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7.5 School to Work

Young people are right to see employment as a major challenge. Among those 15-24 year-olds who have already joined the workforce, the annual average unemployment rate in 2011 was 18.4%, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, compared to a general level of unemployment of 9.8%. This is in spite of government steps to reduce the costs of employing young people (as well as women). In 2009, a year of economic crisis, the youth unemployment rate was as high as 25.3%, compared to 14.0% general unemployment. The problem of youth unemployment is, of course, a global issue which is also affecting some of the world’s most developed countries. The ILO report “Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012” (http://www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/global-employment-trends/youth/2012/lang--en/index.htm) puts youth employment in 2011 at 12.6% for the world, 18.0% for the developed countries and European Union, and even higher for the Middle East and North Africa. The report also notes that “many youth are trapped in low-productivity, temporary or other types of work that fall short of their aspirations and that often do not open opportunities to move to more permanent, higher-productivity and better-paid positions.” This is certainly true for Turkey where, even among the adult population, a high proportion of the employed are in unpaid family employment, especially in agriculture, and other forms of irregular and informal employment, where conditions may  be harsh and exploitative, and are not contributors to any pension scheme. It may be added that Turkey’s rates of unemployment would be much higher if it were not for low workforce participation among women: if the workforce participation rate had been as high among boys as among girls, the youth unemployment rate in 2011 would have been not 18.4% but 38.7%, for the same level of employment.

There is little reliable statistical information on how young people in Turkey find work, at what age, and how long it takes. Most young people compete for jobs by entering formal or informal labour markets and taking government examinations. For many, there is no other way of finding work - or, at least, of finding regular work with decent working conditions. For a significant number of young people, however, there may also be the option (and occasionally the obligation) of working in family businesses, ranging from agricultural smallholdings to giant enterprises. Some young people receive support from their families in setting up some form of business of their own. Others obtain assistance in finding formal or informal work or going into business formally or informally from relatives, friends and social networks of various kinds. Unemployed persons can also apply to the government job agency Iskur to find a job.

Some young people who do not find acceptable work can remain unemployed for a considerable time, mainly due to family support. However, there is only a very limited system of unemployment benefit, and this only targets people who have been made redundant following a period of formal employment. Accordingly, the poorest young people, if unable to find regular work, are obliged to undertake marginal tasks on an informal, low-paid, insecure and irregular basis - such as street peddling, seasonal work in agriculture, construction and tourism, home cleaning or casual manual labour.

Access to education: For most young people, education plays an important role in determining the kind of work which they find. A certain level of education and/or certain professional or vocational qualifications are a precondition (albeit insufficient) for most kinds of formal paid employment and for working independently in many fields. Educational provision for young people has been expanding rapidly and young people have been participating increasingly in education. As of the 2011-12 school year, net enrolment in four-year secondary education was 67.37%, according to the Ministry of National Education Formal Education Statistics, and gross enrolment was 92.56%, although not all enrolled were necessarily attending regularly. About 44% of secondary education students were in technical and vocational education. Four-year secondary education was made compulsory starting with the 2012 intake. The Ministry put net and gross enrolment in tertiary education, for 2010-11, at 33.06% and 58.45% respectively. According to the Government’s Annual Programme for 2012, 50 new state universities were established between 2006 and 2011 and 37 new foundation (private) universities were opened between 2006 and 2011. As a result, there are 103 state universities and 62 foundation universities. The number of university places available to new students each year was increased by 65.5% between 2006 and 2010, reaching about 800,000. About a third of these places are for full-time undergraduate courses, normally lasting four years (excludıng prep years devoted to learnıng a foreıgn language at some universities teaching in English or another foreign language). The remainder of the available places are for two-year vocational courses and/or for places in open education (distance learning) and second education (night school).

