The world is predicting the next financial crisis in the form of youth unemployment that threatens to destabilise economies. Youth unemployment is a cause of major concern as we witness increased violence in the Middle East and North Africa, high rates of income inequality in the United States and political unrest in Europe. In today’s blog post we discuss the role of mobile phones in tackling unemployment problems around the world.

The Current Situation

According to the ILO Global Employment Trends 2013 report, there are 74 million (12.6%) unemployed youth around the world. A joint study conducted by Alcatel-Lucent and GSMA in July 2013 explores the challenges youths face in finding employment. The survey was conducted in Ghana (26% youth unemployment rate) Indonesia (25%), Bangladesh (9%) and Spain (53%). Main causes for unemployment in these four countries can be divided into two factors: personal and situational. Personal factors are a lack of experience, skills, and useful contacts; limited awareness of job availability; and limited means to travel to find work. Situational factors include a skills mismatch, poor economy, lack of jobs and gender discrimination.

Key Findings Of The Research

  • 92% of youths across several countries have access to a mobile phone
  • Personal factors rather than situational ones were perceived to be the greatest challenges in finding employment; in Indonesia only 15% considered a lack of jobs as their greatest concern. Lack of skills and information on available job opportunities were considered to be bigger problems than lack of job availability.
  • While there may be limited resources to start a business, there is still a desire to do so; 94% of Ghanaian youth are interested in being entrepreneurs.
  • Potential youth entrepreneurs need training, capital and mentoring; 43% of potential youth entrepreneurs say they would benefit from taking business courses.
  • Across all four countries, 82% of youths identified informal ways (word-of-mouth) as being the most common job search tool.
  • Skills training via mobile phones was more appealing than in-person training; 66% of the surveyed youth in Ghana were willing to use mobile phones for training.
  • Youths were willing to pay for valuable mobile employment services across all four countries; 18.8 million youths could have access to mobile employment services by 2018 with a predicted market size of US$171.1m (See report here).

Examples Of Existing Mobile Phone Services

Services disseminated through the mobile phone can be categorised in two types – services for personal development and for job search and job applications. Stepping Stone and Ooredoo Najja7ni are programs that can be accessed over the phone and online and are aimed at improving literacy and basic entrepreneurship skills. Platforms like Souktel Job Connect link up unemployed youth in the Middle East region with employers via SMS and voice technology, using virtual phone numbers to send educational material; MKazi provides similar services throughout Africa.

In South Africa, with its youth unemployment rate at a staggering 52.8% during the second quarter of 2013, there is a growing need for mobile-based solutions. Kenyan woman, Shikoh Gitau, while studying in South Africa, was inspired to create Ummeli, a mobi website hosted on Vodafone Live! and made available through Young Africa Live (YAL) a social media network for the youth. The platform connects recruiters with jobseekers, through a community network. The user is able to a CV by answering 12 basic questions on their mobile phones; the CV is then sent to potential employers. Similarly, ForgetMeNot Africa has launched the Job Xpress application, which is an internet-free SMS-based platform that allows partnered mobile network subscribers to send CVs and applications via emails from any phone, irrespective of its make or brand. The application was launched in response to the unemployment crisis in Africa, where time constraints and the high costs involved in applying for jobs via internet cafes prevented many individuals from applying for jobs; in many communities internet cafes are the main source of internet due to lack of fixed telephone lines at homes. The platform has been adopted by the Nigerian mobile phone network Glo Mobile and aims to correct the digital divide in Africa.

In Macedonia (unemployment rate of 54%), where 90% of youths have access to mobile internet, UNDP is creating the Youth Mobile App, in cooperation with the Social Innovation Hub, founded by the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius’ Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering. The platform gives real-time information on all available job opportunities. The mobile application and website is expected to be launched in mid-December 2013.

Photo courtesy Tumblr as seen at

Photo courtesy Tumblr as seen at

Potential Challenges To Mobile Services For Employment

As more and more solutions to unemployment are launched, there are still lingering doubts and concerns about using these services. Many challenges still exist for utilising new technologies to support youth employment. Jobless youth in many countries may be unable to afford paid mobile services and some users may also be wary or uncomfortable with trying new technology. In addition, this solution assumes that users have access to high-speed internet, computers or mobile devices, as well as information and financial means to ensure that individuals are able to move where there are available jobs.

Fresh graduates often lack skills needed to be gainfully employed, and apprenticeship opportunities are sorely needed. A 2009 study of links between ICT skills and employability by the Technology and Social Change group determined that ICT skills cannot solely transform the employability of the individual – other factors, like social and personal contexts, cannot be isolated from problems of unemployment. For example, in some cultures, it is not acceptable for women to have access to a mobile phone, or in other countries, women have limited or no access to even basic education. It’s therefore essential to change the social context in order to reap the full benefit of technological empowerment for women and others who are currently at a disadvantage in developing countries.

What do you think are the main challenges to finding employment in your country? As end users, would you be willing to use and pay for services on mobile phones? Do you think using mobile phones for job searches and applications is a feasible way to find gainful employment? Do share your thoughts and comments with us below!