Comment: Is youth unemployment a lack of intellectual management?

Suhaila has been looking for a job for a long time. As typical of many young Maldives, her basic education consisted of GCE O-levels and a foundation program in an American College in Sri Lanka, which was inadequate for her to get employed.

Like many youth, maybe she did not know how to go about finding a job, or maybe her applications did not show her capabilities that convinced potential employers.

She wanted to work in the travel industry, and applied to a few airline agencies. Suhaila is a pretty girl, though far from the ‘catwalk model’ type of girl. Her greatest asset was her kind, helpful and sunny nature combined with a high sense of responsibility, eagerness to work and a positive attitude.

Over two years, she received two responses to her many applications. Both times the interviewers told her that they looked for pretty and slim girls as they would be working in the front line at the reservation desks.

Early this year, Suhaila she was offered a job with training in a new airline ticket reservation agency. The agency is owned by well-known names in Male’, and a few veterans with years of experience in well-known airlines operating in Maldives. Suhaila was confident that this would be a good place to work because of the shareholders.

After a mutual agreement, she travelled to Sri Lanka with another local girl and a boy as well as two of the business shareholders. They arrived late at night.

Around 1.30am, the girls got a call from the two men asking if they wish to go for dinner. Even though Suhaila felt it was considerate of her bosses to think they may be hungry after travelling so long, Suhaila declined, but the other girl went because she was not sure what was expected of her as an employee.

One evening they invited the girls to go clubbing which Suhaila declined. During the training, the guys turned up at the training venue and ask the girls to go shopping with them. Two days later, one of the guys asked Suhaila her family background. Suhaila told him who her mother and father were. Suhaila was not asked to go out with them anymore.

Upon completion of the training and start of work, Suhaila requested to sign her contract. She was told that they did not sign contracts. Her salary was fixed, and her work was ticketing and reservations. She found herself training newcomers, closing sales and doing ‘favors’.

Favors meant that she should re-open sales after closing because owners of the company wanted to issue tickets for friends and favorites. It also meant that Suhaila was expected to come and issue a ticket for company owners even up to midnight hours. It meant that regardless of how inconvenient it was to Suhaila in her personal time, she was expected to come out and work as they were her bosses. She had neither a job description nor clear work guidelines.

What was most bewildering to Suhaila was the confusion she experienced in the conflicting rules of the company owners. If one owner decided the working hours, the other told the staff a different opening and closing time. If one owner decided a ticket could be issued to a foreign worker without a work permit, the other would insist it be issued because it is business for them. The owners spoke at different times but over each other’s authority.

As some staff left out of frustration, a Sri Lankan girl was brought in and Suhaila was asked to train and orient her. Then one day, Suhaila was asked to deal with the salary sheets. She discovered that the foreign girl was earning US$500 as salary and receiving food, accommodation and medicals on top of it. She found out that the Sri Lankan girl got a holiday ticket paid to go and come back. Suhaila’s salary was Rf 3500 (US$272) and no other allowances.

A couple of month’s frustration was followed by her final decision to resign. The daughter of one of the owners’ running the show called for a staff meeting to try and understand the issues at hand. There were no changes in spite of the meeting except that the staff stayed a couple more months hoping something would happen. Finally Suhaila handed in her resignation. The owners expressed regret that Suhaila was leaving them as she was a very good worker. However, concluding that, one of the shareholders’ said they would never hire local staff but employ Sri Lankans who were easier to manage.

Is youth unemployment an issue of lack of intellectual social management?

The story above brings out many issues in the employment of young Maldivians and especially for girls. Instead of seeing youth as an asset to social development, social reality is a growing population of unemployed youth being the victim of social disorder. The problem occurs in a vicious circle where poverty, unemployment, crime, drugs, poor schooling, inadequate housing, broken and dysfunctional families, etc, where each one is the cause and each one is the effect. The future is explosive and a serious threat to social equilibrium as Maldives fails to give hope and social assurance to its youth.

Today the youth in Maldives is seen a liability, a major stumbling block in the transitional democracy, and looked upon as a social burden, their energy and vibrancy diminishing at an increasing rate. Who should be the creator of the conditions that will turn youth into assets? The government is no doubt the caretaker and has a very tough responsibility to fulfill. The pressure of this responsibility is to make the youth of this country economically independent and self-reliant.