Student numbers in higher education


New entrants 2011-12

Current students 2011-12

Graduates 2010-2011













 -Vocational training (2-yr)












  --Open education










  --Second education










 -Undergraduate (4-yr)












  --Open education










  --Second education






























 -Medical interns










Other institutions


 -Vocational training








































 -Medical interns











Source: Student Selection and Placement Centre (ÖSYM)

Despite the increase in the coverage of secondary and tertiary education, access remains restricted, and opportunities are extremely unequal. According to the Lisbon goals of the EU, member states should strive to increase the percentage of people with upper secondary diplomas to 85. This will take some time for Turkey to achieve, even with the introduction of compulsory secondary education. Currently, net secondary school enrolment rates fall as low as 30-40% in some relatively rural Eastern provinces, and non-attendance is also commonplace. Poverty, the need for children to earn income or work in the home, and – particularly in many central and eastern provinces - gender are important determinants of participation in secondary education. The uneven quality of provision and varying experiences of primary education may also be influential factors. Low incomes and low levels of education among parents are underlying predictors of non-participation in secondary education.

Among secondary school graduates, a high proportion are unable to enter tertiary education. According to the Annual Programme of the Government for 2012, 1.76 million individuals took the centralised university examinations in order to find a place in higher education in 2011. Less than half obtained a place on any kind of course. Of the applicants, 768,000 were in their final year of secondary school. The remainder were mostly secondary school graduates from previous years attempting the examination for the second or third time, as well as some university graduates wanting to do a second course of further or higher education in a subject of more interest or benefit to themselves.

Besides having to compete for limited places, young people completing secondary school may be unable to access higher education for reasons of cost. Those who cannot afford to attend private cramming schools are at a disadvantage in the university examination. Families may need their sons or daughters to contribute to the household income. They may be unable to meet university fees, which are relatively modest at state universities but very high at foundation universities, or they may be unable to pay for living costs, particularly if the young person needs to move to another city to study. While the state, universities, civil society and the private sector offer full or partial scholarships and grants, and provide student hostels offering a varying quality of education at various prices, these do not reach all students.  For this reason, poorer students not only in open education and second education but also in full-time education - particularly in big cities – have to work in order to pay for their studies. The work they do is often informal and insecure – for example in cafes and bars – and may put them at a disadvantage in their studies.

Quality and relevance of education: Problems of university education include inadequate physical capacity and teacher numbers, particularly in new universities and universities outside the three largest provinces, as well as many administrative and financial issues. A relatively small number of universities and departments have a high reputation for quality and these are generally attended by young people from the most educated and more affluent families. Despite some initiatives, most universities could considerably improve access for the disabled. The entrance examination results in a very high proportion of students taking subjects which they have not chosen. Given that some students only find places after attempting the university examination several times – and that university education often lasts longer than the prescribed period of time (Hence the wide gap between net and gross enrolment rates in tertiary education) - a high proportion of young people completing secondary education may be spending one or many years of their lives unproductively and unsatisfactorily before, during and/or after their university education.

In 2008, the World Bank report “Investing in Turkey’s Next Generation: The School-to-Work Transition and Turkey’s Development” noted that “While the best of Turkey’s young people can compete with youth anywhere in terms of skill levels, proficiency varies significantly by gender, region, family income, and type of school. Overall, in terms of both attainment and quality, Turkey’s education system tends to perform at or somewhat below the level of lower middle-income countries but lags well behind the standard of most countries in the EU and elsewhere in the OECD.” These comments are still valid. Besides the highly uneven quality of the education provided to youth, both at secondary and tertiary levels, there is a continuing mismatch between the knowledge and skills which the education system aims to impart and those required in the labour markets or at the next level of education. Provocatively, it could therefore be argued that the expansion of high school and (especially) university education – while it has not yet resolved issues of discrimination and exclusion - has served mainly to “park” a larger number of young people in full-time education for a longer period; they have been kept occupied to some extent, partly at the expense of their own families, and prevented from swelling the unemployment statistics. While Turkey has been “overproducing” not only arts graduates but also engineers and other professionals for some years, private enterprise often complains of the lack of technical personnel with specific vocational training.

When asked which services they would like to make use of if they could access them, respondents to the 2012 “Turkey’s Youth Profile” study conducted by the think-tank SETA in 2012 reportedly showed most interest in foreign language classes (55.8%), and vocational courses and seminars (54.5%), followed by various other cultural and self-development or career-oriented activities. Foreign languages are an area of competency in which the education system is widely perceived to fail (See, for example, the policy note by the think-tank TEPAV at: www.tepav.org.tr/.../1324458212-1.Turkey_s_English_Deficit.pdf). Most young people, particularly those who come from undeveloped regions, do not speak any foreign languages, and few speak more than one, although prevalence of foreign language skills does seem to improve with level of education. For some, this leads to out-of-pocket spending on language courses in Turkey or abroad.

