Job Opportunities in Kurdistan Region … Challenges and Solutions

Dr. Nafser Abdulqader Abdal

Technical Institute of Administration


The inability of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to absorb the numbers of graduates from institutes and universities, and to employ them since (2014) until now especially by the private sector led to an increase in unemployment rates at an escalating pace until it reached (16.5%) in (2021). Statistics Section affiliated with the Ministry of Planning in the KRG indicates that the permissible global rate of unemployment is (6%), which is a natural and safe rate. The evidence is that these rates exist or slightly exceed them in the majority of advanced industrial countries or countries whose economies do not suffer from development problems or performance obstacles. Note that the concept of unemployment contradicts the concept of job opportunities.

  • It is well-known that unemployment has many types (such as frictional, seasonal, structural, disguised, and periodic), and the prevailing type in Iraq and the Region is structural and disguised unemployment. Structural unemployment is the result of structural problems within the economy and inefficiency in labor markets, and it occurs when there is no market. Labor is unable to provide jobs for everyone looking for work, and there is a mismatch between the skills of workers and the skills required for the jobs. Disguised unemployment means the presence of increasing numbers of employees within state departments without any tangible productivity. Business owners confirm that the majority of governmental projects are random projects, with no horizontal or vertical expansion in investments. This is in addition to the failure of distributing those investments in a fair and equitable manner among the governorates of the Region. Hence, the majority of investment projects are concentrated in Erbil Governorate, followed by Sulaymaniyah. As for Dohuk Governorate, the percentage of investment projects, whether foreign, local, or joint investments, are very few compared to other governorates, as they do not reach the required levels. The reason for this may be due to the lack of good infrastructure in the latter governorate. One best example of this is the lack of an international airport in Dohuk Governorate. Also, there exists administrative routine in government departments and institutions and others. As a final result, all of this will inevitably lead to unbalanced development, and thus the governorate will flourish at the expense of the governorate in question.

Further, the absence or lack of financial support and the granting of loans to the youth group, especially to small and medium enterprises, worsened the problem of unemployment in the Region and increased its severity.

The causes of unemployment in all developing (poor) countries cannot be unilateral (i.e., economic or social reasons only), but rather are usually a group of economic, social, political, cultural, environmental reasons, among others, that are intertwined together. Hence, in order to strengthen the labor market and create job opportunities for young people, we must work on the following aspects:

  1. Job Insurance: The presence of defects in the social system and their inability to absorb large numbers of workers in the social security system makes the government sector a target for all members of society. Thus, social security must be activated and treated with workers in the private and mixed sectors, similarly to employees in the government sector, in terms of their retirement benefits, health rights, etc., covering all workers and employees by the labor law to ensure a decent life for workers and their families, and thus expanding the base of social protection to include broader categories of society. With social security, this will relieve pressure on the government sector and support the private sector directly.
  2. Education: Education systems are not compatible with the reality of the labor market. They are currently in a position that are not compatible with the evolving labor market and its changing nature throughout Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. They do not provide graduates with the required skills that are extremely important to achieve success in today’s economy, which is a knowledge economy. This means to have knowledge of communication skills, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and the ability to deal with requirements. This is taking place in full swing in the world, as data from the World Economic Forum indicates that the rate of dependence on machines in all types of jobs will rise to (52%) by the year 2025, meaning that employers will divide their work equally between humans and machines. Thus, fundamental changes must be made in education and higher education curricula, increased attention to vocational education, and the provision of laboratories and supplies necessary to create a state of compatibility between the number of graduates and the requirements of the labor market.
  3. Vocational training: The decrease in vocational training and rehabilitation centers as well as the number of professions in these centers in the Region has negatively affected the provision of job opportunities, and contributed significantly to the increase in unemployment rates, as there are more than 2000 professions in the world. Meanwhile, training and qualification centers in the Region are limited to 19 professions only. Thus, the number of vocational training and rehabilitation centers must be increased, and courses must be opened for the unemployed and for all professions, not just specific professions.
  4. The private sector: It represents great importance in the economies of developed countries, as it is a fundamental pillar in the success of the national economy because of its large and effective role in multiple economic activities in many fields that can work to provide job opportunities in large numbers. The private sector has long experience over the past decades in investing in various economic sectors, such as the agricultural, industrial, tourism, service sectors, etc. However, it has suffered from fluctuation between development and deterioration, affected by the problems and challenges represented by economic, political and legal instability, which has weakened its role as a pioneering sector and an effective participant in economic development events and increased rates. Economic growth in general creates job opportunities and reducing unemployment rates. Therefore, investors and the private sector must be supported and given the opportunity to compete, preventing monopoly and control in all economic fields, because competition increases productivity and improves the quality of products.
  5. The invasion of foreign workers into the Region: The unemployment crisis in the Region is becoming more widespread due to foreign workers entering the Region. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in the KRG revealed today, Sunday (October 22, 2023), the number of foreign workers working in the Region. Ministry spokesman Arian Ahmed said in an interview with the Baghdad Today that the number of foreign workers officially registered in the ministry accounts up to 8 thousand workers, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is not the only one concerned with bringing in foreign workers, but it is the General Authority for Investment in the Region and the Ministry of Natural Resources and its companies, particularly the oil companies. Such an increasing number of foreign workers also go back to having a large number of the displaced and immigrants who are now refugees in the Region. Thus, the total number of foreign workers working in the Region exceeds (40) thousand workers. This in turn has greatly affected the increase in unemployment rates in the Region in light of the stifling financial and economic crisis that has struck the Region. Other factors including the Corona pandemic and the war against ISIS terrorist organizations, as well as the cutting of the Region’s budget by the Federal Government has been considered remarkable factors for such crisis. Thus, emphasis should be put on the issue of granting licenses to foreign companies, requiring them to employ people in the Region. According to the percentages calculated by the Council of Ministers in the KRG, there are (75%) of local workers and (25%) of foreign workers with skills that are not available in the Region.

Finally, it can be said that failure to address the problem of unemployment in Iraq in general and the Kurdistan Region in particular represents a time bomb because the numbers of the unemployed are increasing at an exponential rate, as far as we know that unemployment means poverty, hunger, social deprivation, misery, lack of enrollment in schools and various educational levels, the explosive growth rate of the population and the huge numbers of graduates. Every year, institutes and universities constantly add weight to the army of the unemployed, thus leading to the loss of youth energies. In addition, the lack of job opportunities for young people means debt, homelessness, family tensions and breakdowns, boredom, isolation, crime, eroding confidence, loss of self-esteem, and their tendency to some bad behaviors such as gambling, drinking alcohol, drug dealing, smoking, among others.