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Kumanovo youth unemployment critically affected by coronavirus crisis

It has been easier for young people in Kumanovo to be laid off during the corona-crisis because they work part-time or contractually. Even before the crisis, they struggled with finding jobs due to a lack of experience, degrees, qualifications, and low salaries.

Kumanovo, 30 July 2020 (MIA) – It has been easier for young people in Kumanovo to be laid off during the corona-crisis because they work part-time or contractually. Even before the crisis, they struggled with finding jobs due to a lack of experience, degrees, qualifications, and low salaries. If the odds for employment were slightly better a few months ago, they’re down to an absolute minimum now, according to Jovana Manasievska and Ajsena Elezi, two unemployed young women from Kumanovo.

The two young women, a 23-year-old economic technician and a 24-year-old nurse, say that they’ve been asked by employers to be young, but to have five years’ worth of experience, certificates, IT knowledge, languages etc. for a MKD 14,000 salary, or even less.

“You can’t even imagine the reasons employers will list to avoid hiring you, they’re quite creative. Maybe now they’ll start rejecting us under the pretense of us being asymptomatic virus carriers,” they say.

One in 4 young people in Kumanovo are unemployed. By the end of May 2020, out of 13,287 unemployed people in Kumanovo, 22.4%, or 2,971 people, were young people up under 29.

Kumanovo is the third leading municipality in the country in terms of unemployment, right behind Skopje and Tetovo. The problem with youth unemployment is not recent. Last year, the youth unemployment rate was 35%, almost double the average, according to civil youth organizations in “Perspective: Youth in Crisis – Urgent Recommendations to Reduce the Negative Effects of the Coronavirus Crisis on the Youth”.

The high unemployment rates is one of the reason for temporary and permanent working abroad, something that became a Kumanovo trait over the last 15 years. People go all over the world in search of better pay and better conditions, such as in Western Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan etc.

26-year-old Ilir Cemaili, a political studies graduate from Kumanovo, is one such person who has gone to Germany due to inability to find work in North Macedonia. The young journalist, activist and volunteer says that the injustice, inequality, political squabbles and societal mediocrity suffocated him and forced him to move.

“I applied for two job openings in state institutions. They needed a person with a political studies degree, experience not needed. I fit every criteria for both jobs, I applied online, and I was not considered for either one,” Cemaili says. He is going to get his master’s degree in Germany quite soon.

He finds it mind-boggling that people are getting employed based on their political affiliation. He prefers the society he lives in now, where they value the individual’s effort.

Young people tend to want to move away and build a future abroad. According to estimates made by civil organizations, young people are the group most likely to move, which costs the country EUR 333 million annually on average, or 3.1% of the GDP.

“Young people are afraid that they won’t be able to earn for livelihood for their families. Flights have been cancelled, so they can’t travel to the US or Western Europe and get summer jobs. Some of them even took out loans to pay for their airline tickets,” says Ivana Stojchevska, CID.

Kumanovo is one of the COVID-19 hotspots, where there are over 900 cases, which directly affects the economy as well. Employers complained to the municipal authorities that they didn’t work in March, April and May, that they’ve suffered losses, and that part of their employees had to be let go.

Lidija Milanovska, owner of a shoemaking company, says that she needed new staff members before the pandemic, but now she’s struggling to keep hired workers. There’s no export, raw materials for work are running low, and the season is lost. She prefers young staff to train, but young people do not want to work in factories.

“Salaries for this line of work are not low. They’re similar to supermarket salaries, but young people choose to work in other fields. I believe we should invest in the field to make it more attractive to young people. But, with the pandemic going on, we have no chance to invest,” Milanovska says.

People with a high-school education represent the highest number of unemployed people. Employers in Kumanovo, shoemakers in particular, have been looking for qualified staff for years. Currently, the labor market in Kumanovo is on the hunt for people in trade, service, and production. Vocational high schools haven’t been able to fill out their enrollment quotas for years. Young people opt for a general high school education as opposed to a vocational one. As of next year, the Kiro Burnaz high school will become a regional center for vocational specialization, so young people who have completed their education will get the chance to get a requalification in accordance with the labor market’s needs.

Young people are one of Kumanovo’s five focus topics through the “Local Economy Development Strategy 2019-2024”, which foresees MKD 3 million, and Kumanovo is taking part in it with MKD 720,000.

“Kumanovo is interesting in motivating young people not to move abroad, but to stay in the country and carry the progress and development of the city, to enable economic growth through increased employment and self-employment opportunities,” says the certified LED head Ahmet Jasharevski.

The city is aware of the problems caused by the coronavirus crisis, so it will offer young people the opportunity to open up a business incubator for start-ups, as well as organizing training, and motivating companies to hire young people who will have previously undergone a requalification.

The state is using this operational plan to attempt to increase employability in young people as well. The Kumanovo Employment Center has provided data which shows a pretty high inclusion of young people in the operative hiring plan, 58.9%.

“It’s obvious that people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic have applied into the Employment Center. On the other hand, we had active measures in place that did well even during times of crisis. Employers applied in February and March, and completed direct hires of unemployed people in April and May,” says Marija Dimitrijevska, head of the Employment Center.

In a public letter, civil organizations are asking for financial compensation in coronavirus crisis times for young people, unemployed people, part-time workers and those who have lost their jobs either via settlements or due to an alleged breach of discipline.

They are also asking for financial support for young people through the example given by athletes and artists, such as legal counsel for young people in the hospitality industry, strengthening institution capacities in order to battle youth unemployment more efficiently, essential protection and field checkups, and institutional support.

Aleksandra Maksimovska

Translator: Dragana Knežević

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