Do you consider youth unemployment a global challenge? If you are an entrepreneur, you may instead call it “an opportunity”. A demographic segment affected by the same problem? That’s the definition of a target market!
Yet we don’t see business – such as media – taking advantage of this niche in most affected countries. Television around the world is notorious for providing an escape, not a pathway to success. In an American fantasy series "Sense8", a woman from a well-off family in India asks a friend from a poor village in Kenya why he has an expensive TV but no beds. “Ah... That's simple”, the man replies. “The bed keeps you in a slum. The flat screen takes you out.”
Five years ago, a team of development professionals in Albania discovered that television, radio and other media can, indeed, take their audience to a better place. Literally.
The hot summer of 2016 was hard for 22-year old Julian Metoja from a small village of Lundër in Albania. After his father’s death, he could no longer rely on his family financially. Julian was one of those young people labeled under the abbreviation NLFET – neither in the labor force (which means not employed and not registered as unemployed) nor in education or training. They are often overlooked by government and nonprofit support.
Julian had tried enrolling in a university before, but dropped out after one year. “If you look around, you’ll see many graduates in law and economics that cannot find a job in their profession,” he says. This isn’t just Julian’s excuse for dropping out. He is right: Albania, where every third of 15-25 year-olds is struggling to find a job, has a huge mismatch between skill supply and demand. Most school graduates opt for universities instead of vocational education because it is prestigious, without analyzing the demand on the labor market. A lot of them end up, indeed, unemployed.
One day that summer, Julian was traveling with his friends by car and listening to music on Club FM, Albania’s most popular radio station. Suddenly the song ended and the speaker announced "Working Hour". “The friend who was driving wanted to switch to something more entertaining,” says Julian. “But I stopped him.”
The program talked about jobs in hospitality and tourism and mentioned an academy that offered courses. The next day he went to the academy in Tirana, Albania’s capital. A woman came out to meet him. “I’m Gladi,” she said.
A year earlier, Gladi, or Gladiola Dona, was herself sitting at home listening to "Working Hour". She came back to Albania after studying and working in Austria. "Time and time again employers from the hospitality sector invited by the radio program were asking for waiters, managers, front office. All of them said the same: we can’t find trained people. And I thought: if there is a demand on the market, why not open a school.” The young woman founded the Hospitality and Tourism Academy to produce highly skilled workers for the Albanian tourism industry.
“Gladi became an inspiration and a role model for me,” says Julian.
Julian got a job at a restaurant to pay for his enrollment at the Academy. At first, he was hired to clean tables and assist waiters. As he studied, he started to pay attention to small details: how to greet guests, place cutlery and present a dish. Two months later Julian was promoted to a waiter. “My friends who were skeptical about the course proved wrong. I made more clients and got more income in tips thanks to my skills. Guests now ask for me.” Julian’s next goal is to get involved in managing the venue. And someday, to open his own restaurant.
Julian’s and Gladiola’s careers were transformed when they listened to "Working Hour" on Club FM. How did this life-changing program come to be?
Before 2011, Albanian media focused on entertainment and mainstream politics. It’s still mostly the case today. But in addition, two TV channels, one radio program and four print & online outlets run products about jobs and entrepreneurship.
To push topics such as labor market information to the agenda, development projects around the world buy media space. “This approach means that once the funding stops, so does the message to the target group. The challenge is not to use mass media as a short-term tool to disseminate information, but rather to change the way that media reports on employment in a sustainable and scalable way,” says Zenebe Uraguchi, Senior Advisor in Inclusive Systems at Helvetas.
The team of RisiAlbania, a project of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) implemented by Helvetas and Partners Albania, strove to bring about systemic change: a long-lasting and large-scale shift. They wanted to enable the media to report on employment on their own initiative – and even make money from it.
“This means changing the mass media system to provide relevant information to young people and their parents – in an attractive and profitable way. This improvement would influence the choices that young people make about careers and education, driving labor market system change. This, in turn, impacts the ability of young people to find jobs, promoting employment change,” explains Uraguchi. Surveys have shown that the media products launched with initial support from RisiAlbania have directly influenced the behavior of almost one third of their young viewers, listeners, and readers. For Top TV’s "Ti Mundesh" show alone that is over 51,000 people.
Most of the media initially supported by the project are still running products about jobs and careers today – now independently. “There’s money to be made in this sector,” says Blendi Salaj, Club FM host and producer.
“Covering jobs and careers is a way to attract young readers,” explains Werner D'Inka, co-publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The media in Germany, where the unemployment rate is almost four times lower than in Albania, have a long history of reporting on jobs and career topics. “All over the world young people are shifting towards the Internet, social media.” By covering a very crucial step in the lives of young people, print media can rejuvenate their audience.
