Free employment service

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Photo: Anteneh Aklilu

Ruchika Bahl is the Chief Technical Advisor for the EUTF Project under the International Labor Organization (ILO), Addressing the Root Causes of Migration, a part of the Stemming Irregular Migration in Northern and Central Ethiopia’ (SINCE) Programme. The project is strengthening National employment programs and youth employment services aiming to create decent work and employment opportunities for large number of potential youth and women migrants in Ethiopia, hence making migration an informed choice for them.

Ruchika has 20 years of work experience on development cooperation and policy advocacy with leading INGOs, bilateral and UN agencies across Asia, South America and Africa. Over the last two decades she has worked with diverse stakeholders on labor migration, advocated for migrant workers’ rights and designed financial inclusion and economic development programs for vulnerable groups at national and regional level. Ruchika is a lawyer with additional qualifications in Gender & Social Policy, Social Work and Psychology.

Capital: Can you tell us about the project you are heading?

RuchikaBahl:I currently address the root cause of migration. The project is funded by European Union Trust Fund and it is the first project of its kind not only in Ethiopia but also in Africa. Here in Ethiopia it is managed by the Italian Embassy. The project mainly focuses on the enhancement and increment of possibilities for young people in the labor market. But this is primarily based on their migration choice, that is, if they would want to stay in their country to participate in their economy or migrate elsewhere to do so. The project kick started in 2016 and we chose Bahirdarin AmharaRegion. The project’s major focus was to increase information about employment opportunities thus enhancing opportunities for young people. This was achieved by allowing job seekers to have access to vacancies. This further led to a match making process where the job seekers were matched to employers and or the private sector. We chose to start our pilot project in AmharaRegion because youth unemployment in that region was the highest. The decision was made in partnership with thegovernment of Ethiopia, specifically with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Capital: What are the successes of the project in the three years of implementation?

Ruchika: As of now we have set up two successful centers. The first one is a youth employability service center- which is set up at a Sub-city administration level in Bahirdar, in three Kebeles. We have found the existing platform in Amhara as a valuable one stop service center.We have used the existing system to embark on our new process. We have trained staff ranging from the Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs and TVET to help the youth to better identify their choices. They can opt to pursue for self-employment or wage employment, because not every person is interested in setting up an enterprise. To that effect we have set up a platform where the youth can come and register themselves as job seekers. We have also reached out to the private sector through the Amhara Employers Federation, which is our key partner in our technical group. Through them the private sector has played a huge role in orienting and highlighting to the youth on benefits of sending applications forthe vacancy posts as well as provide them with jobs through the vacancies. We have also introduced additional services such as employability services- which in turn means the youth can build up their soft skills currently required to navigate the work environment. This service educates the youth on how to look for a job and also how to well prepare for the interview. This is a priority for us because the Private Sector often say that the youth lack some soft skills, thus this service combats that. Secondly, we have set up unemployment centers at the city administration level. We have trained staff from BOLSA and TVET to run this particular center in partnership with the regional government. The two centers have been operational for two years.

Capital: How do you evaluate the demand and the challenges?

Ruchika:We can say that there is a huge demand. For instance we have approximately registered about 3,500 youth as job seekers. And so far we have received 330 vacancies, which translates to only 10 percent in comparison to the job seekers out there. So our current focus is on how to encourage the private sector on fair employment services. This is in link with government’s obligation to provide free employment services, since the government of Ethiopia has ratified the ILO convention on public employment services. Aspart of this convention it is obligated to provide free employment service to anybody who requires it. This is also in line with the critical elements of the National Employment Policy of 2016 and more recently the National Plan of Action for Jobs. So we are using the existing government institutional framework to build the capacity of staffs in the institution to deliver these services. That summarizes it all. The other thing is that when we started the project we were posed with a lot of challenges. Youth employment is something that cuts across several ministries mandates, thus this can create chaos when it comes to ministries demanding from us. However, for this not to be a barrier, we set up Multi-Ministerial technical working groups. This comprised of the Bureau of Labor and Social Affairs- which is responsible for labor and employment Bureau of TVET- responsible for vocational training and delivering right skills and the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth whose mandate is youth mobilization and mainstreaming. We also engaged employers and trade unions with this technical groups to create collective responsibility and ownership amongst ministerial offices.

The second challenge we faced was on the side of digitization. Lack of Information Technology being used by government presented us with a drawback. Moreover, there was lack of skill in the operationalization of digital technology. So the center initially started as a manual labor exchange center, but we then transition to a digital way of things. We developed a company website and mobile application, so that one can easily visit the website and register as a potential job seeker. Various jobs are available on the site which are sent and shared to the job seeker.

Capital: There are a lot of donor funded projects operating on empowerment, what makes your project unique?

Ruchika:I think youth employment is a national urgent priority for Ethiopia’s government and several donors are investing on the same. But there is always room for others to invest in this sector since it is huge. What makes ILO unique is the fact that it is a technical agency that works in partnership with Ethiopia’s government. We believe in the principle of ‘TRIPARTITE’- which means that employers, trade unions and governments are the three key partners in essentially running the world’s workforce. We believe that government is not able to do everything, thus it needs the participation of private sector and trade unions. What’s also unique of our project is that it is the first pilot project. We are therefore not duplicating existing  government’s framework but rather strengthening government’s capacity to deliver the expected services.

We can say we are killing two birds with one stone because, we are providing youth employability through government platforms as well as investing to build governments capacity by training staff to deliver on it. We do not source external staff so this is a working progress. This progress has led to other regions wanting us to replicate the same in their areas. Since it has been a successful demonstrative project, the government can now say if it works in Bahirdar, it can work in other places as well.

Lastly what makes us unique is the participation of private sector and trade unions. This partnership leads to the private sector having a transparent recruiting procedure, which was a challenge before.

Capital: Do you have plans to expand the project to other places?

Ruchika: This is a pilot project, and we have also closely worked with the government through the Job Creation Commission (JCC) on the development of the national plan for job creation. Furthermore, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in conjunction with JCC are developing a new vision and a new roadmap on public employment services in the country. So we are working on a new way to redefine how public employment services should be. We are making structural changes that will be effective and efficient on ground. In terms of capacity, upon implementation it will create a much easier role to replicate what is planned for the country at regional level.

Capital: Ethiopia’s youth is very high, beside there is a high scarcity of jobs, can we say that the government is working with its full potential on employment?

Ruchika: Ethiopia is a very young country. 77 percent of the population is below the age of 35 and about 73 percent of the youth are between the ages of 0-25 years. The working population is between 15- 64 and this comprises of 65 percent of the population. This demographic bulge of youth presents some challenges. The challenge is on how to channel this youthful population as some want to migrate and others want to participate in the labor market through self- employment. There is a huge skill mismatch since even the graduates in the country are just going for available jobs. To combat this, some private sector companies have trainee programs but not all companies are investing in jobs and skill creation. Furthermore, the youth are challenged with finance as the salary is too low, thus demotivating them not to keep the jobs.