THE HOUSE commerce committee discussed the issue of unemployment among the young, which currently stands at about 25 per cent. Among the guests of the committee were the rectors of private and state universities as well as Cypriot Nobel prize winner, Professor Christophoros Pissarides who made a rather bleak forecast about lowering unemployment.
Professor Pissarides said that taking into account the historical data for economies organised along similar lines to the Cyprus economy, at least two years would be needed to overcome the problem of unemployment. While the initiatives to boost employment by the Labour Ministry were commendable, Pissarides said there “is no example of a country that managed to rid itself of a high unemployment rate in a period of less than at least two years”.
This did not mean that nothing should be done in the meantime. The committee discussed ways of the universities being more responsive to the needs of private business and industry. All rectors spoke about the building of links between universities and businesses so that the former could focus on promoting courses that would serve the needs of the latter. An office had already been set up for this, even though any benefits it would have would be in the longer term.
But it would appear that the problem is not so simple. As DISY deputy Marios Mavrides pointed out there was an excess supply of graduates looking for employment; some 80 per cent of school-leavers acquire some form of higher education qualifications. The economy did not have the capacity to provide all of them with employment. He cited the Euridice programme, according to which Cyprus’ economy could only absorb 30 per cent of university graduates. The rest, he said, were either under-employed, employed in an unrelated job or unemployed.
This is a legitimate point that everyone talking about unemployment among the young seems to ignore. Is there an over-supply of university graduates for a small economy like ours? There are only so many lawyers, doctors, civil engineers, architects, etc that a small economy can offer employment to. Some might scrape a living while others may have to choose a different profession, while in times of recession the problem becomes much more acute.
Perhaps the state should encourage youth to acquire technical qualifications. During the boom years there was a big shortage of plumbers, electricians and craftsmen, because fewer and fewer youngsters went into the trades. Everyone seems to want a white collar job even though it may pay half the salary of a trade. Perhaps the long-term answer to youth unemployment would be to encourage more youngsters to acquire technical qualifications, as there are a limited number of graduates a small economy can employ.