued education.”

Mr Fennira calls the first area “employability” – the capacity to be placed on the job market. This programme begins with a detailed evaluation. “After this procedure, the candidates are familiar with their strengths and weaknesses as well as, and this is most important, their value on the employment market.” Then, Mr Fennira and his team go on to teach candidates how to write an application and how to comport themselves during a job interview. “Our aim is that candidates take responsibility and present themselves actively on the employment market.”

In their second core area, CORP offers short modules of continued education which are tailored towards the demands of the companies. “Perhaps someone studied philosophy, but requires some business skills for a specific job. We can help in such a situation”, Mr Fennira explains. “There are 88,000 job vacancies in Tunisia, because the companies cannot find suitable employees. These vacancies can be filled by university graduates if we give them the occupational training they require.”

A further important task of CORP is to establish contacts with companies. “We bring companies and graduates together. And we can look back on a rather successful record”, says Mr Fennira. “Since September 2015, a total of 109 university graduates found a job through our programme.”

Video: German-Tunisian Career Fair “Trained in GermanY”

Career fairs as door openers

Another opportunity for university graduates to establish contacts with companies are career fairs. In January 2016, the fair “Trained in GermanY” took place in Tunis, jointly organised by the Alumniportal Deutschland and the AHK Tunisia. 30 German and Tunisian companies, including car manufacturers and IT-companies as well as German political foundations and organisations, took part in the one-day fair. More than 700 visitors made use of the opportunity to talk to personnel officers. Many of them had prepared application documents and were able to place them directly at the companies’ stands.

“Career fairs are a good opportunity for unemployed academics to find information on current developments on the job marked and to make initial contacts with companies”, says Dr Martin Henkelmann. “A personal conversation and a good first impression can often open the door for further talks.”

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Rethinking for long-term change

But there is still a lot of work to do in order to achieve a real change in the job market for academics in Tunisia. “On the one hand, vocational training has to be strengthened in Tunisia”, says Dr Martin Henkelmann. “On the other hand, university courses must become more geared towards the demands of the employing industries: More internships of more than three months’ duration should become mandatory.” And, of course, a stay abroad for study or internship can greatly improve the work prospects of academics in Tunisia – including new language skills and cultural impressions.

The AHK’s managing director puts it in a nutshell: “The level of education in Tunisia is good; the engineering courses are particularly well recognised by companies. There are good prospects for those who establish contacts with the world of employment at an early stage.”

Author: Verena Striebinger

My university programme in my home country ...

May 2016

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Muhammad Abid
25 May 2016

Qaulified people must have conceptual skills for bright future.Only study is not more for get hansome packages . at university level diffirent skills shoud be imrove for all students in world .

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