In our culture, the phrase ‘I’m occupied’ generally means ‘I’m busy, I have things to do – please do not disturb!’ But it can also mean ‘I’ve got a job’, ‘I’m employed’. And saying that something is ‘occupying’ my mind means that I am pondering over that particular issue. The term ‘occupation’, which is partially synonymous with ‘employment’, has many different connotations.
That became clear to us when we were planning this issue of akzente. How could we do justice to all these shades of meaning, given the constraints on space? Eventually, we decided to focus on employment and occupations in the sense of jobs and work – and specifically on work that generates an income. This is, after all, the form of occupation that tops the agenda in our partner countries, because it creates prospects for individuals to escape poverty.
But jobs are in short supply in virtually every country around the world, particularly secure and appropriately paid work. The official figure for those in precarious employment has risen over recent years to around 1.4 billion people. Meanwhile, digitalisation has the capacity to reduce job opportunities even more or to transform them radically, as machines decide when crops are ready for harvest, computers perform banking transactions and robots take over domestic work. World Bank economist David Robalino from Ecuador reflects on how to tackle the global employment crisis in our essay.
Yet work does far more than merely provide us with an income. It structures our time and enables us to be productive and innovative and to feel needed. That’s been Mohammad Mahmood Ibrahim’s experience. An Iraqi national, he was a Peshmerga fighter but had virtually given up after being injured in the war. It is a huge challenge to start afresh in a crisis zone. ‘Despair doesn’t come close to describing how I felt,’ he says. But with international support, he has been able to open a small shop in Erbil, enabling him to make a new start. And, he adds, the shop has been a salvation for him and his family and has restored meaning to his life.
Effective strategies for combating youth unemployment are the focus of a report from Tunisia. An alliance of private and public sector stakeholders has been building up the skills needed for the labour market and creating prospects within the country. Garment worker Salem Fadhloun is enthusiastic: ‘There is now no reason for me to risk my life trying to get somewhere else,’ he says. He speaks for many other young people, too.
One figure in this issue relating to the situation of youth around the world really got me thinking: roughly one third of young people in both Albania and South Africa have no occupation. They are not attending school, have no other kind of training – nor are they earning an income. That figure is around five times higher than for Germany. So I wonder – what is occupying your mind?