Education fails to meet labor market demands in Turkey

Education fails to meet labor market demands in Turkey

Turkish government officials have announced that in 2018, 20 percent of the budget will be spent on education. While Turkish governments have traditionally allocated large sums of money to education in the past, in the past five years the amount as proportion of the overall budget has doubled.

This is good news, especially considering the specific needs of the Turkish economy. A major goal of state investment in education is to improve human capital and thereby generate growth by creating and improving jobs. This is important for the country’s economy, which is plagued by high unemployment. Governments are under pressure to create jobs fast enough to prevent unemployment levels from increasing further, and perhaps even to bring them down. So the government’s latest decision to spend more on education is good news.

But the glass is only half full. Spending more money does not necessarily mean that the money is spent well. Despite substantial government efforts in recent decades and an overall improvement in Turkish education, our system still retains major deficiencies and inefficiencies.

Inefficiency is manifest in the high levels of unemployment and job dissatisfaction. According to TURKSTAT, approximately 20 percent of young people in Turkey are currently searching for work. A 2011 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that about 40 percent of Turkish employees are “overqualified” for their jobs, which puts Turkey among the top four OECD countries with the highest rate of labor force over-qualification (OECD Employment Outlook 2011).

This is particularly interesting, since the percentage of people who consider their jobs “too demanding” is also exceptionally high in Turkey, according to the same source. A contradiction? Not really. So what do these facts really mean?

The main implication is that there is a mismatch between market demands and the education system in Turkey. The qualifications and skills supplied by our labor force do not match the needs of the market. As a result, the economic returns of education are too low. The immediate rewards obtained from education are few considering how much we invest.

This is particularly true for college education. Under the current circumstances, there are too many college graduates who have formal credentials but lack marketable skills. Therefore they have a hard time landing or maintaining jobs that fit their skills and expectations. This problem is more common among graduates from social studies (and less so among those who studied technical fields). Some of these graduates spend years searching for a satisfactory job, others accept low salaries (considering their credentials), and some find jobs outside their field of study and receive extra training after school.

We must solve this inefficiency, but how? It is not an easy task, but here are some suggestions:

Firstly, we need to focus on the quality, as much as the quantity, of education, in all fields of study. The number of college graduates in Turkey has increased dramatically in recent decades. The mushrooming of new public and private universities is hard to miss. Yet the quality of education provided by many of these institutions remains low. Standards can be improved by hiring better teachers, choosing better teaching materials, and - most importantly - reforming the content of education by replacing memorization with critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving techniques, along with specific skills demanded by the labor market.

Secondly, to bridge the gap between market demands and education, we need to provide better career guidance to our students. This service should come from professionals with expert knowledge of the labor market and should be made available to students at various stages throughout their education. This will make students more aware of the consequences of various education options and allow them to make more informed decisions.

Education is too important to neglect. Getting it wrong is also costly, both for the state and for students who spend the best years of their lives at school. We cannot afford to use our scarce resources inefficiently.