“It was just like a hobby for me. I was taking job ads from newspapers and posting them online,” Arion Rizaj, the owner of Kosovajob.com, talks about the start of his venture. Back in 2012, Kosovajob.com was one of only two active job portals in the whole of Kosovo, and their offer was very limited.
With 55% youth unemployment and 70% Internet penetration, the lack of job portals in Kosovo didn’t make any sense. That was the thinking of the SDC’s EYE project implemented by Helvetas and Management Development Associates (MDA).
“We supported the providers of job matching services in developing business plans that focused on marketing and value-added services,” says Visar Rexha, Intervention Manager at EYE. By the end of 2015, the number of job vacancies on these two job portals had increased by 200%. The number of job seekers using the services had soared by 1,100%. Their gross income had rocketed by 1,400%.
In addition to the two pioneer portals, seven more emerged, replicating the success. The competition forced the original companies – KosovaJob and Portal Pune – to look for new ideas. Today Kosovajob.com is working on a feedback gathering mechanism, which allows unsuccessful candidates to learn why they failed from a report that the employer sends to KosovaJob after the interview. They even organize trainings for these candidates to develop the missing skills. Neither of the companies today gets any support from Helvetas.
A commercial business model in labor market information projects has three main players: young people, the business that can reach these young people such as media or job matching services, and advertisers or sponsors. Youth (and their parents) are the intended audience of labor market programs. The media or portals create products that attract the youth and market them to corporate clients. These clients pay for advertisements (or other kinds of sponsorship) to reach the audience.
The EYE project in Kosovo heavily focused on the marketing part of this business model. The two existing job matching websites had no paid advertising or any other commercial partnerships. “We raised awareness among private sector employers about the benefits of job matching services and supported the portals in developing offers to attract clients,” says Visar Rexha. In addition to job ads, both businesses started to offer recruitment, trainings, automated CV databases, pre-selection of candidates for employers, advertising, internship matching and marketing events.
RisiAlbania believed that popular national media already had the capacity to market their products to advertisers, and did not actively support it. This proved true for some media, but not all. "Ti Mundesh" – a show that the nation's leading TV channel launched together with RisiAlbania – was highly rated by the viewers, but did not gain significant advertising or sponsorship. Club FM attracted more advertisers only when it changed its hour-long program to short spots.
RisiAlbania invited experts from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which is making 6 million euros annually (2014) on advertising in its Beruf und Chance (“Jobs and Opportunities”) supplement alone, to Tirana to share their experience. “Do not try to do everything. Focus on your strength” – this was one of the tips that co-publisher Werner D'Inka gave to his Albanian counterparts. Dedicating a supplement to a specific industry has also proved successful. “Whenever we cover special branches, we get more advertising,” said D’Inka.
“One particular weakness is taking audiences for granted and putting advertisers interests above those of the audience. This will potentially destroy the format, interest, and credibility of a program,” warns Gavin Anderson, an international consultant who worked on several media interventions. “Projects need to ensure that the media understand the importance of maintaining production independence, flagging content that is advertiser influenced and ensuring it is only a smaller proportion of the total content.”
“Introducing a new product to the market is always a risk,” says Zenebe Uraguchi. “By sharing the costs to launch a pilot, we provide a safety pillow.”
Knowing when your role as a catalyst ends is the No. 1 secret to success.
“We agreed with our media partners at the start that our support is short-term,” says Ermira Shyti, intermediation and skills team leader at RisiAlbania. Both RisiAlbania and EYE shared costs and provided technical assistance on a rapidly diminishing basis over three years to reduce the risk of over-dependence.
“Solutions proposed to tackle youth unemployment often do not work or have a limited impact. This happens because many development projects do everything themselves and therefore become part of the labor markets system,” says Zenebe Uraguchi.
Instead, the role of development organizations is to enable the actors of the system to perform their functions in improved ways. “These actors are the ones who must own the initiatives (e.g. business model) from the beginning and take it to the next level. The inclusive systems approach provides us with an analytical framework to understand the root causes (and not just symptoms) of the unemployment challenge, and the incentives and capacities of the actors ,” says Uraguchi. “Projects in development need to think of themselves as temporary ‘think-tanks’ rather than direct implementers. We need a vision of how the system that we are trying to change will look like beyond the duration of the project. Then we will be able to facilitate large-scale and durable impacts in youth employment.”
Helvetas Mosaic is a quarterly published by Helvetas Eastern European team for our email subscribers and website visitors. Our articles explore new trends and fresh ideas of international development work in Southeast Europe.