TUNISIA: Tackling graduate unemployment

Tunisia has unveiled a new savings-and-loan programme to lower the unemployment rate of nearly 15% for new university graduates. The scheme will offer graduates a chance to generate enough capital to launch their own businesses.

Absorbing the thousands of university graduates into the workforce is a challenge for Tunisia which has made curbing unemployment a national priority.

The Tunisian Bank of Solidarity launched the Toumouh ("Ambitious Savings") programme in March to give students an opportunity to start their own businesses and projects. The Sfax Business Centre followed suit on 6 April.

Students enrolled in the programme can deposit money in a savings account and apply after graduation for a low-interest start-up loan. This start-up fund solves the problem of financing for Tunisian entrepreneurs; bank loans are difficult to find, because private lending institutions require a 20% deposit.

The micro-loans are intended to finance small- to medium-size enterprises, and successful applicants can receive up to 100,000 dinars (US$68,000) to get their projects off the ground.

The Sfax Business Centre declared April "Microfinance Projects Month" as a gesture to support the new employment-generating initiative.

The government is also boasting tangible results through other employment programmes for graduates in private and public companies.

One example, Programmes to Introduce Young People to Professional Life, known as SIVP, offers fresh graduates job opportunities and companies incentives for hiring and training them.

Through SIVP, the state covers part of the allowances earned by the trainees, amounting to a maximum of 250 dinars with social coverage.

Under the project the employer has to pay the trainee a nominal allowance, which varies according to employer. Firms are exempted from paying employers' social security charges. If the company decides to appoint the intern, it is exempt from paying these charges for seven years.