Military service and the transition to work

All young Turkish men in good health are in principally obliged to do fifteen months of unpaid service in the army, navy, air force, gendarmerie or coast guard. Military service is usually shorter for university graduates. The obligation to perform military service starts at the age of 20 but is postponed for students in full-time education, unless they have reached the age of 29. Military service can include involvement in action against the PKK. Life skills training, such as information on birth control or AIDS, is sometimes given to conscripts along with their military training. It is not uncommonly argued that military service should be abolished in favour of an entirely professional army, that it should be extended to include women, or that it should be possible to do some other form of public service as an alternative to military service. Opportunities have been offered from time to time for men above a certain age (as well as Turks resident and working abroad) to buy out of military service, although this is too expensive for most citizens, and morally controversial. Depending on their backgrounds and their experience under arms, military service can be assumed to have many and various impacts on young people – for example, with respect to their physical and mental health, their knowledge and skills, their socialisation and social integration, and their attitudes and behaviour. However, such issues are somewhat taboo and have not been studied scientifically. Society regards military service as a kind of rite of passage, completion of which confers a certain prestige and is often considered a precondition for marriage by young women or their families. With respect to the school-to-work transition, it may be observed that: (a) 440,000 men were absent from education and/or the labour market as of July 2011 because they were in military service, alleviating unemployment; (b) military service can interrupt and extend the transition from school to work, especially as men may spend time both waiting for their military service to begin and seeking work; (c) the desire to postpone military service may be a reason why some students are slow to complete university or register for higher degrees; (d) most private employers seek completion of military service as a precondition for appointment to a job, partly because those who leave formal employment to do their military service are entitled to their jobs back or to payment of compensation.

School-to-work policy: The issue of the relevance of education to the labour market is frequently referred to both by politicians and officials and by the private sector. Many initiatives are in place to address it, ranging from the establishment of specialised vocational high schools in conjunction with private companies, private sector organisations and industrial zones to an increase in the support, guidance and training offered by Işkur to job-seekers in the framework of its “active labour market” policies. More generally, the government aims to increase the weight of vocational education at the secondary level - which may require further improvements in the public image of vocational and technical education. It may be useful to pursue all these efforts within the context of an overall strategy or vision, involving collaboration between the authorities responsible for trade & industry, employment/labour markets and education. Links between the education system and employers may need to be strengthened, and room should be made for the initiatives of the private sector, civil society and individual institutions, especially for responding to local conditions. However, the government will also need to commit additional resources. In principle, the syllabus and the quality of schooling should prepare all young people with the skills needed to qualify for good jobs after leaving school. The education system also needs to provide more scope for individual choice, for horizontal and vertical transitions and for second-chance opportunities for education and training in a spirit of life-long learning. Better career counselling services beginning from an early age, and more effective job search assistance could be useful. Arrangements should be made to monitor progress not only in general but also for men and women separately, for the most disadvantaged regions and districts, for young people with disabilities and for other social groups. In this context, research into the economic, cultural or other causes of non-participation in education and work may be needed, and new models of education and vocational training may be required - or ongoing initiatives may need to be modified - to fit the conditions in which the more disadvantaged young people find themselves. Against this backdrop, the assumption that employment is the sole aim of education needs to be avoided: it will also retain its importance for socialisation, social inclusion, access to other services and information, social integration and the development of general knowledge and basic skills and competencies for citizenship and daily life.

In ensuring a smooth transition from school to work for all young people, better and more relevant education and training is only one side of the coin. An assessment might also be made of the youth-friendliness of labour market policies including such issues as the availability and quality of on-the-job training and work experience schemes, the appropriacy of different types of contracts which do not infringe the labour rights of new or existing workers, public sector employment practices, and the kind of support available to young persons wishing to set up their own businesses. Last but not least, youth unemployment will not be eliminated easily, as it reflects the failure of the economy to create enough employment to offset the rapid growth of the workforce, particularly given a structural decline in employment in agriculture. Accordingly, policy alternatives need to be considered for job creation, for sharing available employment opportunities between and within generations, and for mitigating the impacts of periods of unemployment on young people’s economic conditions, physical and psychological well-being and long-term prospects.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org