Isku-day: The internship program that is changing lives
Marking World Youth Skills Day in Somalia on July 15, the United Nations Ambassador to Somalia Michael Keatingsaid: "Unemployment among the youth was alarming and urged the authorities to provide vocational training and technical skills to young people.”
He went on to say that "limited access to technical skills and vocational training opportunities are a real problem with seriously negative implications." Ambassador Keating alsowarned of the dire consequences when millions of the country’s youth cannot find work and their future looks bleak. "Failure to address (youth employment) marginalizes young people, which make them more vulnerable to exploitation and radicalization”.
Even for the relatively lucky youth who have university education, getting a foot in the door at private companies and public institutions such as government ministries is often next to impossible as the competition is fierce for the few available spotsand having the right connectionis often more important than having the right skills.
The Somali NGO, Shaqodoon has decided to jump into the fray to find a sustainable solution to the problem of youth unemployment in Somalia. Shaqodoonhas built a reputation for its innovative programs that address urgent challengesin the country such as severe unemployment.Last October,Shaqodoon launched an internship pilot project.
The aim was simple: connect senior university studentswith companies and organizations through internships which are based purely on meritocracy rather than family or clan connections.
Ismail Omar is coordinator of Local Economic for African Development at Shaqodoon. He said one of the first things they had to do was study the problem and figure out a solution with local business owners and university administrators. So they conducted a survey on the challenges that youth in Somalia/land face. The surveys weredone in Mogadishu, Garowe, Hargeisa and Borama. Mr. Omar and his colleagues also held consultation meeting with representatives from the public and private sectors as well as a number of universities to figure out how best to solve the problem of high unemployment in the country. "We presentedbusiness owners with an idea to open their doors to senior university students and give them an opportunity for internships…so that the youth can gain practical skills in their fields during the last year of studies,” Omar said.
However, before the internship program even started, Shaqodoon faced several serious challenges that the organization had to overcome if the internship program was going to succeed. "First, we had to persuade the employer that the interns would help them grow their businesses,” Omar said.
"They did not believe that having an intern might actually benefit them. Business owners also had fears that the interns might disclose confidential business information.” Legitimate concerns thatShaqodoon had to work hard to address, which they did with resounding success. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the business community who have taken on young people through the Shaqadoon internship program. "Interns are more energized and more active, taking on an intern is like adding a new blood to your company,” Mr. Abdifatah, the General Manager at ToyotaMarillin Somaliland, said.
Shaqodoon also had to contend with mistrust on the part of the students. Omar said they had to convince university students that doing internships would help them in their careers. "Many of them were worried that they would not be given the opportunity to do practical work, that they would be asked to do menial work that has little or nothing to do with their specialties…So, it took us a time to make young people understand the benefit of interning.”
Having dealt with these initial challenges, the internship program officially commenced in February 2016 and is schedule to conclude at the end of December 2017. The average internship runs anywhere from 1 to 4 months and for more technical jobs, it can go up to 6 months. Shaqodoon gives small token to cover students’ transportation costs. Shaqodoon funds this project through fundraising and some help from donors.
Internships are a new concept in Somalia. Unlike many countries in the West where internships are almost a rite of passage for university graduates, the idea is just gaining traction in the business world in Somalia. This makes the success of Shaqodoon’spilot project all the more impressive. "We initially set to a placement target of 2, 200 students before the end of the year and we were worried that we may not meet that target,” Omar said. However, the pilot project has surpassed the organization’s initial target. "We have now placed more than 2, 534 students. And the amazing thing is that both female and male students are equally participating in this internship program”.
Female interns placed at Hargeisa General Hospital inSomaliland
The organization has high hopes for this internship program in the future. Ismail Omar said, "we want to reach every region where there is a university in Somalia/land. Currently theplacement program is in Bosasso, Garowe, Hargeisa, Borama and Mogadishu. But from next year, we want to reach even more region where there are students graduating from universities who want to build their future.”
Somalia has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. The International Labour Organization (ILO), estimates that only 33 per cent of country’s youth are employed even though young people under 30 comprise 70% of the country’s population. Due to this crushing high unemployment rate, countless Somali youths risk their lives migrating to Europe in search of jobs; some join extremist groupsto make a meager living; while others languish for years in a constant state of unemployment.
Shaqodoon’s internship pilot project has already been a huge cultural success and gone some way towards tackling painfully high unemployment rate. But even more importantly, the program has already changed lives. Ayan is a 22-year-old who will soon begraduating from the department of admin and finance at Amoud University in Borama, Somaliland. Ayan says, "my placement was incredibly interesting and…I feel that my confidence has improved and that this placement has equipped me with the skills I need.”Likewise, Adan Mohamed, student from Muslim College in Hargeisa studying Pharmacology credits the Shaqodoon internship program for getting him a professional job. In his last year of university, Mohamed landed an in internship at AllaAmini Pharmacy as a sales assistant. He is now a full time employee at AllaAmini Pharmacy. Mohamed says, "Shaqodoon made my dream real”.