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Moving on from an overstaffed idle government to a vibrant private sector

By Judit Neurink 4/12/2016

He was photographed in his graduation costume, with some sheep on a Kurdish mountainside. The Kurdish student who graduated earlier this year as one of the best of his year from the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Duhok, had not been able to find a job, and therefor joined his brother as a shepherd.

Citing the young man who said he would like to continue studying for a Masters and Doctorate of Philosophy, but that the economic crisis and lack of support from the government had compelled him to become a shepherd, his fate drew the attention of the Kurdish press.

Message: bright young man wasted years of studying because the government does not help him get a job.

Apart from the hardship the economic crisis in the Kurdistan Region is causing him, the very expectation that the government should give fresh graduates a job is very much part of the cause of the crisis.

The Kurdistan government has too many civil servants on its pay roll, and adds more new graduates to the list every year. Not only it puts more burden on the budget, more importantly: what work is there for these young people to do?

To see how overstaffed the government is, enter just about any government office and you will find only a minority working while the majority is mainly watching the clock waiting to go home.

Not only is this very inefficient, it also creates a whole generation that does not know work ethics, and is hardly stimulated to keep learning and growing.

It’s a waste of money, resources, hopes. First because people who spent years learning don’t get a chance to use that knowledge, and will lose it whilst not being stimulated to do so; secondly, because the society does not benefit from educating its youth and third because the hopes that young people may have in finding self-fulfillment in a job are lost.

The blame should be put partly on the education in Kurdistan, as there are at least 25 universities for a population of just over five million.

Because of a lack of alternatives on slightly lower levels, like institutes, colleges, and vocational training, too many young people go to university, which has negative results for the level of the education.

One might think that a degree will give them better chances in the job market, but the reality is that most students end up waiting for a job in the government, because that is where they will eventually get an old age pension.

When I talk to entrepreneurs who would hire these people, they tell me of their disappointment; many young people are lazy, not loyal, not interested in doing a good job and most importantly: they will leave for a government job and its pension as soon as they can.

Yet the only way to help the young graduates find work, and at the same time help the government take the measures it must, is to stimulate the development of a healthy private sector.

Even in an economy that is on a downward slope like in Kurdistan, new shops, cafés and other enterprises can be set up, as we have seen in Europe recently.

For instance, in my home town of Amsterdam, many people who were made redundant because of the economic crisis, were helped by government funding to set up a business.

And many succeeded in adding interesting new enterprises to the market, some offering jobs to others too, and many were able to sustain their business when the economy revived – partly due to their initiatives.

In Kurdistan, the government desperately needs to make some painful changes.

It has to decrease the number of staff, and not only for financial reasons, but even more because you do not want a whole generation ending up braindead in your offices, as these people will never help the country grow.

At the same time, it has to help set up new businesses: cafés, restaurants, bookshops, but also wine and beer makers, olive oil producers, small farms, a service sector – anything that enterprising entrepreneurs set up elsewhere in the world.

But all this will be to no avail, if not at the same time serious measures are taken to offer everybody who works, a scheme in which he or she can save for his or her old age pension – for the sole attraction of a boring government job to be taken away. 

And the graduate who went to herd sheep? He could have done better for himself by setting up an advisory business, or even a business in developing a brand of artisan sheep milk and cheese.

And my guess is that he is not really herding the sheep; just using it to attract the attention to a problem that the government does indeed have to solve urgently – even though not in the way he expects it to.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

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