It is not an easy task because it means making private entrepreneurs more responsible citizens first. Although the previous government was the major employer of its citizens as compared to the private sector employment in Maldives, it is not a sustainable function for the government, and the state is not responsible for creating jobs. It is responsible for creating a climate where jobs will be created, and it is responsible to take a proactive and not a reactive step to encourage entrepreneurial development for the purpose of economic and social benefit.

Small and medium businesses continue to be collectively the major employer in the developed countries. What falls under the government’s responsibility is to encourage and motivate the job creators, support capacity building, create legislations that nurtures social values, create aggressive alliances with the civil society, be in continuous dialogue with all the different development sectors and demonstrate faith in the Maldivian youth, give them respect, direction and a consistent message that they are part and parcel of the Maldivian Society.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


7 thoughts on “Comment: Is youth unemployment a lack of intellectual management?”

  1. If the government did have a single authority that looked into youth issues in a holistic manner, perhaps there would be an authority that spoke on their collective behalf.

    Given that the youth population of Maldives is well over 40% of the total population, I feel they deserve a similar proportion of the government's time and effort to be spent on alleviating problems that are specific to that age cohort. At present there doesn't seem to be a single authority that looks at youth issues in a collective manner and instead of this large proportion of population being turned into a useful resource for the country, they end up becoming a burden and a drain on the country's meager economic resources when they end up being institutionalized whether in prisons, hospitals or other facilities.

  2. A couple of things:

    (1) The government actually needs to enforce Labour Laws. There's no point in having laws for the sake of having them.

    (2) Penalise those employing foreigners just like ALL the developed countries. The penalty has to be monetary as well as bureaucratic. The employer has to show enough evidence that he has exhausted avenues to find a suitable local person.

    (3) We have yet to see fair treatment of employees and need a few test cases brought before the Courts.

    The government has so far failed miserably in encouraging private enterprise. What happened to the hundreds of foreign business delegates that were invited here? None have expressed an interested in investment apart from few high profile cases like the Airport project.

    Foreign investment will not flow into a country that's considered highly corrupt and a few steps away from bankruptcy!

  3. From the point of an employer

    Reality today is, its far more productive to employ a foreigner (sri lankan or indian) than a Maldivian.

    A typical Maldivian, specially in the age they enter working population has very little discipline and commitment. For example - attendance requires both discipline and commitment. A Maldivian staff's attendance will be far worse than a foreigners on top of which, productivity during days at work may also be far less.

    The reason behind this is much to do with the infrastructure we live in. All Maldivian youth today come from households where they live together with family, parents. They are given food and shelter even if they do not have a job.

    The drive for independence and the need for independence is not instilled and engrained in their minds before they enter the working population. As a result, youth couldnt care less.

    Unfortunately there is no clear solution to this. Families would have to encourage kids to move out of the house after they finish studies. This is a common practise in developed countries. but sadly because of lack of space in the Maldives combined with the high rentals, most families cannot afford to do this nor can the youth support rent on their own with a single job.

  4. If only the tens of thousands of other foriegn labourers were treatedly a bit more humanely.

  5. hussein ali on Mon, 8th Nov 2010 10:33 AM,
    that was a good comment.
    What is happening in maldivian youth group is they don't want any job.
    I don't know why Maldivian government havent thought of training youth in different areas of skills aiming to reduce Foreign laborer. Atleast it stop going dollars out of the country.
    Maldivian youth do not accept any job. they don't consider as a job if they are not sitting in an air conditioned room and infront of a computer.

    not many school leavers understand how to apply what they have studied. this is happening because whole curriculum is based on theory or a text book. None of the schools teach how to apply theory into practice. This where skill become important.

  6. we have to weigh both the sides of the coin.Yes,the problem of youth in this country is now a very big problem. This problem did not develop over night. Responsibility does not lie only with the gobernment. Infact, it starts right from the home from parents,then schools and so on.Now,when the initial foundation is weak,it will amount to the old maldivian saying,kachchah elhi bingaa,ketchchaa hamayah dhiyayas hummanee kackchah".

    A lot of factors contribute to the condition of the youth today but most of it is the responsibility of a parent. Now,why parents cannot take the full responsibility is another issue which have to be dealt with seperately.


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